Writing your first resume may seem like a daunting task. You’ve most likely got student loans on the brain, and the pressure of landing a job ahead of your peers can sometimes be overwhelming. The good news is that you don’t have to feel helpless. By putting in some work, and following a strategy, you can create an effective resume that gives a good start on the job market. 

Here are ten things you should know when writing your first resume.

Manage your expectations

As with most first-time experiences, it’s best to temper your expectations when it comes to results. The job market, after all, is very competitive. You will be competing with those with previous work experience and sometimes, even better academic credentials. This not meant to discourage you, it’s just a fact: recent studies show that corporate job openings attract an average of 250 applicants.

Collectively, these factors can weigh against you. But the competition is a good thing. It should push you to try harder and to keep seeking out ways to improve your resume, and your marketable skills. In fact, when it comes to first resumes and job applications, the idea should be to treat the process as a learning experience. Do you think you’ll get a job out of school that you’ll have for the rest of your career? Unlikely. Your resume is equally fluid; look at it as a living document that changes with every application and work experience.

So, even if the process seems discouraging at first, roll with the punches, and it will get better with time.

Click here to find out how to tailor your resume to any job description.

Review your experiences

Fresh graduates and those who are writing their first resume are often concerned that their experiences are not substantial enough. The truth is, when it comes to enticing recruiters, it’s less about “what” you’ve done and more about “how” it could relate to the job opening.

For example, if you’re applying for a job as an HR coordinator, you might want to focus on any part-time work experience that might be relevant (like say working as a team leader at a fast food restaurant). What you need to do is take stock of the responsibilities that are relevant to the job of a HR coordinator:

  • Conducted daily meetings with service staff.
  • Prepared and updated service staff training manuals.
  • Managed training and orientation of new service staff.

When reviewing your experiences, find common ground with what you did and the requirements of the job you are applying for.

Use the job posting as a guide

The best way to make sure your resume gets attention is to tailor it to the job description.

Many recruiters use an Applicant Tracking System (ATS). This is a software program that scans your resume for keywords matching the job posting. If your resume includes a good number of these keywords, you could pass the ATS and move on to the next stage of the hiring process.

So, when reading a job application, take note of the following:

  • Keywords used for hard skills – Skills needed to carry out the job description
  • Keywords used for soft skills – Attributes or personality traits recruiters are looking for in a candidate

The words they’ve used to describe their ideal candidate should serve as a foundation for your own resume writing. The more you can match up with the job posting, the more likely your resume will get noticed.

Keep it within one page

Studies show that on average, a recruiter only spends 10 seconds reviewing a resume. The longer your resume is, especially for an entry-level position, the less likely they will take the time to look it over. Make it lean and concise by getting rid of all the fluff. 

Your first resume should not exceed one page, and it should only list relevant information.

Give your resume a professional look

As we mentioned, recruiters often have to review hundreds of resumes at a time. The last thing you want to do is make it harder for them to read yours.

Make your resume easy to read by using:

  • Common font styles: Helvetica, Calibri, and Cambria
  • A font size between 12 to 14
  • Appropriate spacing
  • No more than six bullet points when highlighting experience, education, and skills
  • Margins at 1” all around
  • Left Aligned format (Justified is also acceptable)

Always keep the overworked recruiter in mind, and remember that a well-organized, professional-looking resume is half the battle.

Start out with a statement 

Contrary to popular belief, recruiters aren’t only interested in what you can do. In fact, recruiters are often more curious about who you are as a person (and a potential co-worker). Do you fit the company culture? Is your personality and attitude a good match for the team? You can help answer these questions for the recruiter by starting with a short introduction that summarizes your career objectives. 

If written in a compelling manner, this can give them a glimpse of your personality and help pique their interest.

Use the functional resume format

The functional resume format highlights your skills and abilities over work experience. The format follows this arrangement:

  • Header
  • Career objectives statement
  • Skills and abilities
  • Work experience
  • Education
  • Interests

Remember to highlight the skills and abilities that are relevant to the job. For example, if you plan to apply for a job in digital marketing, you should bring the following skills front and center:

  • SEO and SEM
  • Blogging
  • Social media
  • Web design
  • Google analytics

It’s also a good idea to include any additional relevant education and certifications.

Know your audience

A resume is more than just a document that summarizes your experiences and accomplishments. It is a marketing tool designed to sell your capabilities and potential.

As a marketing tool, you have to make sure its message is targeted to the recipient: the company and its recruiter. Your resume should address their needs and how you can help them achieve their objectives.  

So, before applying to a job:

  • Research the company, including its history, products, services, company culture, and recent developments
  • Find out everything you can about the specific requirements of the job

When you have the necessary information, look over your resume, and your list of keywords, and aim to emphasize skills and abilities that most align with the company’s culture and the available job. 

Quantify your accomplishments

It’s not enough to just state your accomplishments. You should look to quantify accomplishments with facts and figures. This will make the claim much more memorable for recruiters, and help the accomplishment stand out on your resume.

For example, if you have experience with fundraising and social media, use numbers to make your work stand out:

  • Organized a fundraiser that raised $150,000 for charities
  • Increased engagement rate of company’s Twitter profile by 5%

Use action and power words

Recruiters prefer to review resumes that evoke dynamism and action. By using the right action and power words, you can compel the recruiter to read on (and call you for an interview). The best action and power words are those that are concise, clear, and direct.

Here are a few examples of action words:

  • Achieved
  • Improved
  • Resolved
  • Managed
  • Created
  • Generated
  • Overhauled
  • Implemented
  • Streamlined
  • Initiated
  • Organized
  • Introduced
  • Identified
  • Launched
  • Increased

There you have it; ten tips you can use to create a great first resume. Remember, writing a resume is a learned skill. With persistence and patience, you will eventually land the job you want.


About Felix Tarcomnicu

Felix Tarcomnicu is the founder of Resume OK, which helps job seekers write professional resumes to find the job of their dreams.