No work experience? No problem.
The ol' catch-22: you need a job to get experience, but you need experience to get a job. Either way, you need a resume, and what you don't need is to panic.
Just because you don't have skills that are relevant to the job, or experience in a traditional work setting, doesn't mean you can't craft a convincing first job resume. Whether you're a high school or college student, you may be wondering: how do you write a resume with no work experience? Well, we'll tell you with these expert tips.
1. Choose the best format for a resume with no experience
There are a few dominant resume templates in use today:
Hybrid - a blend of the chronological and functional formats
A chronological resume format lists a candidate's work experience in reverse-chronological order and a functional resume format focuses on highlighting the candidate's hard and soft skills and achievements, rather than work experience. While the functional and hybrid resume formats can be attractive options for job seekers with little relevant experience, most employers and hiring managers prefer a chronological format.
Aside from hiring managers preferring it, it's best to use a reverse chronological resume for two additional reasons:
It's the most used format in the US, making it easy for hiring managers to review and find the information they're seeking
It's the most liked by employers' applicant tracking systems, or ATS. If an ATS can't read your resume properly, it might not get into the hands of a human reader - even if you're the perfect candidate for the job
The primary sections of a reverse chronological resume are:
The heading (with your contact information)
Work experience (which will be substituted with other sections when you have no work experience)
2. Incorporate your contact information
Now that you've chosen the best format for a resume with no experience, it's time to complete each section. The first section of your resume is the header section. This is the section that includes your name and contact information. In this section, you'll provide:
Location and zip code
LinkedIn or professional website URL (optional)
Your name should sit above your contact information in a larger font size than the rest of the information included in the header. You also want to ensure you use a professional sounding email address. Using something like “firstname.lastname@example.org” or “email@example.com” will likely come across as unprofessional and won't gain you any points for the “yes” pile. A good choice is to use your name (or a combination of your initials and surname), instead.
Here's an example of how to list your contact information at the top of your resume:
555.555.5555 | firstname.lastname@example.org | WV 26250 | linkedin.com/in/jsmith28
3. Include a strong summary statement
The next section of your resume, your Resume Summary, will fall just below your contact information. Your resume summary is not to be mistaken for a resume objective.
Resume objective statements, where you state exactly what career goals you wish to achieve, have mostly fallen out of fashion. This is largely because you want to focus on what you can do for the employer, not what the employer can do for you. A resume summary statement, on the other hand, sums up who you are professionally at the top of the page in two to five sentences and serves as the first impression you give a hiring manager to entice them to keep reading.
For a resume with no experience, your resume summary can still pack a punch. Include some of the key skills you have relevant to the job, while emphasizing your major and any type of experience that speaks to your ability to succeed.
Here's an example of a resume summary for a recent grad with a human resources degree:
Human resources graduate with diverse knowledge base in employee relations, benefits design, employment law, and policy design. Avid learner with solid written and verbal communication skills and a strong desire to support all levels within an organization for improved employee morale and productive collaboration.
4. Substitute the Work Experience section with other types of experience
Writing a resume with no experience can feel like a daunting task. Fortunately, recruiters and hiring managers are seeking candidates that have a robust background, regardless of experience level. Here are some sections you can substitute in lieu of a Work Experience section:
Hobbies and Interests
When you include these additional types of experiences on a resume, you can include them as a standalone section or create a “Relevant Experience” section. Depending on the type of experience you're including, you might find it's best to use a section heading that aligns with the type of experience (“Internships” for internships, “Volunteer Work,” for volunteer work, and so on).
Landing paid or unpaid college internships are one of the best weapons you have against "experience required." Not only do they give you some real-world work experience, they also allow you to network and make connections that can put you in a job later. When applying for a job without experience, be sure to list any internships you've completed.
If you haven't had an internship, consider applying for one as a step before an entry-level job.
Here's an example of how to include an internship on your resume:
New York Secretary of State Office, New York, NY
Jan 2021 - May 2021
Reconciled budget sheets for quarterly processing
Supported accounting team in year end tax return audits
Analyzed 15 budget reports over a two-month period to ensure accurate data reporting
Similar to internships, a graduate assistantship secured during school is also a great way to gain valuable experience to include on a resume. Graduate assistantships are paid opportunities provided to graduate students. They typically involve part-time teaching or research within their field of study.
