Getting an “entry-level job” sounds like it should be easy, but when you pull up job descriptions and see the lists of skills and experiences companies are looking for, the prospect can be overwhelming. You know you’re ready to start a great career, but how do you convince someone to give you an entry-level job? That’s where an entry-level resume comes in. You may already have a resume you created to get a job while in high school or college, or to land an internship, but making a resume for an entry-level job can be a little different.
A resume is a document that showcases to potential employers why they should hire you. Generally, past work experience makes up the bulk of it. So what do you do when you’re just getting started and don’t have much (or any) past work experience to put on a resume? Or what if you do have past jobs, but you’re not sure if they apply to the entry-level job you’re looking at?
Read on to find out what recruiters are looking for in an entry-level resume and get tips for making your own—and skip to the end to get an example.
What Are Recruiters Looking for in an Entry-Level Resume?
Despite any horror stories you may have heard about entry-level jobs that require five or more years experience, most companies consider people with zero to three years of work experience to be candidates for entry-level jobs. And recruiters looking at these resumes adjust their expectations accordingly.
With “entry-level resumes, you go in with the assumption that someone isn’t going to have a lot of experience,” says Muse career coach Yolanda Owens, founder of Career Sensei and college corporate recruiter for over twenty years. So what are they looking for in an entry-level resume? How are they making judgements about entry-level candidates?
When recruiters look at an entry-level (or any) resume, they want to know why you’re applying for the job. If you majored in accounting and everything on your resume focuses on that, but you applied for a job in marketing, recruiters aren’t going to understand why and they’ll probably move you to the rejection pile. But if you show that you had a marketing internship you excelled in or took a lot of communications and marketing classes, that makes your motivations a whole lot clearer.
Your resume is a single page that is supposed to convince the person who reads it to call you for an interview. So it has to be relevant to the job they’re hiring for. That’s why you shouldn’t send out the exact same resume to every company with an entry-level opening. You’re unlikely to ever get a response that way. Instead, make sure you know why you’re applying for each role and tailor every section on your resume accordingly.
There are two major components to every single hiring decision: qualifications and personality. When you join a company, you’re joining a team, and hiring managers want to know that you’ll be a great addition. So where you can, you want to make sure your resume shows who you are as a person and how you’re unique among all the other applicants in the pile.
As a recruiter, Owens would often reject resumes where she could tell that the candidate “sprinkled in a bunch of buzzwords” and didn’t attempt to show the individual beyond the piece of paper. That’s because she couldn’t picture who they’d be as an employee and as a colleague. And don’t think that there’s a “correct” personality for every workplace. Every company (or even team within a company) has its own environment and group dynamics, and there’s definitely somewhere where you’ll be at home, just as you are.
Your resume summary (more on that below) is a great place to show your personality, as are your accomplishments and choices of activities.
When you’re first joining the workforce, you’re going to be lighter on skills that come directly from a past job in your field. That’s inevitable, and recruiters know it. Instead, they’re looking for your transferable skills. These are skills that you’ve used and developed through past experiences—including part-time jobs, internships, classes, and extracurricular activities—that can be applied to a number of different career paths. These might be things like communication, organization, time management, customer service, teamwork, and general office skills. For example, if you’ve worked in a fast food position, you likely have customer service experience that will translate to a sales position.
As you look back on all of your experiences, think about what you learned that could serve you well in the workplace. Did you have to figure out how to communicate with a group that disagreed? Did you have to plan a lot of small pieces of a large project in order to get everything done by a deadline? Did you have to work within a budget or convince local businesses to donate something or a charity event? These types of things are transferable skills. Just make sure they’re related to the description of the job you’re applying for before you put them on your resume, says Muse career coach Jennifer Smith, founder of Flourish Careers and former college recruiter.
Recruiters love to see leadership experience on a resume. Not because they expect you to fill a management role (obviously!), but because it signals to recruiters that you have some teamwork skills, know how to make decisions, and may have experience working with budget among other things—all in a somewhat professional capacity, Owens says.
“College provides a lot of opportunities for folks to be leaders,” Smith says, whether that’s through clubs and professional groups, fraternities and sororities, volunteer organizations, or sports teams, and leaders of these groups are often required to do things that often come up in a professional work environment. So look for opportunities to call attention to leadership experience on your resume. Even if you didn’t hold an official position, if you took the lead on organizing something that still counts.
