When you have no experience, getting the attention of hiring managers or HR professionals can be a challenge.
The good news is that everyone starts somewhere, and overcoming this challenge is possible. If you know how to write a resume without experience, you can still stand out despite having no job history to show.
In this article, we’ll go over exactly how to structure this type of resume, including what to include and what to leave out. At the end of the post, you’ll find a customizable example template.
What Your No-Experience Resume Needs to Accomplish
Most job openings draw a massive number of applicants — sometimes hundreds or more for a single opening.
The goal or purpose of a resume is to help you stand out from other applicants and get to the next stage in the hiring process, which is an interview.
A seasoned professional with years of experience will use their work history and career accomplishments to stand out from the pack. Your resume can accomplish the same thing with no experience, but you need to go about it differently.
Since you can’t rely on employment history to prove your capabilities, you’ll need to catch the attention of the HR rep or hiring manager in other ways.
Your no-experience resume should:
- Show the relevant skills and experience you do have.
- Communicate your interest in the job and willingness to learn.
According to career strategist Linda J. Hollenback, MSEd, CPRW of Hollenback Consulting, you should think of this type of resume as a conversation starter.
“The resume’s purpose is not to get [you] a job, but to open the door for an interview, a conversation with the hiring manager,” Hollenback says. “The resume should showcase not only what you’ve done, but what skills, qualities, and value you bring to the team, company/organization, or client you serve.”
Your no-experience resume can and should communicate these same things. In other words, you need to highlight your skills, qualities and the value you would bring to the team or company if they hired you.
Plus, you may very well have more experience than you think. Katelyn Richards, a career coach from Crafted Careers, says that it’s important to redefine what “experience” means.
“We all, ultimately, have experience,” she says. “Life is filled with it. If you’re younger and haven’t had a professional job, your experience is just more limited, but it is by no means non-existent.”
Richards says to start by highlighting relevant experience — even if it isn’t directly related to the job you’re applying for.
“There’s a reason why this particular role is of interest to you. You have relevant skills. Otherwise, you wouldn’t believe you could do this job. It might be from school or from a job we had as a teen. Either way, [you] want to name these.”
According to Richards, that relevant experience could come from:
- Academic projects
- A non-related job (full time, part-time or seasonal)
- Side projects (including things like side hustles and Eagle Scout projects)
- Freelance work (even if not paid)
- Volunteer experience
- Clubs and organizations
- Leadership positions
Another way to stand out is to show the capability and willingness to learn. Global HR advisor, coach, and recruiter Anne Campbell from DigitalGrads says, “Your resume should leave the reader in no doubt that you are keen to learn and have the aptitude for the role even if you haven’t worked before.”
You can do this with a well-written summary and cover letter (we’ll look at the summary and cover letter in more detail later in this article).
It’s also important to understand that applicants for entry-level jobs are typically not expected to have experience.
Amy C. Waninger, diversity and inclusion expert and CEO of Lead at Any Level, says that for these types of positions, prior experience may not be an expectation. “Instead, [the recruiter or hiring manager] is looking for indicators that you will be a good employee. If you are a student or recent student, you can probably demonstrate these characteristics through activities other than work experience.”
What to Include
Let’s take a look at the specific sections to include in your no-experience resume, so you know exactly how to create your own.
Section 1: Header
At the top of your resume, include your contact information:
- Address (optional)
- Phone number
- Email address
- LinkedIn profile (optional)
Section 2: Summary
In the past, most resumes started with a career objective, which could have included things like your long-term goals.
The summary is a modern replacement for the objective. It should highlight your qualifications for the job clearly and concisely. Here, you’ll mention skills, accomplishments, or non-work experience that quickly demonstrates your capabilities.
Dr. Deb Geller, Associate Dean of Students at UCLA, says that your summary statement should be the equivalent of an elevator pitch. “In one short paragraph, it summarizes your strengths and experiences, states the type of position you are looking for, and connects the dots to show how you are prepared to succeed on the job.”
Remember that HR reps and hiring managers likely received many resumes for the position, which means they’ll make quick decisions before moving on to the next applicant. They won’t read every word of every resume they receive, so the summary is your opportunity to capture their attention quickly.
