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How to Write Your First Resume

Woman working on her resume in a sunny room
Nitchakul Sangpetch/Shutterstock

Maybe you’ve just graduated and haven’t truly started the job search yet, or perhaps you’ve been working for a family friend who never asked you for a resume. No matter what, if you don’t have a resume yet, nothing can feel more daunting than staring at that blank page. We’re here to help.

Almost every job-hunter started just where you are. Writing a resume isn’t a creative exercise: you just need to follow the right formula. We’re here to give you that formula, so you can build a resume that will open doors for your career.

Whether you’re writing your first resume or starting from scratch when you change career paths, follow these steps to start the job search with confidence.

Make a List

For many new job seekers, the hardest part about drafting a resume is figuring out what to put on it. With no prior job experience, how can you write a resume?

Before you start trying to put together your resume, start by brainstorming things you could include. Don’t worry too much yet about what’s relevant to your dream job and what isn’t. Consider things like:

  • Education: Majors, grades, and school-related extracurriculars or clubs
  • Volunteering: Any unpaid work you did
  • Informal jobs: Babysitting, pet-sitting, and other temporary or unofficial jobs—internships are great for resumes too
  • Awards: Things you’ve won for school, sports, or another reason
  • Activities: Clubs, sports, and other non-school activities
  • Skills: Any skills or abilities that could be related to a future job
  • Social media: Relevant social media information, such as your email address (a professional-sounding one that features your name) and LinkedIn profile URL

Try to start the resume process early, so you’ll have plenty of time to make this list. More things will come to you as you start thinking about what you’ve done and what you’re good at.

Keep your list organized by sections (like “work,” “school,” and “achievements”), so you can easily plug the information into your resume later on. And even after you’ve built your resume, save this list and keep adding to it—it will make an excellent reference for future updates.

Research Potential Jobs

Before you get to writing your resume, take some time to research jobs you’d like to have.

Check job listings at companies you want to work for, or on websites like LinkedIn. Look for keywords and phrases that come up repeatedly, and write those down. Make a note of specific skills or types of experience required.

Reading these job postings will help you get an idea of what your future employer is looking for, so you can use your resume to show them that you have it. If you’re not sure what kind of job you want yet, take this time to browse job listings and find ones that could work well for you.

Choose a Format

Now that you have some idea of what to put on your resume, you can pick your resume format.

Lots of free resume templates exist online, so use one of those instead of starting from scratch. There are three main resume formats you’ll find:

  • Chronological: The most popular type of resume lists your work experience in order, starting with your most recent job.
  • Functional: These resumes focus on your skills and activities instead, and don’t rely on a time-based format.
  • Hybrid: A hybrid resume mixes elements of both formats.

If you have no job experience yet, putting together a chronological resume will be difficult. Instead, look for a functional or hybrid template that will work well for the experience you have.

For example, if you’ve had a couple of summer jobs, but not enough to fill a whole resume, find a hybrid template that will highlight both that job experience and your other relevant skills and achievements.

Stick to a standard, one-page template that doesn’t include unnecessary or irrelevant information. You don’t need references, photos of yourself, or loud colors on your resume. While there are times when a creative and unique resume is a good idea, keep it simple for your first one.

Read Example Resumes

When you have an idea of your resume format, look up some sample resumes online in that same format. Try to find resumes made for the type of job you want to have. Seeing how other people presented their information can give you ideas for how to present your own.

Plug in Your Information

Woman typing on a laptop, entering information onto her resume

With your template downloaded, start by filling in your basic information. Don’t hesitate to make adjustments to the template as needed. For example, old resumes always included your full address, but today, it’s more common to list only your city and state. You can add your email address or LinkedIn URL to the extra space.

This is just a rough draft, so don’t worry about phrasing everything perfectly and don’t spend too much time fussing with little formatting issues (it’s more important to get it all down and tweak the details later). Just try to decide what will go on your resume and where you’ll put it. You probably won’t use everything from your initial brainstorm list, but pick out the things that fit your ideal job best. If the template you chose doesn’t seem to fit your experience well, download another and try it out.

Add a Summary Statement

A summary statement is a good, modern alternative to the outdated Objective section. If you’re struggling to find enough to include on your resume or feel that your experience seems all over the place, consider including one.

In this statement, you’ll write a couple of sentences to summarize what you bring to the table as a candidate. This takes up space on your resume with valuable information, giving employers an at-a-glance look at who you are. Focus on what you can do for them, not what they can do for you.

Rearrange as Needed

Once you have the basics on your resume, play around with rearranging your sections and content to get the best results.

Things at the top of the page will get the most attention, so put your most important information there. For example, if you have a stellar GPA and have been active on campus, your Education section might belong near the top of the page. The experience that’s relevant to the job you want should go above the less-relevant experience.

Spin Your Content

After you have a rough draft with all the essential information on it, it’s time to spin your content for the job you want.

This doesn’t mean you should embellish heavily or add things you didn’t do. When you have limited experience on your resume, exaggerations will stand out in a bad way. But you can still select the best way to present your information.

Go back to the notes you took when you were looking at job listings. If any keywords or phrases came up often, find places to include them.

You’ll also need to explain how your experience makes you a good candidate for the job you want. It’s not enough only to list the things you’ve done: you must also show why they make you a good job candidate.

Be clear and specific when you describe your experience. Show; don’t tell: avoid vague phrases like “responsible with money” or “good people skills.” Instead, explain the things you’ve done that demonstrate those skills in action. For example, if you volunteered at a school fundraiser, you might write, “handled both cash and card transactions” and “assisted donors quickly and professionally.” That way, employers will see exactly how the things on your resume are relevant to your work skills.

Even if something seems irrelevant to the job you want, you can often spin it for your resume. For example, if you’re applying to work in retail, your prior experience with housesitting may not seem important. But housesitting shows that you’re trustworthy, know how to keep a space clean, and can work independently, all of which is relevant to a retail job. Use your resume to show employers why your experience matters.

Make Final Edits

Soon, you’ll have a solid draft of a resume that includes your best information and presents it compellingly. But before you start sending it out with your job applications, it’s time to make some final edits.

Enlist a couple of friends or family members to check your resume for errors or missing information. Print out a copy to edit—you’ll often notice things on a printed page that you missed on your computer. Make sure the smallest details, like your fonts and spacing, are consistent. Having different fonts or random spaces can make your resume look unprofessional.

An employer might toss a perfectly good resume just because it had an obvious typo, so it’s worth taking this time to edit. This shows them that you’ll bring the same careful attention to detail to the job. Once your final edits are done, you’ll have a complete, winning resume that you can feel proud to submit to potential employers.

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a freelance and creative writer from the Pacific Northwest, and an MFA student at the University of New Orleans Creative Writing Workshop. She specializes in lifestyle writing and creative nonfiction. Read Full Bio »
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