If you held a leadership role in a past job, whether that’s as a store manager, assistant manager, shift lead, new employee trainer, or even a senior team member with additional responsibilities, definitely highlight that as well. Even if it’s not exactly on your current career path, it’s very valuable experience that proves you have a number of transferable skills.
So now that you know what recruiters are looking for on an entry-level resume, how do you go about putting one together?
1. Put Your Contact Information Front and Center
Your name and contact information should always be at the top of your resume. This includes your phone number, your email address (make sure it’s a professional-sounding one), and your LinkedIn URL (you do have a LinkedIn profile, right?). If it’s applicable to the field you’re trying to enter, you might also consider a link to your personal website or online portfolio.
As an entry-level candidate, you might be wondering whether or not to include a location—especially if you just finished school and intend to move somewhere new. The answer depends. If you’re applying to jobs where you currently live, go ahead and include your city and state—full mailing address not needed. If you’re applying to jobs in an area where you’re definitely planning to move, you can leave off your current location and write “Relocating to [City, State]” at the top of your resume or mention your plans to move in your cover letter.
If you’re not sure where you’re headed, Smith recommends leaving your location off your resume. If you list an out-of-area location, you risk getting disqualified by a recruiter who has no relocation budget. But if you leave it off entirely, you could land an interview and allow the company to learn more about you before discussing location. This isn’t likely to create a relocation budget where none exists, but it will get you considered for a role if you’re able to move without financial support from the company.
2. Use a Resume Summary to Help You Stand Out (Optional)
Below your name and contact info, consider adding a resume summary (not an outdated resume objective). A resume summary consists of a few short sentences describing who you are as a candidate and as a person. For later-career candidates, a summary often talks about past full-time roles and key career achievements, but as an entry-level candidate you can use this space to get a bit more in-depth about who you are. Resume summaries are completely optional, but this is a place where you can really make a connection with a recruiter and have them think of you as a person, and not just words on a page.
In a resume summary you can (briefly) describe your key skills, what you’re passionate about, and what you have to offer this organization that’s going to set you apart. Candidates just entering a field often have fresh ideas and a lot of energy and enthusiasm, Smith says. And a resume summary is a great place to show that off.
Perhaps most importantly, your summary should also look to the future. After you describe who you are, spend a sentence or two talking about where you want to go and what you hope to bring to this specific job.
Here’s one example of what a resume summary might look like for an entry-level candidate:
Enthusiastic and creative recent grad with passion for communications, design, and the environment. Created graphics and written copy as part of social media strategies to grow personal, business, student group, and cute dog social media accounts by a combined 2 million followers across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Active in Rutgers’ chapter of the Sierra Club for 4 years and dedicated to helping educate people about climate change.
3. Emphasize Your Education
If you’ve ever looked at the resume of someone several years into their career, you may have noticed that their “Education” section was at the bottom of the page. But this isn’t the case for entry-level resumes. Putting your education right below your contact information or summary (along with your graduation date or expected graduation date) immediately lets the reader know that you’re in the very early stages of your career, Owens says. This adjusts their expectations of what sort of experience you’re likely to have, so they won’t go in looking for several past jobs in your field when you’re about to showcase mostly internships, coursework, extracurricular activities, part-time or temporary jobs, and unrelated jobs.
Beyond your graduation date, you should list the name of each school you’ve attended after high school, its location, your degree (bachelor’s, associates, master’s, etc.), your major, and any minors or concentrations. If you don’t have a college degree, you should list the name of your high school, its location, and your graduation date. If you did any study abroad programs, list those as their own schools, but make it explicit that they were study abroad programs. This is also the section to list any relevant certificate, training programs, or online classes that you’ve completed along with the school or organization you completed them through and the date (or anticipated date) of completion.
Under the applicable school, you should also list any honors, scholarships, and awards you received along with a short description of what each accolade is or why you were given it. You should list your GPA if the job description asks for it. Otherwise it’s optional, but only list it if it’s above a 3.5.
From there, you want to consider the job you’re applying to when deciding what else to share. If you completed a capstone project, thesis, or another major project, you should list that, but tailor your description to the specific job. For example, let’s say you did a capstone project that involved coming up with a business plan. If you’re applying for software development positions, emphasize the part of the project where you coded a website from scratch. But if you’re pursuing a marketing role, you might want to call attention to the way you planned to advertise your business to potential customers.