Section 3: Education
The education section of a resume is crucial for applicants with no job history. You need to maximize any advantage you have, including any awards, honors or scholarships you earned.
Recent grads may also want to include relevant coursework that’s highly applicable to the job. Listing some of the courses you’ve completed will make your education section more robust, and it can help offset a lack of work experience.
There’s some debate as to whether you should include your GPA on your resume. The consensus is that you should list the GPA if it’s strong (over 3.0). With no work experience, your education is one of the most critical aspects of your qualification for the job. If you have an excellent GPA, use it to your advantage. If your GPA was below 3.0, don’t include it on the resume.
Section 4: Experience
Even though you have no job history, you have some type of experience. The key is to identify the experiences you have that are relevant to the position you’re applying for and use the experience section to show a relationship between your past and your ability to excel in the role to which you’re applying.
There are two main types of resumes: chronological and functional. The chronological resume lists experience in chronological order, with the most recent at the top. The functional approach lists the most relevant or most crucial experience first, regardless of the timeline.
If you have no job history, the experience section of your resume should take a functional approach, which ensures that the most important details are listed first.
Note: With no job history, you probably don’t want to title this section of your resume as “Work Experience.” Consider using “Experience” or “Relevant Experience” instead.
What should you list? There are plenty of ways to gain experience outside of a job. For recent college graduates, the things you did during college will be the most recent and likely the most significant, but you can also include experience before college.
Some possibilities include:
- Personal projects or side hustles
- Volunteer experience
- Leadership or student government roles
- Participation on committees
- Courses or certifications you’ve completed
- Participation in sports or extracurricular activities (especially if you were a captain or had a leadership role)
- Community involvement
Experience doesn’t have to come through work. The experience you’ve gained outside of a job could be even more valuable and more appealing to the hiring manager.
Adam Gingery, chief operating officer for Majux Marketing, says, “If you have no official work experience, you can very easily catch my attention by giving me a resume of projects you’ve undertaken on your own.”
Gingery says that concrete examples demonstrate enthusiasm, the desire to learn, discipline and work ethic. “Things that a year or two of work experience don’t prove in the least.”
As you’re crafting this section of your resume, focus on transferable skills. For example, a position in student government may have allowed you to develop strong problem-solving skills and taught you how to work well with others. The specific experience you gained in student government may not be relevant work experience to the job you’re applying for, but these skills will transfer and be helpful in the role.
Focus on demonstrating the transferable skills you’ve developed through your experience. If possible, use the exact keywords or buzzwords that appear in the description of the job you’re applying for.
Although it won’t help you immediately, you may also want to consider volunteering or finding opportunities to get involved in the field you’re looking to pursue.
“If you have no work experience, consider starting your own project or volunteering your time to get the ball rolling,” says Eropa Stein, founder of the HR software firm Hyre.
“For example, if you are looking to get into HR, you may volunteer to help with HR at a non-profit. If you are looking to enter a business development field, consider doing a case study on an existing company. Find opportunities wherever you can to create experiences for yourself that are related to your ideal position. Add these experiences to your resume and go into detail on what you accomplished.”
Section 5: Skills
The skills section of your resume should be brief, but you want to highlight your skills that are most relevant to the specific job you’re applying for. Rob Hernandez, founder of Pounse (a talent platform for schools and students), recommends using bullet points with 8-10 words that describe how you used that skill in context.
Be sure to include a combination of both hard skills (writing, coding, etc.) and soft skills (communication, leadership, etc.). And just as with the experience section, you want to focus on transferable relevant skills.
Zoë Morris, president of the recruitment firm Nigel Frank International, says to hone in on anything that could be useful in the role you’re applying for.
“A lot of desirable traits that hiring managers are looking for in a candidate are the soft skills that are very difficult to teach. In that sense, where you’ve learned these isn’t as important as the fact that you’re able to demonstrate them. If you’re a great communicator or problem solver, or can work well under pressure, these are skills that can be developed outside of the workplace and transferred between seemingly completely unrelated roles.”
What to Leave Out
Now that we’ve covered the details of what to include in your resume, let’s take a quick look at a few things you should leave out.
