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Graduating from college is a milestone worth celebrating. However, the uncertainty surrounding what comes next may make some recent graduates nervous about the future.
A college education can take you far in your career, and many companies look for applicants who completed a degree at an accredited school. Yet, earning your degree isn’t enough to get a hiring manager’s attention, so you’ll want to make a great first impression where it counts.
Writing a resume and cover letter without substantial work experience can be tricky for a first-time job seeker. Thankfully, you can leverage what you’ve learned in college and highlight your academic achievements to illustrate why you’re the best candidate. This guide will show you how to write a resume to get that first job offer after graduation.
Things to Consider When Writing a Resume
According to a National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) survey, bachelor-level graduates ages 25 to 34 years old had the highest employment rate at 86% in 2020. Conversely, only 57% of those with high school diplomas were employed.
Even though many graduates get hired after receiving their degrees, it doesn’t make navigating the competitive job market any less challenging. As such, your resume needs to speak to your best attributes, skills and expertise.
Regardless of whether you’re a college graduate or a professional in the field, you have 7.4 seconds to win over a recruiter, so it’s essential to keep specific rules in mind, such as:
- Make sure the font and text size are readable.
- Unless your field is highly-creative, use simple, clear formatting and minimal graphics and colors.
- Try to fit all the content on one page — but no more than two pages.
- Use headers for each second and explain your responsibilities for each role with bullet points.
- Always send your resume to an employer as a PDF file.
6 Steps for Writing a Stellar Resume Without Experience
Post-college job seekers will want to construct a universal and eye-catching resume they can modify with each position they apply for. Even without sufficient work experience, you can follow these six steps for writing a stellar overview.
1. Correct Contact Information
Your name — usually in a bigger font and bolded — and contact information should be the first thing recruiters see at the top of your resume. Your contact detail should include the following:
- Phone number
- Professional email address
- Your current city and state
- LinkedIn URL or portfolio website
If a hiring manager is interested in reaching out for an interview, they’ll need to know how to reach you. Review the information once or twice before sending your resume to ensure everything is correct.
2. Convincing Profile or Summary
You’ll hear from many experts that the traditional resume objective is old-fashioned in the current job market and should be replaced with a profile or summary to grab a recruiter’s attention.
Your summary should emphasize your resume’s most necessary and impressive details — you may even want to write this section out last.
Even without work experience to show, college graduates can use the summary to explain their professional goals and demonstrate their fundamental skills and personality traits.
3. Detail Education History
A college graduate’s education history is crucial if you’ve never held a job. To appeal to a recruiter, the education section of your resume should include the following:
- College or university’s name
- School’s location (city, state)
- Graduation date (month, year)
- Degree level and major — also include minors
- Grade point average — only if it was above a 3.5
- Honors and awards
You could also add a bulleted list of relevant coursework to show your interest in the field and industry knowledge. However, college graduates with prior employment should keep the education section shorter by omitting awards and courses.
4. Relevant Experience
Typically, your work experience is the central section of your resume — but if you didn’t work while attending school, you should rename the next section “Relevant Experience” and include the following:
- Full-time and part-time positions
- Volunteer experience
- Internships — many internship opportunities turn into full-time positions if you enjoy the work
- Extracurricular activities
- Relevant coursework
Always ensure your relevant experience ties into the position you’re applying for. You can do this by emphasizing distinct skill sets you possess that would benefit the role.
Also, make sure to add noteworthy achievements associated with particular experiences. For example, were you the lead editor for your college newspaper? Did you host a show for the campus radio station? Did you coordinate any campus events or donation drives? These details demonstrate valuable leadership, organization, and communication skills.
5. Soft and Hard Skills
You don’t need formal professional experience to have acquired impressive skills. You likely gained plenty throughout your college career and extracurricular activities.
Look at the job posting and research the essential skills for your field. Make a note of the soft and hard skills that you can utilize in the workplace, such as:
- Time management
- Writing and research skills
- Interpersonal skills
- Presentation skills
- Verbal and written communication
- Microsoft Office
- Google Drive
Technical or hard skills, including mastery of industry-related programs and techniques, are particularly marketable. Meanwhile, soft skills are valuable across all careers. Just remember to integrate your skills into other sections of your resume, as well.
If you feel lost, asking a mentor, employer or professor for advice could give you an outside perspective on the strengths and skills employers are looking for.
6. Additional Background Information
A section for additional information can help share important details that don’t fit under any other section. It also allows you to separate work experience and community service projects if you have it.
Use the additional section to share publications, professional associations, certifications, and language proficiencies. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates a 24% employment growth rate for interpreters and translators, particularly in newly-emerging markets in Asia and Africa.
Regardless of the type of information you choose to disclose in this section, it should somehow satisfy the job requirements of the position you’re after.
A Little Confidence Goes a Long Way
Applying to your first post-college job is likely nerve-wracking, even for students who plugged away at their studies and graduated top of their class. The uncertainty of finding work may even give you a case of imposter syndrome.
Try not to compare yourself to others and stay optimistic. Every interview or rejection letter is a new opportunity to grow and learn more about yourself and the workplace.