You can also list relevant coursework, but make sure it’s obvious why it’s relevant. For example, say you have a business degree and took five finance classes without a formal concentration. When you apply to finance roles, listing those courses will show that you have background knowledge. If you have a general biology degree and are applying to work in a neuroscience lab, you can list the neuroscience and anatomy courses you took. A “relevant coursework” bullet point can also show how you obtained a key skill for the job you want. But don’t just list classes you think sound impressive unless they’re directly relevant to the job you’re applying to.
4. Show That You Have the Right Experience for the Job
On a resume for somebody further along in their career, “experience” almost always focuses primarily on current and past paid jobs. For an entry-level candidate, experience can come from many places:
- Relevant internships, apprenticeships, or co-ops are the first thing that many recruiters will look for on an entry-level resume. But they’re far from the only thing that counts as experience. Most recruiters and hiring managers recognize that not everyone can afford to do an internship—particularly in fields where they often pay little or nothing.
- Part-time or full-time jobs are still professional experience even when they’re not directly related to your future career path. They’re a great place to look for those transferable skills, and they show hiring managers that as a baseline, you have experience showing up, completing tasks, and getting along in a workplace environment. Further, “if someone worked and went to college they’re obviously juggling a lot,” Smith says, and that speaks to a candidate’s work ethic and time management skills.
- Volunteer work also counts as experience especially if you led the effort or played a big part in it, Smith says. Volunteer work can show a wealth of transferable skills whether or not it’s directly relevant to your field—but definitely emphasize it if it is.
- Activities, organizations, and affiliations show your interests and personality, but they can also show transferable skills and leadership experience. If you were in a leadership or officer position, you likely had to organize well, communicate effectively, manage your time, and motivate other members of your group. You may have also had to deal with money or show good customer service. Even if you didn’t lead the group but consistently participated, you likely showed these skills and can list what you did as part of the organization.
- Relevant projects can be things that you did on your own or as part of your coursework. If you took classes in school that were not part of your major, but are relevant to the jobs you want to pursue, highlighting a project is a great way to showcase your interests and skills outside of your major. The same goes for if you pursued something non-academic like starting an online business. Even if the project doesn’t directly map onto the job you want, you can still demonstrate transferable skills.
Once you know what experience you want to talk about, you should decide how you’ll split it up into sections. You can use the bullets above that apply to you and make each its own section—labeled “Internship Experience,” “Volunteer Work,” “Activities,” and more—or you might want to have “Related Experience” and “Other Experience” sections if the experiences that are most directly relevant to your job search span across several of the above categories. You can also do things like combine internships and paid jobs into a single section called “Professional Experience” or list relevant projects in the education section. What’s most important is presenting your story in a way that’s easy to read and makes it clear why you’re the right person for the job.
5. Craft Strong Bullet Points
When it comes to listing your experience, just stating your past positions or the activities you were part of isn’t enough. Under every entry, you need to include bullet points describing what you did and what you achieved. These bullet points might be the most important part of your resume with the most real estate devoted to them, so they deserve time and attention.
“Don’t focus on the mundane daily duties, talk about your accomplishments,” Owens says. If you were a salesperson in a retail store, recruiters know the basic job duties that entails. But they won’t know that you made more sales than anyone else in the month of December—unless you tell them. If you had an internship with a major company in your field, it’s likely that you assisted the staff with daily tasks, but it’s unique to you that you were part of a team that conceived of a new marketing campaign that boosted sales by 50% in a month and wrote the copy for the campaign’s social media posts. In your bullet points, write about “what you did that made the project, company, or job better and what you did that moved the needle,” Owens says.
Whenever possible, you want to quantify your bullet points in order to be more specific and memorable and to call attention to the results you got. Which sounds better? “Led tutoring sessions,” or, “Led tutoring sessions for up to 30 students twice a week, leading to an average 10% test score increase”?
These bullet points are also where you can work in your transferable skills. If these skills are things like software or techniques, be sure to name them. If they’re softer skills like organization, communication, or collaboration, you can use action verbs to insert them into your bullet points seamlessly. Anyone can list out skills in a skills section (and you should), but putting them into context shows the person reading your resume how you’ve actually used your skills in real-life situations and how you’ll use them to help their company.
6. Show Off Your Skills (Again)
Your resume should also have a skills section where you list out all of the skills you have that match what a job description asks for. Don’t list skills you don’t have just because you think they sound good. If someone asks (and they will), you should be able to explain how you obtained this skill or how you’ve used it.