- References. You may need to provide references later in the hiring process, but the resume is not the appropriate place for that.
- Photos of yourself. Including a picture can be viewed as unprofessional. Additionally, HR reps are usually very careful to avoid any hint of discrimination, so they typically do not want photos on a resume.
- Unprofessional email address. The email address listed on your resume should be simple but professional. It’s fine to use free services like Gmail but don’t include words or phrases that feel unprofessional. Create a new email address if you need to — your name (or some form of your name) is best.
- Unrelated hobbies. Everything listed on your resume should be relevant to the job you’re applying for. Relevant hobbies that provide you with valuable experience are OK to mention, but don’t include them if the hobby is unrelated to the job.
Six Key No-Experience Resume Tips
1. Customize Your Resume to the Job Listing
Sending out the same resume for every job application is the easy route, but it’s not effective. Each job is unique. Hiring managers and HR reps will be looking for different things based on the role they’re looking to fill. While it takes more time, you should customize your resume to the specific job before sending it.
2. Use Keywords
Carefully read the job listing when you’re customizing your resume. Pay attention to the specific keywords used to describe the duties or qualifications and incorporate those keywords into your resume whenever possible.
Keywords can help get your resume noticed when companies use software to scan and identify the most relevant applicants. Keywords also help your resume to stand out during a manual review. It’s an easy way to show you’re a good fit for the role.
3. Focus on Jobs That Use the Skills and Experience You Have
Applying to the right jobs and emphasizing the right aspects of your background and experience can improve your chances of success.
Rolf Bax, chief human resources officer at Resume.io, says, “I’ve been impressed many times by an applicant’s resume, despite not having any relevant experience, and it has always been because they have spent time focusing on the aspects of the job description that are most relevant to their personality, as well as any other academic or professional experience. If you are at a disadvantage when it comes to actual job experience, you can compensate for that to a great degree by tailoring your resume to parts of the job description that are your biggest strengths.”
4. Format the Resume for Readability
Remember that HR reps and hiring managers will be reviewing many resumes. You can make their life easier by formatting your resume to be easily read or scanned. Use bullet points, whitespace, subheadings and bold text.
Ben Lamarche, General Manager of the Lock Search Group, says, “Don’t be afraid to use bold-faced fonts, especially with your section headers and keywords. Highlight items you really want to be noticed, such as a company, an award, or skill.”
At the same time, avoid embellishment. Your resume should be clean and professional, so don’t use unusual fonts, colors or graphics.
5. Proofread Carefully
Don’t submit a resume until you’ve carefully read through it a few times, checking for any mistakes. If possible, have someone else review the resume for you to get a second set of eyes on it. You don’t want to have typos or errors that make a bad first impression.
6. Include a Cover Letter
Including a cover letter is not always mandatory, but doing so helps you to stand out. When you have no previous work experience, a cover letter can be an effective way to communicate your interest in the job, your willingness to learn, and to explain how some of your non-work experience could be beneficial in this role.
Resume Example Template
Here’s a template that follows the structure outlined above. Just click the image below to jump to the Google Doc, then click “Make a Copy” to save the editable template to your Google Drive.
No Experience Resume FAQs
A functional resume is the better choice for applicants with no job history because it allows you to emphasize your most relevant experience (whatever that may be) and your most vital skills.
Resume keywords are important words or phrases that are relevant to the specific position or role. The job listing or description may include keywords that could be skills, experiences, or qualifications for the job. Technology may be used to identify applicants that use the right keywords in their resume, so you’ll want to include the keywords that seem most important for the job.
It depends on the job you’re applying for. Part-time entry-level jobs may or may not require a resume. Most full-time entry-level positions for college grads will require a resume. In most cases, the job listing will indicate if a resume is needed.
Writing an Entry Level Resume: Final Thoughts
The job search process can be stressful and intimidating for anyone, but especially for those who have no previous work experience. With no job history, you’ll need to take a specific approach. But if you follow the details covered in this article, you’ll be well on your way to standing out.
Remember, your resume doesn’t need to get you hired. The resume’s job is to get you an interview so you can move on to the next step. With the right approach, that’s a very reasonable goal.
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