Whether you are just entering the workforce after graduation or you have decided to change careers, you need an entry-level resume that will help you get a job in a new field. Without industry experience, however, many applicants worry that their resume won’t pass muster. Not to worry – when you are applying for an entry-level job, employers will expect you to have entry-level experience. However, a professional resume is still required, regardless of your level of experience.
When browsing resumes, the majority of hiring managers simply scan the objectives and summary of each one before moving on to the next. This means that the information at the top is the first – and possibly the only – part of your resume that gets noticed. A resume is basically a sales pitch – a one- or two-page description of what an employer will get if they hire you. And because hiring managers have very short attention spans, you need to hit them with your selling points as quickly as possible. Here are the elements that every entry-level resume needs to have, as well as several tips for writing a winning resume.
- Contact Information. Nothing will hurt your chances faster than making a prospective employer hunt for your contact information. This information should be listed clearly at the very top of your resume.
- Objective. Believe it or not, this is the most important part of an entry-level resume. First, this is the first thing a hiring manager sees. Second, since your work history cannot demonstrate your chosen career path, it’s up to your objectives to tell employers where you are headed. A bulleted list of focused objectives is a necessity. Instead of “Position where I can exercise my creative skills,” use, “Assistant art direct position in the independent film industry in the New York City metropolitan area.” Likewise, if you want a management job with good upward mobility, write something like, “Management position with opportunities for advancement. Open to travel and/or relocation." Of course, your objectives should be tailored to fit the specific job you are applying for – if you really want it, that is. Telling the retail hiring manager that you would prefer a job in engineering is a sure way to get passed over!
- Summary. Your resume summary is also extremely important – if the hiring manager doesn’t see what he is looking for there, he is not likely to look any further. Your summary section should contain a bulleted list of your most important qualifications. When you have more experience, this is the section where you will list the number of years you have worked in the field. For now, you will simply list other noteworthy qualifications you have. Avoid summary statements that have become cliché, such as saying you are “detail-oriented.” Too many other applicants will make the exact same claim. Instead, pick out the qualifications that make you valuable and unique. Remember, this is not only your sales pitch – it is also your last chance to get the hiring manager’s attention before he moves on to the next resume.
- Education. Typically, a resume lists work experience before education. However, the point of a resume is to highlight your strengths, not expose your weaknesses. If you have a good education but not a lot of experience, you can shift the focus by listing your education first. Your education section should list your degrees with the most recent first. List the degree, followed by the name of the school. Your graduation date should also be included; if you haven’t graduated yet, simply put your scheduled graduation date. You should also include your GPA only if it is worth writing home about – that is, if it is above 3.0. Otherwise, don’t include it in your resume, but practice your answer for when you are asked about it!
- Work Experience. Many entry-level applicants worry about their lack of detail in this area. Don’t forget, though, that you are applying for entry-level positions, so hiring managers expect that applicants won’t have a lot of work experience in the field. You can make your work history look better by describing each set of job responsibilities in a way that plays up the work experience. For example, if an after-school job included lower-level management responsibilities, make sure you note them on your resume.
Alternatively, you can use a functional resume format, which works well for entry-level applicants. The functional format allows you to arrange work experience according to skills that employers will be looking for. For example, if you are trying to break into journalism, but have no experience in the field, you might be able to highlight the desired skills elsewhere: Under the skill heading “Communication,” you could list your letter-writing duties as an office secretary, the research write-ups you had to do as a work-study student, and the reporting you did for the school paper. The downside to the function format is that it is not always well received – some employers and most recruiters prefer to see a listing of the jobs you have actually held. The combination format typically satisfies this requirement. This format still combines work experience into a “Professional Skills” section; however, it is followed by a bare bones listing of your work history, with only the job title, employer and dates listed.
- Other Elements. There are other sections that you can add to your resume to showcase your other qualifications. A section entitled “Community Service” demonstrates additional work experience, even if it wasn’t paid. The “Achievements” section allows you to list awards you have received at school and work. “Training and Certifications” lists other qualifications you have, such as certificates or on-the-job training, which cannot be listed under the education section. The placement of these sections depends on the context of the rest of your resume, with the most important (or impressive) qualifications always going nearer to the top.
- Last-Minute Advice for Writing Your Entry-Level Resume. Now that you know what goes into an entry-level resume, you’re ready to start writing! As you work on your resume, however, remember these rules of thumb:
- Be honest – Whatever you do, don’t succumb to the temptation to inflate your qualifications! The littlest white lie can cause you not only to lose the job, but also to burn that bridge before you even get a chance to cross it.
- Cut to the chase – Above all, hiring managers are short on time. This means that the fewer words you use, the shorter your resume, and the better its chances of being read.
- Don’t use unnecessary words – Make each point as succinctly as possible.
- Sell your strengths – It is important to remember that the point of a resume is to “sell” your qualifications to the hiring manager. Your resume should display your qualifications prominently.
- Don’t hide your lack of experience or make up qualifications you don’t have – Just be sure employers can readily see what you’ll be bringing to the table.
As long as you follow these tips and include the basic elements listed above, your resume is sure to get attention. Remember, while a great resume alone won’t land you a job, a sloppy or incomplete resume could cost you a great opportunity!