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Help! I Have No Experience to Put on My Resume
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Lorelei Yang
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Wonky consultant with a passion for words
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If you're fairly young and don't have a lot of work experience to include in your resume yet, filling an entire page with your qualifications for a job can be daunting. The "you need experience to get experience" paradox can be discouraging. However, there's no need to despair — there are plenty of alternatives to traditional work experience that can go on your resume. Internships, volunteering and more can be great alternatives to standard work experience.

Sections.

If you're writing a resume without work experience, you'll obviously want to omit a work experience section because you won't have anything to put in it. Instead, you should have the following sections: 

A header.

No matter what point you're at in your career, your resume should always have a header. This should include your first and last name, a professional email address, your phone number and your LinkedIn URL. For certain types of opportunities, you could also consider adding a link to your professional portfolio (for technical roles) or your social media (for social media management or agency roles).

A summary statement.

One or two sentences at the top of your resume to help reviewers understand your professional experiences thus far serve two purposes when you have relatively little work experience. For one, they help readers understand who you are very quickly. For another, they take up page real estate — which can be valuable when you don't have much to put on your resume yet.

Education.

If you're relatively young, odds are that you're in school or recently graduated. In either case, you'll want to put your educational qualifications front and center (for you, unlike for an older employee with more professional experience, your educational credentials are quite important). In this section, you'll want to include your school's name and location as well as the degree you're seeking (or that you earned) and your GPA. 

Skills.

Even if you don't have full-time work experience yet, you still have plenty of skills to offer prospective employers. Putting key skills — such as programming, social media or knowledge of specific software — on your resume helps an employer understand what you bring to the table as a prospective hire. 

Internships.

Although you may not have full-time work experience, you may have internship experience. Highlighting these close to the top of your resume helps prospective employers understand where you've worked in the past, as well as what you've learned from those experiences. 

Extracurricular activities/volunteer experience.

If you're a student or recent graduate, you probably have a wealth of extracurricular activities and volunteer experiences that have taught you workplace-applicable skills. Having these experiences on your resume can be very valuable, especially if the extracurriculars or volunteer experiences you've had are directly related to the job(s) you're applying for. 

Special interests.

While you don't have to have this section, some people choose to include special interests on their resumes. Personally, I've never included this section on my resume — but I've seen plenty of resumes that list applicants' interests in sailing, professional clubs and associations, sports, art, music or travel. Including this information can add some personality to your resume and help a resume reviewer evaluate your cultural fit for an organization.

Keywords.

Many companies use applicant tracking systems (ATS) to store, scan and rank job applications. These systems have become increasingly common, even at smaller companies (they were originally used almost exclusively by  big corporations with massive numbers of applicants, but have made their way into the mainstream in recent years), so it's very important to ensure that your resume has the right keywords to get picked up by the ATS. 

To figure out what keywords you want to include in your resume, review the job descriptions for the roles you're applying for to look for common words, phrases and competencies (both soft and hard skills) that employers are looking for. Those words should be included somewhere in your resume because the ATS will look for them to help find applicants who have the right skills for the job.  

Your summary statement is a great place to include ATS-optimized keywords. You can use those sentences to present yourself as an applicant with the right skills, experiences and competencies and ensure the ATS (and hiring manager, when they review your resume) recognizes that in your resume. 

Tips.

While you're writing your resume, it'll behoove you to keep a few tips in mind to ensure that you're putting your best foot forward. Following these three simple tips will help maximize your resume's odds of success.

1. Keep your formatting clean and your organization clear.

With the huge number of resumes that come in for many jobs (plus the use of ATS), no one has the time to puzzle through a confusing, poorly organized resume. Be sure that your resume is easy to skim and concise. 

2. Check spelling, grammar and punctuation.

Since it's the first impression you're giving a prospective employer, it's incredibly important to ensure that your resume is perfect. Misspelled words, stray or missing commas and poor grammar will stick out in a single page document — and could cost you your dream job.

3. Customize your resume for each job you apply to.

Taking a few minutes to customize your resume for each job you apply to can help you reap huge rewards. Tailoring your resume and cover letter, if you're writing one, to different jobs' keywords, responsibilities and requirements is much more effective than sending the same generic resume out to every single employer.

Examples.

To help you write a fantastic resume, here are some examples of the key elements you should include in it. 

Summary 

Education 

Internship experience

Extracurricular activity

Volunteering

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Lorelei Yang is a New York-based consultant and freelance writer/researcher. Find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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