This section is often the place to focus on software and technical skills, Smith says. Technology changes so rapidly that new grads and other entry-level folks are often more up to date in this area than later-career professionals, so you definitely want to use that to your advantage.
Make sure to be specific, Owens says. Don’t list “coding” in your skills section, list out the programming languages you know. Don’t say “project management software,” say “Asana” or “Trello.” You also want to keep it modern. Unless the job description specifies it, “typing” doesn’t need to go in your skills section. The same goes for general “Microsoft Office,” though listing specific programs or skills like “Excel” or “pivot tables” is still fair game.
7. Include Relevant Keywords
As you’re preparing your resume for a specific job, take a close look at the job description and note the language they use. You want to match this language as closely as possible when it comes to the specific keywords. For example, if they’re looking for someone who has experience with Final Cut Pro, don’t just put “video editing” on your resume—make sure to include “Final Cut Pro” in your skills section (assuming you actually know how to use it!).
Why? Many companies use applicant tracking systems (or ATSs)—programs that scan your resume looking for keywords found in the job description and forward the resumes with the most matches to a hiring manager or recruiter. While this software is getting more advanced and adept at recognizing synonyms and different phrasing, it’s always best to be cautious and list keywords exactly as they appear in the job description.
8. Format Your Resume So It’s Easy to Read (by Computers and Humans!)
You may have seen those fancy, flashy resumes with graphics and tables to show your skills. You may even be tempted to shell out some money for a heavily designed template. Don’t.
If you’re applying online, you should assume your resume will have to pass through an ATS. The software parses text only, so not only will much of your formatting be lost, your text could even get left out or jumbled if the ATS can’t “read” it.
ATS aside, actual human recruiters often only have a few seconds to take a first look at a resume, and you want to make sure they can find what they’re looking for quickly. This means your resume should be highly skimmable with easy-to-read formatting, clear section headings, and lots of white space. Smith looks for resumes that are “smart, succinct, and professional looking” and, to be clear, “professional looking” doesn’t mean highly stylized.
So keep your formatting consistent and use bold, italics, and underlining when you want text to stand out. You can also make headings and your name a larger font size and use color in a way that emphasizes but doesn't distract. Stick to the classic fonts as well—no Comic Sans, handwriting fonts, or anything that doesn’t come preinstalled on most word processors.
As an entry-level candidate, your resume should never be more than one page, but don’t feel the need to add fluff to stretch it. Recruiters understand that you’re just starting out and they’d rather see strong, relevant experience than filler.
9. Tailor Your Resume for Every Job Posting
Throughout this article, you’ve seen that the content of a section or bullet point depends on what the job description says. That means that you should be changing your resume for every job posting. Yes, it’s more work than just submitting the same doc every time. But recruiters want to look at your resume and quickly see why you’re the right person for this job, and if you don’t take the time to make your case for this job, you’re likely to be overlooked.
If you want to make a base resume to pass to people in your network who aren’t hiring for specific jobs or for you to start with to get your formatting right, you should do this by pulling up several job descriptions in your field to get a feel for what companies are generally looking for. You can also create a resume outline that lists all of your experiences and skills in one place so you have a document to draw from to make tailoring easier.
Proofread your resume to check for any typos or grammar mistakes—then step away for a few hours or days and come back to proofread it again. You can even start reading from the bottom section to help you see the text a bit differently and make it less likely you’ll skim absentmindedly.
Once you’re sure your resume is completely error-free, ask someone else to read it, too. A new set of eyes will often catch things you overlooked.
An Example Entry-Level Resume
So what does all this advice look like in action? Take a look at this example entry-level resume for a recent college grad applying to a social media job with an environmental nonprofit. You’ll see the emphasis on experience that directly relates to a role like this.
As you begin your first big job search, you might feel overwhelmed or like you’ll never get a job. And yes, some companies do post listings with unrealistic standards for entry-level hires, but that doesn’t mean there are no companies out there looking for true entry-level candidates.
Believing in yourself is a big part of job hunting when you first start out, Smith says. Know that you do have something to offer companies and be confident in your capabilities. And if trying to fit a job description has you feeling like you can't be yourself on your resume or in your interview, it might be a sign that this role or company isn’t right for you, Owens says. But don’t worry, there’s another position out there that is.