So you’re applying to your first job and you’ve gotten to the portion of the job application that reads, “Upload resume here” or “Email your resume to...” Now what?
Don’t sweat it. Literally every single person who has ever submitted a resume started with a blank page at some point. They likely also had the same questions you might be thinking about right now: What exactly is a resume? How do I make a resume? What information goes on one? How do I talk about my experience? What if I’ve never had a “real” job before? How long should it be?
But don’t fret. With a few tips on what information to include (and how) and some simple formatting guidelines, you’ll be well on your way to writing a resume for your first job.
What Is a Resume?
Let’s start by setting the stage. A resume is a document that lists your education, experience, and skills with a focus on what’s important to the job you’re applying for. Your resume is your unique story, a staple in your job search tool kit, and a major component of most job applications you will submit. It’s a living document that continues to grow as your career does.
When it’s done right, your resume clearly and concisely tells a future employer what you can bring to a new role and company. In a job search, a resume is typically the first point of contact between you and the company you want to work for. And your first impression can determine whether or not you move on to the next step in the hiring process—usually an interview—so it’s worth putting in the time to make sure it’s a great one.
While resumes can come in all shapes and sizes—and as a recruiter, believe me, I have seen them all—there’s one thing effective, impactful resumes have in common. They tell your story in a digestible way that grabs the reader’s attention and makes them start to think, “Yes, I could see this person in this role. I'd like to learn more.”
What Goes on a Resume?
While every resume has different content based on your experience, skills, background, and education, most resumes have the same basic parts. Grouping the information on your resume into clearly defined sections helps the reader find the information they need to best assess your potential as a candidate.
Here are the basic sections to help you organize a resume for your first job:
Name and Contact Information
The top of every resume should clearly state your full name and the best contact information for the recruiter or hiring manager to get in touch with you, including an email address and phone number.
Your email should be simple and professional. Stick to your first, middle, and last name or initials and maybe some numbers if you’re having trouble finding a name-initial combo that works or isn’t already taken. Double-check that your voicemail is set up on the phone number you provide and the mailbox isn’t full. Also revisit the outgoing message: Is it clear that whoever calls you has reached the right person? Is the message something you would want your future employer to hear? Both the email and voicemail should be ones you actually check so you can respond to possible employers promptly.
Depending on what experience you have, what jobs you’re applying for, and what you want to share, you can also include your LinkedIn profile or the URL for an online portfolio or personal website in the header as well.
Resume Summary (Optional)
Right under your contact information, you can consider including a resume summary: a few sentences that clearly and concisely describe who you are as a candidate. This is where you can highlight things like your organization skills and drive, your passion for the industry you’re applying to, and some key skills. If you choose to include a resume summary, you should use strong adjectives and descriptors to best paint a picture for the reader.
On a resume, education can include high school, college degrees, certificates, and specialized programs. List what school or program you attended, the area of study and/or degree you got or will get, any honors or awards you received, and the year you completed or expect to complete your education.
If your education relates directly to the role you’re applying to, it can also make sense to include some of the courses you completed or a major project that shows you putting what you learned into action. For example, if you’re applying to do construction work, you might want to talk about the projects you completed and skills you learned in a woodshop or similar class.
Education can show up in a few different places on your resume depending on what you studied or are studying, how related it is to what you are applying to, and when it happened. If you’re still in school or have recently graduated, you should consider putting your education section just after your summary or contact information. If you’re more than a few years past completing your education, and it doesn’t directly relate to what you’re applying to, it can be included below your related experience section or sections.
Your past experience will take up the bulk of your resume. For most resumes, this means past jobs, so if you’re making a resume for your first “real” job, you might be worried about what to include. But jobs aren’t the only thing that count as experience. The goal of your resume is to include experiences that show your specific and unique perspective, skills, and the value you will bring to the new role—regardless of whether you were paid for them or if you did the work formally as part of an organization.
