You’re officially on the job hunt for the first time. Congrats! The first step is to write a great resume that shows employers what you have to offer.
Here’s your step-by-step guide to making a resume for your first job.
1. Know what your resume is for
You want your resume to do three things:
Show the reader that you’re qualified for the job
Show them that you bring something valuable and/or unique to the table
And give them a way to contact you for an interview
Do you really need to tailor your resume to each job you apply for?
Yes. You’ll tailor your cover letter more than your resume, but you’ll want to make sure your objective statement is suited to the job and you may want to carefully phrase or highlight specific past duties and responsibilities for that role.
2. Gather all the basic info you need
This is the basic info you’ll need to build your resume. Most of it you’ll know off the top of your head, other bits, like dates and awards, you may have to go digging for.
Your phone number
Your email address
Your website or portfolio address or LinkedIn profile URL
A resume summary or objective statement (this is optional, but we’ll get to this later)
Work experience, including the name of your employer, when you worked there, and a brief description of your responsibilities and accomplishments
Your education, including where you went to school and when, what you studied, whether you got a degree, and any academic honors or scholarships you received
Extracurricular activities, including sports, clubs, Greek life, honor societies, volunteer experience, and community organizations
Any special skills, training, or certifications that are relevant to the position
3. Write a resume summary or objective statement
This step is optional. But using one of these can make it easy for potential employers to scan your resume as they sift through the digital pile, but if you’re using it only to fill up space, skip it.
A resume summary is a quick digest of your experience thus far that makes you qualified for the position. Because you’re looking for your first job, your professional summary will likely be short or focus mostly on completed training or education.
I graduated from Drake University in 2018 with a degree in journalism where I learned to write clear, engaging copy and hone my interviewing skills. I have two years’ experience as a reporter at the student newspaper and volunteer experience in teaching writing to high school students.
An objective statement tells the reader what you want in a job, and it might also include information about your experience and education thus far.
I graduated from Drake University in 2018 with a degree in journalism. I am looking to use the skills I gained in my coursework and in my two years at the student newspaper to get a job writing excellent marketing copy.
When you’re writing your first resume, it can be tempting to just fill up the page. But we recommend focusing on quality instead of quantity. No one will expect you to have a three-page resume for your first job.
Standard convention is that a resume should never be longer than a page, but in reality your resume should be as long or as short as it takes to clearly list relevant experience. At this stage in your career, “relevant” experience can be interpreted liberally.
Given that you’re entering the workforce for the first time, one page will likely be enough. If you’ve gotten some work experience while school, don’t be afraid to use more than one page.
When it comes to resumes, longer is better, right?
Don’t make your resume long for the sake of being long. If you’re including the lemonade stand you ran when you were a kid just to have the longest resume in the stack, we suggest you do some editing.
4. Summarize your work experience
In the work experience section, employers will want to know what jobs you’ve had and what your responsibilities were. They’ll also want to know if you were given any promotions or recognitions. Work studies and internships count here.
Editorial intern, WILMA magazine
Assisted editor in proofreading, page layout, and cover design
Wrote two stories per month for digital publication
Conducted interviews, pitched stories, and occasional fact-checking
Example: Showing a promotion
Server, Capital Club 16
September 2015–June 2018
Promoted to head waiter in June 2017
What if you don’t have any work experience?
If you’re making a resume for your very first job, it is likely you have little or no work experience.
That’s okay! There are plenty of other things an employer will be interested to see on your resume.
You can include part-time jobs, babysitting gigs, tutoring gigs, freelance work, work-studies, sports teams, community organizations, Greek life memberships, or even volunteer experience to show your future boss what it is you’ve been doing.
In lieu of jobs, you can highlight include education, volunteer experience, special skills and notable accomplishments. Your future employer will likely understand that you’re short on work experience. This is your first job, after all.
5. Summarize your education
This section is pretty simple to build out. They want to know where you went to school, what you studied, whether you got a degree, whether you graduated, and when.
University of North Carolina Wilmington, 2016–2020
B.S. in Software Engineering, minors in communications and English literature
Varsity Cross Country, 2016–2020
This is the section where you can list any scholarships and academic honors you received and any honor societies you were involved in. You can also mention here if you played a sport associated with the school.
Central Oregon Community College, 2017–2019
Associate’s in applied science, medical sonography
Dean’s list 2017–2019
Extra coursework in microbiology and biotechnology
Don't forget any "soft" honors, like recognition from the chancellor or dean.
Virginia Union University, 2015–2019
B.F.A. in Studio Art, B.A. in Art History
Summa cum laude
Delta Sigma Theta, VUU chapter founding member
Dean’s list 2016–2019
Chosen to represent the fine art department at chancellor’s dinner
What if I didn't finish school?
If you haven't finished yet, but all signs point to your graduating, put a projected grad date. Employers know how to read this.
If you dropped out of school or had to take a break or are currently on a break, indicate this either in a bullet point or in your cover letter.
Which should come first (or be more prominent) on your resume: work experience or education?
Whichever is more robust and relevant to the job you’re applying for. For example, if you’re applying for a job as a software developer and you have a degree in software engineering but your only work experience is as a DJ at the college radio station, list your education first or more prominently.
What if I don’t have a college degree?
No problem. There are plenty of great, well-paying jobs out there that don't require a college degree. Depending on the position you’re applying for, an employer might not be looking for or expecting a college degree.
Do include the education you do have such as a high school diploma, associates degree, paraprofessional training, or any technical certifications. If you are applying for a job that says a college degree is preferred, don't be discouraged. A resume that creates a positive first impression can still be chosen for an interview. Just be prepared to show off all the knowledge you do have, even if it didn’t come from a college or university.
6. Summarize your extracurriculars
You can label this section: Extracurriculars, Volunteer Experience, or Community Involvement, etc., or any combination of those.
You can lay out this section just like your work experience section.
Volunteer outreach coordinator, Cape Cod Literacy Council
Recruited and trained both adult learners and community volunteers
Assisted instructors in weekly classroom preparation
Conducted adult learner intake testing
Note: You can use this same format to list publications too.
7. List your certifications
Employee of the month is not a certification. (Sorry.)
You can put your certifications of formal training completed in a section all their own, or you can lump this in with your education—up to you. List the name of the certification, where you obtained the certification (optional), and when you received it.
Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) - 201
Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) - 2019
Resume writing quick tips
Spell check, spell check, spell check, and then have a friend review it for you
Organize the information chronologically, with most recent experience and education first
Put the information most relevant to the position first or most prominently
DON’T: Exaggerate or lie about work experience or skills. You should be prepared to talk about and even prove everything on your resume. Don’t speak fluent French? Don’t put in on your resume.
DON’T: Use complicated or distracting layouts. Keep it simple. A hard-to-read resume will likely remain unread.
DON’T: Forget to spell check—again