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How Can Your Resume Compensate for No Job Experience?

Man sitting in a coffee shop working on his resume
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You need work experience to get a job—and you need a job to get work experience. It’s the ultimate catch-22 for job seekers, and it can feel like there’s no way to move forward. But did you know that your resume can actually help compensate for a lack of job experience?

While relevant work experience is always helpful for getting the job, you have other ways to make a great resume. Your resume is the key to opening doors for your career, so don’t let your lack of experience hold you back. Instead, try these key tips.

Use a Functional Resume Format

The functional format focuses on skills, training, qualifications, and other information instead of your prior work experience. On this type of resume, the non-work-related information comes first, and any work experience goes in a short section at the bottom of the page.

Even before you’ve had a job (or a relevant job), you can fill out a functional resume with impressive information about what you bring to the table as a candidate. For example, maybe you did relevant projects in school, or have a certification for a job-related skill. Your abilities, education, skills, and other qualifications might just get you that interview with no job experience at all, so use this resume format to highlight them.

Increase Your Qualifications and Skills

To make your functional resume look even better, work on adding new qualifications and skills.

Thanks to the internet, getting these without any on-the-job experience is easier than ever. Look for training, certifications, classes, and other ways to brush up on your knowledge and add to your resume. For example, if you want to work in social media marketing, you could get Hootsuite Academy’s Social Marketing Certification and list it on your resume.

Add a Summary or Profile

A Summary or Profile section at the top of your resume is a great way to tell potential employers what you can do, even when you have no job experience to back it up.

These sections have replaced the Objective section on modern resumes. Instead of stating what the job will do for you (as Objective sections do), your Summary or Profile states what you will do for the job.

In this section, you’ll write two to four sentences that talk about what makes you a great candidate. You’ll mention the abilities and experience you bring to the table in the most impressive possible way. For example, if you’re applying for a retail job, your first Summary sentence might read: “Detail-oriented and organized candidate, with experience working with the public and handling cash and card transactions.” Even if your experience was just volunteering at a school bake sale, it sounds impressive.

This section condenses the qualities and skills that make you a good candidate into a single paragraph. This takes up valuable space on your resume if you don’t have much else to fill it out. And most importantly, it lets you say why you’ll be good at the job even with no work experience.

Use What You Have

volunteers helping young children draw and work on homework
Africa Studio/Shutterstock

Even if you’ve never held a traditional job, you probably have other experience that can boost your resume. Volunteer work, as mentioned above, can go on your resume. So can internships, unofficial jobs like babysitting, and other activities.

It doesn’t matter whether or not you got paid. What matters is that you can talk about the skills and accomplishments you gained from this experience. You can list your non-work experience on your resume just like you would list work experience, with titles, dates, and bullet points that explain what you accomplished.

You can also try looking for relevant volunteer or internship positions in the field you want to work in, so you’ll have new, related experience to add to your resume. Unpaid work still counts as work, so don’t hesitate to list it in a Work History section.

Add Keywords

You should always customize your resume for each job you apply for. When you read a job listing and research the company, you’ll find keywords or terms that come up often, such as the qualities they’re looking for in a candidate. If you can truthfully include some of those terms on your resume, you’ll show that you’re the kind of person they should hire.

Finally, don’t forget that your cover letter is another great place to use key terms and explain why you’re qualified for the job, even without prior experience. Getting that first job can seem incredibly difficult, but with these tips, you can use your resume to your advantage and get in the door for an interview.

Never written a resume before in your life? Don’t stress—we have you covered with our guide to writing your first resume.

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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