Here's an example of how to include an assistantship on your resume:
HR Graduate Assistant
West Virginia University School of Business and Economics, Morgantown, WV
August 2020 - May 2021
Reviewed 100 collective bargaining agreements to identify and document similarities and inconsistencies throughout
Worked with academic Professors to develop research guidelines for future assistants
When surveyed, the majority of employers say that they take volunteer experience listed on your resume, such as being a soup kitchen volunteer, into consideration alongside paid work experience. So any volunteer work that highlights your talents or a new skill should be put on your well-prepared resume.
You'll list volunteer work in a similar way to how you would list internships and actual work experience:
Animal Transport Volunteer
Friends for Life Animal Shelter, Philippi, VA
April 2022 - Present
Working with local shelters to transport animals to and from shelters and foster homes
Assisting in cleaning kennels and common areas to support sanitation efforts
Spearheading animal supply drive, collecting $10K worth of supplies
Though it might not seem like it at first, extracurricular activities can add a lot of value to your resume in lieu of work experience, if you can relate them to the job you're applying to. For example, if you were an officer for a club during college or a captain of a sports team, these roles speak to leadership ability.
In general, these types of activities show you have the ability to collaborate with others. It also shows you have the ability to keep up with school work while being involved in other areas outside of school, which speaks to time management and organizational skills.
Here are some of the top extracurricular activities to include on a resume with no experience, as well of some of the skills they help to highlight:
Artistic endeavors: speaks to creativity, problem solving, perseverance, ability to learn
Sports: speaks to teamwork, collaboration, hard work, problem solving, conflict resolution
Club leadership roles: speaks to leadership, organization, perseverance, time management
General club membership: speaks to time management, community involvement, prioritizing
Student government: speaks to leadership, public speaking, time management, problem solving, organization
Here's an example of how to list extracurricular activities on a resume with no experience:
Student Council Vice PresidentBelington High SchoolAugust 2020 - May 2021
Spearheaded clothing drive to support the homeless in the state of Virginia
Wrote and delivered 3 speeches to the student body focused on student wellbeing, fundraising events, and life beyond high school
If you completed job-related projects during high school or college, they can be a valuable addition to your resume. Personal projects are also game for a resume with no experience, if they're relevant to the job.
Here's how you might list a personal project on your resume:
Social Media Campaign
Sparkle and Shine Fundraising Event
February 2022 - Mar 2024
Created social media campaign to support fundraising efforts for local children's shelter, supporting education in underprivileged youth
Increased followers by 25% in two months
Generated leads that converted to $3,000 in donations
Here's how you might list school projects on your resume:
Masters in Counseling and Development
Career counseling planning design for women with chronic fatigue syndrome
Group counseling proposal for friends and family members of those who have mental health challenges
Behavioral health program design to work with males ages 18 to 30 with adverse childhood experiences
Hobbies and interests
It's more common today than ever before to include hobbies and interests on a resume - they help to provide insights into who you are as a person, to enhance your resume story. Hobbies and interests require soft and hard skills, many of which are required to succeed on the job, and they can especially be useful to fill in gaps when you lack work experience.
For additional information on how to list hobbies and interests on your resume with no experience, refer to “How to List Hobbies and Interests on a Resume (With Examples).”
An award can signal to an employer to take note, since they're a distinction that speaks to your skills, abilities, and accomplishments. Adding an Awards section is an excellent way to showcase your ability to succeed in lieu of work experience.
When you list an award, include the award and issuing institution. For example:
2023 Science Olympiad Award recipient, Science Olympiad Foundation
Acquiring certifications provides an excellent opportunity to add value and fill in gaps in terms of skills and work experience. There are a lot of opportunities to secure certifications for free through sites like LinkedIn Learning, Udemy, and Grow with Google. Certifications not only highlight your skills but also show that you're focused on personal and professional development, which employers appreciate in candidates.
You can list certifications in a standalone Certifications list or with your Education section. For more information on how to best include certifications on a resume with no experience, refer to “How to List Certifications on a Resume (with examples).”
5. Include your education
When you have work experience, it's common to include your Education section after your Work Experience section. However, on a resume with no experience, many opt to list and emphasize their education after the resume summary. This is largely due to the fact that your education is what's most relevant to employers when you're straight out of school.
Also, in lieu of a Work Experience section, especially if you're running thin on any of the relevant experience options listed above, you can expand and focus on the education section on your resume to highlight the marketable skills you've developed. What can you do well that this job requires? What will be useful to the hiring company? What have you done in school and what have you studied that has prepared you for assuming this job?