On your first resume, you should definitely include past jobs if you’ve had them, including things that aren’t in the industry you’re applying to and less formal paid experiences like babysitting or mowing lawns in your neighborhood. But your experience section can also talk about volunteering; school organizations, teams, and clubs; internships; class projects or capstone classes or projects; and any one-off special projects, gigs, or personal pursuits that relate to the types of roles you’re applying for.
For example, if you volunteered to support event planning for the fundraisers at a local nonprofit and you’re applying for a role that includes time management and meeting coordination, you should include that volunteer experience on your resume. Or if you’ve designed your family and friend’s event invitations with InDesign and are applying to a job where graphic design and design program experience is a plus, these experiences belong in this section! If you’re still stuck, think about your student groups, hobbies, and activities you’ve participated in. These likely require skills like organization, time management, and communication in addition to the skills required to participate, and these are experiences you can list on your resume.
If you have different types of experience to share, you can break them up under more than one section heading. Headers can include things like “Work Experience,” “Volunteer Experience,” or “Related Experience,” or be thematic like “Customer Service Experience,” “Event and Program Planning,” or “Leadership Experience.”
Start by figuring out what your most important experiences are for the job you’re applying for. To do this, thoroughly read the job description. Then, identify which of the experiences, skills, and qualities emphasized are ones you already have. It might help to make a resume outline or use a resume worksheet to write out everything in one place before making your actual resume. Then you can easily tailor your resume, or select what matters most, for each job you apply to.
Read More: What It Really Means to “Tailor Your Resume”
That’s what you include in your experience section—now let’s talk about how to include it. For each experience you should list your position, the organization you worked for (if applicable), and when you did the work. Under this, you should describe what you did, usually in bullet-point format.
One mistake I’ve seen from candidates is that they assume others just understand what a job they’ve had entails, which just isn’t the case. Your resume should very clearly spell out your past experience to show why it will make you successful in the role you are applying for. Most of the time that means you have to highlight transferable skills, which are useful in multiple settings and jobs but sometimes need translating to make their value clear. Make sure you’re explaining any jargon or industry-speak to help make the experience more relatable (unless you’re applying for a job in the same industry).
When thinking about how your experience is transferable, break down the nitty-gritty of what you did and how you could use those practices and skills in different settings. For example, don’t assume the hiring manager will guess why babysitting will help you be successful in an office setting. Say that when you were babysitting, you were managing kid’s schedules, coordinating activities, and communicating with other kids’ caretakers to organize transportation. Then you can explain how this translates to being able to navigate multiple priorities, manage calendars, communicate effectively with different people, and anticipate needs.
Make your bullet points impactful by stating actions and results. Actions are what you actually did and how; the results are what you achieved and what actually happened because of your actions. Wherever you can, add numbers and context to best highlight the impact of your experience. Bullet points should also lead with powerful, descriptive action verbs, and avoid first-person language.
For example, you might say:
- Coordinate with up to 10 external vendors to confirm and schedule delivery of supplies (using Calendly)
While your entire resume should show off your skills, you may also want to include a skills section. This can appear as a list or in bullet form and usually includes hard skills, technical skills, and language skills. This section can help when a recruiter is using software to scan your resume for keywords (more on that later) or when someone only has a short amount of time to read your resume and find your most important skills. So don’t be afraid to talk about a skill in your experience, education, or resume summary section and also list it in your skills section.
Hard skills can include things like project management, event planning, graphic design, calendar management, customer service, cashiering, or different driver’s licenses. Which ones are most important depend on the job you’re applying to, so make sure you’re looking at the job descriptions.
Technical skills can overlap with hard skills but generally refer to specific software, tools, systems, and coding languages you have experience with. For example, if you’re experienced in graphic design, you should note which specific programs you’ve used. Again, check the job description to see which technical skills you need for the job. A few examples of technical skills for your first job might include: Microsoft Word, Excel, or PowerPoint; G Suite; Slack or any other communication platforms; Asana, Trello, Airtable, or other project management tools; Adobe Photoshop; and Salesforce.
Language skills include any language you can speak, read, and/or write with reasonable fluency. Even if it’s not listed on the job description, noting what languages you speak (other than English) and at what level can be an advantage. For example, if you’re applying to a job where you need to interact with customers in an area where many people speak Spanish and you also speak Spanish, this will help you work more effectively and efficiently.
