Of all the ‘firsts’ in life—first day of school, first love, first car, first time you try ice cream—building a resume doesn’t rank high on the list. But it’s important. Your first resume leads to your first job, which leads to your first paycheck, which leads to—well, whatever it is you want to spend your money on.
But how do you build a resume for your first job?
Resumes are supposed to show employers the experience you have from other jobs and how are you going to do that if you’ve never been employed?
Does babysitting count as experience? Can mowing the lawn be used to sell yourself to a hiring manager? You better believe it! Everything counts.
Every skill you have that relates to the job you want can be used to get you hired. You just need to present these skills in a way that grabs an employer's attention. Here’s how to do exactly that.
Build off a template
Putting together a resume is a bit like connecting blocks. You write out different sections and you put them together to form something compelling (you’ll see what we mean by this as we get onto the list of things to include). That’s why we talk about it as ‘building’ rather than ‘writing.’
And when you’re putting together a resume for employers, building works best—one block on top of the other until it’s complete.
If you’re writing from scratch you’ve got no blocks to work with, which can make the process a whole lot harder. So, go ahead and find a template that you like instead—one that you can mimic the format of but change the text to suit.
You’ll find free templates in Word and Google Docs (although they are somewhat overused). We’ve got a stack of free templates too that you can download or edit in our resume builder. The app is designed in a way that lets complete one section at a time until the resume is complete, taking away that fear of the blank page.
Get the resume basics down
If you found your first love of resume templates, you can set about breaking its heart by changing all of the text that’s on there. Start with the basics first: name, address, email, and phone number. This will get you into the resume-building 'zone.'
The name, address, and phone number are self-explanatory, but you should take care with your email address. If your current email address contains a long string of numbers, potentially embarrassing words, or is shared with a partner, create a new one — something more professional like firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
You can create a free email address with Gmail or Outlook in a few minutes.
If you have a website and can create an email address linked to it, extra professionalism points for you!
The professional summary
The professional summary is the elevator pitch section of your resume. This is where you deliver a short, sharp summary that sparks an interest in you as a candidate. A good elevator pitch should last no longer than a short elevator ride of 30 seconds (hence the name). In written terms, this is around 100-120 words.
Your summary should answer the classic interview question: “So, tell me about yourself.”
It needs to:
- Match the employer's needs
- List skills
- Include achievements
This is a lot easier to do when you have plenty of job experience and some measurable results to show. But you don’t have that luxury so you need to really think about what you can bring to the table to win over employers.
- What are my biggest selling points?
- What problems can I solve?
- What do I want and what does my employer need?
Typically, the section after a professional summary would be dedicated to your work experience. However, as this is your first job, education can fill the void.
College education comes first, then high school. List your level of education and completion date. If you have a grade point average to be proud of, make it point of highlighting it in bold. Same goes for any degrees.
If you’ve taken any classes or courses outside of school, include them. For example, a social media course can show employers that you understand young markets.
If you have no education to show beyond High School, consider taking some online courses in your spare time to pad out this section.
Save The Student has put together a list of free online courses that will look great on your resume.
Any skills that you alluded to in your professional summary can be included here. Absolutely anything that relates to the position can be added, so focus on things you’ve learned during your school days or any summer, student, or volunteer jobs you’ve had.
Key skills fall into three categories: transferable, job-related, adaptive.
These are skills that you’ll have picked up during your life that can be applied to most things. Things like:
- Computer proficiency
- Management experience
- Written and verbal communication
These are skills that are specific to the sector you’re looking to work in; things you might have studied towards or been trained up during a summer job. For example, an architect would need computer-aided design (CAD) skills, an accountant would require auditing skills and a digital marketer would need to know about social media and search engine optimization (SEO).
Adaptive skills are similar to transferable skills but focus more on personality traits. You’ll probably have a few from this list in your locker:
Use the job-posting to guide you on which skills to include. Look at the kind of words employers use and the description of the candidate they’re looking for to cherry picks skills from your vast repertoire.
In the absence of an employment reference, ask a teacher or coach, or a supervisor from a student job to wax lyrical about you.
Make sure they want to do it (i.e. no tying anyone to a chair) and are happy to back up their words in a phone call or email exchange with any potential employers.
Things to avoid
When your resume is a little thin on the ground in terms of achievements it can be tempting to embellish the truth. But putting down a qualification for that course you never completed or degree you were one course short of will come back to haunt you. Never lie, you’ll be found out.
Don’t pad out your resume unnecessarily. Employers only ever skim-read anyway, so saying in three sentences what could be said in a single bullet point will do you more harm than good.
It’s becoming a common theme of this blog and apologies if you’re a regular reader, but it always bears repeating: employers hate typos. Always proofread.
Read your resume out loud and have someone else read over it too. Something as simple as an error-free resume can set you apart from many other candidates.
If you build it, your job will come
In the movie, Field of Dreams, a mysterious voice calls out to Kevin Costner in the night: “if you build it, he will come.” So Costner sets out to build a baseball diamond on his land and sure enough, the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson shows up to play ball.
What does that outdated, mildly successful 90s movie quote have to do with resumes? Well, if it worked for Costner, it can work for you. If you build your resume right, your first job will come.