This is generally a little easier if you're a college graduate with specialized education, but even a high school graduate can talk about their electives and relevant coursework, why they wanted to take them, and what they learned from the class. It's also acceptable to include any awards, scholarships, honors, or any student clubs and committees you participated in. For example, if you were on the Dean's list, include it.
Many also wonder if they should include their GPA on their resume. The short answer is yes, if it's 3.5 or higher. This level of achievement highlights your potential and the hard work you're willing to put in for success.
Here's the order to list items in your Education section, with items 5 to 8 being optional:
City and state of institution
Graduation date (or expected graduation date, if in progress)
Here's how your education might look laid out on your resume:
Bachelors of Science - Psychology (3.5 GPA, magna cum laude)Maryland State University
Relevant coursework: human growth and development, assessment, treatment planning, abnormal behavior
6. Emphasize your skills
Even when you don't have actual work experience, you have definitely acquired skills to support you on the job, which can set you apart from the competition. Be sure to highlight both hard and soft skills on your resume. You can do this by including a Skills section near the end, or by adding a Core Competencies section just below your Resume Summary.
You also might be wondering what the difference is between hard and soft skills. Hard skills are technical skills that are measurable and learned. Softs skills are tangible skills that are difficult to measure.
Examples of valuable hard skills on a resume include:
Here are some common soft skills employers seek in their employees:
Working well under stress
7. Add a cover letter
Even if one isn't required, it's generally a good idea to send a short cover letter along with your resume. Cover letters are where your personality comes out and you can use them to make the case for why you're the perfect candidate for this job.
A standout cover letter can convince an employer to bring you in for an interview, even if your resume itself doesn't have all the things they'd like to see. Your cover letter provides you with the opportunity to show a bit of personality and express why you're interested in the job, as well. Be sure your cover letter uses the same font and style as your resume, for consistency.
Elements you should never include on a resume
While there are many elements you should consider adding to your resume, career experts say there are a few things you should never include because they waste space, don't tell the employer anything relevant, or could damage your personal brand. This list includes, but is not limited to:
Do not add this information to your resume unless an employer or recruiter asks you to provide it.
Additional tips for a resume with no work experience
As you develop your resume with no experience, here are a few more tips to consider.
Take stock of your achievements and activities
Make a list of absolutely everything you've done that might be useful on a resume. From this list, you'll then need to narrow down what to actually include on your resume. Different things might be relevant to different jobs you apply for, so keep a full list and pick the most relevant things from it to include on your resume when you send it out. This will help you to identify which sections to include in lieu of work experience.
Pay attention to technical details
When editing your resume, make sure there are no punctuation, grammatical, spelling, or other errors that will make your resume look unprofessional. Then, have a friend or family member read it again to catch any mistakes you might have missed — you can't afford a typo or missing word as a candidate with no prior work experience. Also, be sure to vary your language and use action verbs throughout your resume to keep your reader engaged.
Keywords, keywords, keywords!
Most employers use some form of applicant tracking system (ATS) to scan and sort resumes. This may seem unfair, but it's the reality of modern-day hiring. To combat this, you'll want to come up with, and include, a list of keywords in your resume when applying for any job. The best place to find these keywords is in the job post itself, or in ads for similar jobs. One caveat: don't use meaningless "buzzwords," such as "go-getter," "team player," and “detail-oriented." Unfortunately, sometimes these buzzwords are the only keywords listed in the ad. If that's the case, you'll need to sneak them in alongside your detailed accomplishments and academic achievements.
Customize your resume for each job you apply to
The last and most important thing to remember when creating a good resume is to customize it for every job to which you apply. Different job postings are going to have different keywords, different job duties listed, and so on. Appealing to each individual employer's needs and job requirements is the best strategy for getting your application noticed and hopefully landing your first job.
Relevant experience goes beyond work experience
At the end of the day, the only perfect resume is the one that gets you the interview. Regardless of whether you have work experience or not, it's still possible to stand out by highlighting other types of experience that relate to the role.
Even once you're comfortably employed, be prepared to tweak and update your resume to get noticed with each job application you submit. In the meantime, use any type of relevant experience to help you shine and land an interview. Sooner or later, you'll land that job - and gain that much-coveted relevant work experience.
Tackling this kind of resume isn't easy. If you've recently graduated or are in an entry-level job search, a professional resume writer can prepare you for success.
This blog was originally written by Riya Sand and has been updated by Ronda Suder.