Even if a skill feels very basic to you, it can still be worth mentioning, especially if it’s in the job description. In my experience, one of the biggest challenges people face in crafting a resume, or in describing why their experience is important, is that they tend to devalue what they do every day because it becomes second nature.
Finally, stay away from listing skills just because they sound good. Instead, list only skills you actually have. If you can describe where you learned a skill and how you’ve used it in the past, you probably have enough experience with it to list on your resume.
How to Format Your Resume
Recruiters read lots of resumes and don’t always have a lot of time to spend on each one. So you want to ensure they can decipher your resume quickly and effectively. The following formatting guidelines and tips will help you achieve this.
Keep It to One Page
Since this is your first (or one of your first) jobs, your resume shouldn’t be more than one page. If your content is spilling onto a second page, ask yourself: Is all of this information important and necessary for the role I’m applying for? Am I describing my education and experience as concisely as possible?
On the flip side, don’t include filler to take up the whole page if you don’t have more experiences that actually add value to your resume.
Focus on Readability
You want to format your resume so it’s quick and easy to read—that using means bullet points, a healthy dose of white space (think how your eyes react to a large block of text), and clear headers to denote resume sections so the reader can scan and identify relevant information.
Design-heavy resumes have become more popular, and while a splash of color or simple design element can make your resume stand out in a stack, too much can be distracting and may not translate well to certain applicant tracking systems (ATS)—databases of job applications that employers can search to find the most promising candidates. This resume-scanning software has trouble finding and reading text on heavily designed documents, and you could lose out on being picked up by a keyword search, which is often the first review of a resume.
Capitalize on Valuable Real Estate
The top third of your resume is what the recruiter will see first, so you want to make sure the content on this part of the page makes them want to keep reading.
The very top should include your name and contact information. If you’re including a summary, that comes next. Then, you have a choice: You could lead with your education, your skills, or your most recent or most applicable experience. When deciding, think about what will best demonstrate how you’re a great fit for the role you’re applying to: Is your coursework the thing most aligned with the job? Or is it that volunteer work you’ve been doing? Or maybe it’s a combination of skills you’ve picked up in different ways.
Consider the Best Way to Organize Your Resume
The top of your resume is what a hiring manager will see first, but you also want to think about the best way to present your information overall. There are three main formats to consider:
- Chronological: The most common resume format, this is where you list your experience in reverse chronological order, separated by job or position, starting with the most recent (or current). In this format, your skills section would come after your experience.
- Functional: In this format, you would spend the bulk of your resume highlighting your most relevant skills followed by a brief section outlining your experiences. If you don’t have any past jobs, you may want to consider a functional resume since it has less of an emphasis on individual positions.
- Combination: Just like it sounds, this format combines both chronological and functional approach in which you highlight relevant skills at the top of your resume and then list your experience in reverse chronological order. This format can be beneficial if your most recent experience isn’t related to what you’re applying for.
Be Consistent With Your Formatting
While there are no hard and fast rules about when to bold or italicize, what size the actual bullet points should be, or how many tabs you use, it is important to stay consistent in whatever you choose. If you decide to bold your job titles, make sure you do so throughout your resume. The same goes for any other formatting decision. This makes your resume more organized and easier to read.
Check Out This Sample Resume
So what does it all look like at the end? Here’s a sample resume to help you visualize how utilizing strong resume formatting for readability, including impactful resume sections, and thoughtfully and strategically describing your experience in concise bullets points can help you create a resume for your first job.
In this example combination resume, the person is applying for front desk coordinator positions in a medical office.
Before submitting your resume for your first job, the final step is to make sure you edit and proofread it. Reading your resume out loud and asking for some assistance from a second set of eyes can be helpful.
Now that you’ve made your first resume, it’ll only get easier. Remember that your resume is truly a living document and you’ll want to make a practice out of updating it and tailoring it to every job as your experience and career build. But you don’t have to start with a completely blank page ever again.