Welcome, and congratulations. Chances are, you’ve just finished university and are entering the professional world for the first time.
Which presents you with an interesting quandary: To apply for your first job, you need your first resume.
But how can you write an attention-grabbing resume without any work history?
Before we dig into that question, you should know that the average corporate job opening receives 250 applications.
While that may sound daunting, remember that every professional—even the most successful—wrote their first resume at some point. You should view the competition as a healthy challenge and a chance to prove yourself.
Now read these 11 tips for writing your first resume. I’m with you every step of the way.
(By the way, if you want a winning resume without writing it yourself, consider consulting a career professional).
1. Focus On Your Assets.
Yes, you don’t have any corporate experience. But you have had applicable life experiences, which can translate into marketable skills if you take the time to think through the connections.
So before you begin to write your first resume, make a shortlist of the most potent experiences/achievements throughout your academic career.
Start by reviewing the 3 types of skills recruiters screen for:
- Job-related: Skills you need to do the job.
Example: “Developed an online marketing plan.”
- Transferable: Skills that can apply to any job.
Example: “Fluent in Japanese.”
- Adaptive: Skills that equip you to interact with other humans.
Example: “Emotional intelligence.”
Once you have a good sense of what you have to offer an employer, you’re ready to take the next step in writing your first resume.
2. Determine Your Direction.
Unless you focused your studies on liberal arts or native basket weaving, you likely determined your desired field of work during your academic tenure.
However, given the statistic I quoted above (250+ applications per corporate job), it’s wise to consider several types of roles that would start your career right.
A great way to do this is to find a handful of job postings that interest you and use them as your guide. Which brings me to my next point…
3. Comb Through Relevant Job Postings.
Once you’ve identified your skills and interests within the context of what is available in the market now, look for synergies between your experiences and the requirements of the job(s) you are applying for.
Note any relevant keywords.
If you want your resume to be seen, ensure it includes keywords/phrases from the job description(s) you’ve landed on.
Most large Australian (and global) companies use an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) to screen their applications. This technology scans your resume for keywords matching the job posting.
If your resume highlights a fair share of these keywords, you could pass muster and wind up in the recruiter’s inbox.
4. Communicate Who You Are.
Start your resume with a Career Objectives Statement.
While this is not something we recommend for experienced professionals, it’s appropriate for your first resume.
Keep your focus on what you have to offer from your academic and life achievements and how they will your desired career trajectory.
However, recruiters aren’t only interested in your skills and abilities. The best recruiters are genuinely curious about who you are as an individual—not to mention, a potential co-worker.
They want to know:
- If you’ll fit into the company culture.
- If your personality and attitude fit well with the team.
- What your values are.
- What you want out of life AND from an employer.
Answer these questions by crafting a brief, authentic and compelling statement that will give recruiters a glimpse into who you are so that they’re intrigued to learn more.
So take it seriously. But not so seriously that you pretend to be someone else.
5. Know Your Audience.
While we’re on a heady subject like branding, it’s worth noting that your resume is more than just a fact sheet of experiences and accomplishments.
Think of it as a marketing tool designed to sell your capabilities and potential. As such, when writing your first resume, remember that you’re writing it for an audience:
The company you’re seeking employment with and the recruiter.
Make sure your message is targeted to their needs and objectives. Before you send in your application, do your due diligence:
- First, research every aspect of the company—history, products, services, company culture and recent news.
- Next, souse out everything you can about the specifics of the job.
- Armed with that information, look over your resume thus far and emphasise those aspects of yourself that align best with the company’s culture and the job itself.
(Related Article: 7 Best Resume Builders In Australia).
6. Quantify Your Accomplishments.
Don’t just state your accomplishments. As best you can, quantify them with facts and figures. As you’re writing them, keep three words in mind:
This simple framework should help you articulate your responsibilities, skills and achievements.
EXAMPLE: You chaired a council to help raise funds for your school or team, and you used social media to make that happen:
“Coordinated an event that raised $75,000 for campus improvements”.
“Increased engagement rate of team’s Facebook profile by 25%”.
7. Watch Your Language.
Choose verbs that communicate passion and action.
The right language can make all the difference between a resume that lands in the ‘no’ pile, and one that moves on to next steps in the hiring process.
Examples of good action verbs:
As for your adjectives, avoid buzzword fillers such as:
- Strategic thinker.
- Team player.
They’re overused, which means they make you look the same as everyone else.
BONUS TIP: As you write your resume for the first time keep your language fluent, yet direct.
8. Keep It Brief.
While most Australian resumes are 3-4 pages, your first resume should be shorter.
Stay lean and concise. Ruthlessly eliminate fluff. Your first resume should be about 1-2 pages.
At this point in your life you don’t have much work experience to brag about, however you can (and should) include other notable achievements which demonstrate your motivation, curiosity, competitiveness and discipline:
- Were you the school captain?
- Were you on the school debating team?
- Did you compete in cross country running?
- When did you overcome seemingly insurmountable barriers?
- When did you succeed where others fumbled?
- When did you receive a unique opportunity?
- Were you awarded for doing great work?
- Did you volunteer?
All of the above make great—and relevant—additions to your first resume.
9. Stick With Functional Format.
While this isn’t the only type of resume format, it’s ideal for your first resume since it highlights your skills and abilities over work experience.
The functional format consists of:
- Career objectives statement.
- Skills and abilities.
- Work experience.
10. Make It Look Professional.
By now you know how little time recruiters actually spend reviewing each resume. This means the last thing you want to do is make it harder for them to read yours.
For easy reading, stick to these guidelines:
- For your font, choose either Helvetica, Calibri or Cambria.
- Make your font size between 12 to 14.
- Appropriate spacing / white space for readability.
- Length of your resume should be less than two pages.
- No more than six bullet points when highlighting experience, education and skills.
- Margins at 1” all around.
- Left-aligned format (justified is also acceptable).
Recruiters review hundreds of resumes in a shot. Remember, they’re your target audience. Keep their needs in mind and make your resume an easy read.
11. Stay Sober.
Today’s job market is incredibly competitive. Your application will be up against those with previous work experience and perhaps even better academic credentials.
While the odds might feel impossible now, don’t let it get you down. If you get rejected by an employer, view it as an opportunity to improve your presentation.
Life, after all, isn’t about getting into a particular job, but about discovering and nurturing your hidden talents. If that’s a belief that you share, you’ll enjoy this TED Talk by Sir Ken Robinson:
My Parting Shot.
Will your first job out of school be the one you’ll keep for the rest of your life? Doubtful.
The reality is that your resume will evolve right alongside your list of career successes.
So even though you’re writing your resume for the first time now, you’ll update it countless times throughout your career. Enjoy the ride.
Time flies when you’re having fun.