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How to write a resume if you have no work experience

A study by CareerBuilder shows that only about 47% of people actually work in positions that are related to their degree. A scary statistic considering the time and money one puts into getting a degree. Let’s go over a few things we can do with our resume to increase the odds of actually utilizing our degree.

Don’t List a Career Objective

Even if you are recent graduate do not list a career objective. You will read a million articles telling you to list an objective so that the recruiter knows that your interests are aligned with your career choices, that is all bogus. That advice dates back to the good old 1950 and it’s been repeated so many times that people simple assume it’s a must do. Don’t get me started …I wrote a previous article here stating why not to list a career objective.

Instead, we want to have a concise professional summary at the top. I advice breaking it into a few bullet points instead of the outdated paragraph format; position this right under your name.

Professional Summary Example

Start with your Education

  • Academic background in business administration with a double major in general management and human resources. Responsive and customer-driven; able to build rapport with customers, develop long-term relationships, anticipate needs and make appropriate recommendations.

Put great emphasis on your technical skills

List every program you have worked with, along with industry specific terms (these you can uncover when looking at job descriptions, I bet you will recognize some things from your studies)

  • Computer Skills: Microsoft Office 2010 (Excel – Pivot Tables, Vlookup), Access, PowerPoint, HTML, Minitab, Applicant Tracking systems (Avionte, Bullhorn, Bond Adapt), Vendor Management Systems (Agile1 and Beeline), PeopleNet, LexisNexis, E-Verify, Crystal Reports, Boolean Search Strings, SalesForce, SEO, E-Mail Marketing (Copywriting, MailChimp, Aweber), Google Analytics, Google Adwords, WordPress and SQL statements

Employers don’t hire because you have an interest in a certain field and chose to major in that field. They will hire you simply because of business needs. Recent graduates usually don’t land positions that carry a heavy responsibility especially those without much experience. Keep your expectations a bit low and laser focus on the skills mentioned on job description. If you don’t have the skills, then school is not over, you need to push yourself and get those skills any way you can. Check out our resource page for a few places where you can learn industry specific skills.  

Notice how I wrote some skills

Office 2010 (Excel – Pivot Tables, Vlookup)

Writing Microsoft Office, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint doesn’t tell the hiring manager anything really. Demonstrate the specific advanced functions that you are knowledgeable about will lead to better results.

List the details of your education

Students and recent graduates always undervalue the amount of experience they actually have. When writing a resume without much experience it is essential to make the most out of your how to write a resume with no expereinceeducation section.

List the year you obtained your collage degree or your expected graduation date to indicate that you are still in school. Include any awards, honors, competitions you entered and of course your GPA. For roles that don’t require a degreef list the GPA only if it’s above 3.0. I would go as far as to say only list your GPA if it’s above 3.5 especially when it comes to Jobs that require specific majors and areas of study.

List only the relevant coursework for that specific job

My suggestion is to list two courses or two projects that closely relate to the type of positions you are applying for.

Listing a course alone does nothing for me as a hiring manager, anybody can sit though a class and do the bare minimum. I know that recent graduates don’t have much experience, what I want to see is that you actually learned something. Remember that each graduation year especially the few months following thereafter we see a huge influx of applications. It pays to show of your work better then the competition.

I won’t leave you high and dry like many of the other articles you will come across, here are a few examples.

Senior Capstone – Admin Policies

Performed in-depth analysis of all business aspects of Sony, including HR strategy, staffing, operations, marketing, and accounting.  Determined the effects their HR policies had on their workforce, employee performance, and bottom line success.  Developed 1,000 page report with team, and presented information to class.  Received 100% grade for project.

Personnel Management

Gained knowledge of the recruitment process, and employed information when performing a field study with Target Corporation.  Worked with management to gain knowledge of the company’s recruitment processes, and then performed analysis on the company’s strategies, looking at candidate selection, interviewing, information collection, and laws and regulations.  Formulated recommendations for company to improve their recruitment process.


Work Experience – Let’s take a second look

Many students only list the tasks and duties under the little experience they have. From your perspective the positions you have throughout collage are most likely unrelated to your studies so it’s very important to tailor. I’ve written a detailed guide on how to tailor your resume even if your experience doesn’t relate to the jobs you are applying for. It’s a good read… Take a look if you have the time.

To summarize it’s important to look at this from a different perspective

  • Did you preform customer service?
  • Did you solve problems?
  • Did you make sales?

Now if you have absolutely no professional experience you must list other things you have done.

  • Did you help your neighbors with computer problems?
  • Did you help anybody with filing their taxes?
  • Did you charge for your service?

If so then this can be considered freelance experience that you can list and then simply go into greater detail just like any other job you would list on your resume. Focus on how successfully you were able to help your clients with certain problems.

Try to view things from a management perspective. Managers like to consider KPI (Key performance Indicators), when it comes to decisions they make. What does that mean for students and current graduates?

If you think of yourself as a just another low level employee then you are doomed forever. Let’s say you have a job as a cashier, not very remarkable and very hard to translate into actual achievements right? Well if you think about it that way then of course nothing good will come to mind.

If you try to view things from a Management perspective you start noticing different things. The store for example was the highest performer in the region and serviced 7,000 customers on a daily basis. Maybe they are famous for only letting the phone ring one time before answering. Zero Customer Complaints perhaps, 100% performance score on employee evaluations maybe? Stores like these usually have strong employees, my point is don’t downplay your experience, try to make yourself part of the bigger picture. That way a mere part time job can still sound impressive and become an effective sales tool for you.

Extracurricular Activities

Such a cliche, but yes things we did outside of school and work can help paint a better picture of your skills, involvement, work ethic etc

Remember that the proof is in the pudding, in other words make sure to provide supporting evidence, otherwise nobody will care.

Maybe you have been part of a group at your school that meets on a regular basis, or you are part of a sports club. Activities like these can help; here is an example

how to phrase extracurricular activities on a resume

List your activity first and try to have a title to go along with it. Make sure it also relates to the job.

Business Society – (Philanthropy Coordinator)

Increase charitable donations by 35% through strategic donor relationships management and effective Alumni outreach. Effectively coordinated fund raising events with multiple organizations and individuals.     

This is all valuable experience, go back few years and try to think of all the clubs, groups, societies, sport teams, local community involvement, online community involvement. If you are spending a long time online, I hope it’s not just playing games you may be developing a strong skill set.

You may be contributing to an open source project perhaps. Try to see how the things that you do naturally well would translate over towards a specific position. That experience may help.

A personal example:

I use a specific type of email software to manage a few websites, it happens to be the same that bigger companies also utilize. I listed that experience under my LinkedIn profile and also underneath my computers skills. A few months after listing this skill I got an email asking me if I would be interested in helping a local company set up their email software. If you delve into the specifics you can uncover entire skill sets that were utilized, it helps to do a quick search on LinkedIn for the title that you would like to eventually have. Browsing these profiles of people who are already in that position can uncover a whole set of skills that you should obtain and list on your resume.

Don’t rely on Resume Templates, use your own resume sections

Many recent graduates and students are looking for resume templates to solve their problem and they usually don’t edit the pre-written headings. It’s fine to get a template to start out with but make sure to tweak it so that the resume highlights your strength.

We stated how to write specific courses on a resume above – The Headline for that section could look like this

Selected Project Experience

Some final parting advice, make sure to update your resume every time you learn a new skill or your scope of responsibility and duties expand. Keep a copy on your desktop and make it a point to just add a note; it will serve as a good reminder for future resume writing needs. Thanks to Chris for posting his question, which inspired this post.

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