Tips for Building a Resume without Work Experience

I have never had a job before, how can I have a resume?

Working with high school students, we have heard this question countless times. The problem is that too many people think of a resume as a just list of jobs rather than as an advertisement for what would make them an awesome employee. If you have work experience, that’s great, but if you are applying for your first job you will need to create a resume that showcases the skills and competencies you have gained through other activities.

Emphasize Your Volunteer and Internship Experience

Many people do not realize this, but volunteer and internship experience can count as experience. If you do not have any work experience, you can replace the work experience section with unpaid experience. Many high schools now require their students to complete a certain number of volunteer hours. These activities not only become experiences which demonstrate your skills and competencies you can emphasize in your resume but can also help you build community networks which lead to references and even potential job opportunities.

Feature Your Educational Achievements

What you do in school really does matter, especially when putting your resume together. Some people make the mistake of undervaluing their education, missing the opportunity to share valuable information with prospective employers.

  • Do you get good grades?
  • Do you have high citizenship marks?
  • Are you someone who never misses a day of school?
  • Have you completed any elective courses or study pathways which prepare you for specific career fields?
  • Have you had to use the computer in school to create reports or presentations?
  • Have you completed any special projects in any of your classes which might be relevant to the job you are applying for?
  • Have you won any awards at school?

If you answered yes to any of the questions above, then your resume should reflect that information. Consider how and where to feature this information in your resume.

Highlight Your Extracurricular Activities

Extracurricular activities range from participating in school athletic programs, band, student council, yearbook, and student clubs to activities not connected to school, such as youth leadership programs like the ones offered by Bender Leadership Academy, mentoring experiences, or programs delivered such as youth groups or community groups.

When participating in extracurricular activities you may be gaining specific skills relative to the job you are applying for. As an example, a person who supports the theater group at school as a stagehand may learn about certain tools, paints, and supplies which would give them a baseline knowledge about the types of products sold at a hardware store, making them an excellent choice for a cashier or stock position. A person who is a part of the debate club might make a great candidate for a customer service-oriented position as they have been working on not only their communication skills but learning how to sell their position which can transfer into selling products.

In addition to specific skills which could be useful for the job you are applying for, soft skills such as being a team player, time management, and initiative can be demonstrated through involvement in extracurricular activities.

Tell Your Story

Never give up the opportunity to include a profile with your resume. Too often people find the idea of creating a profile daunting, so they simply omit it or replace it with an objective. While being clear about your objective can be a plus, it also can be limiting. If your objective is too narrow, you may be passed over for positions that put you on the pathway toward reaching your objective. Instead, a profile offers the opportunity to tell your potential employer about you and what you want to do. In your profile, you can highlight competencies, skills, and experiences in a way that tells the story about what you bring to the table while maintaining flexibility in what job offers you would accept.

Underscore Your Attention to Detail

One skill that every employer cares about, regardless of the job being filled, is attention to detail. Your resume is one of the first impressions that an employer gets about you. Consistent formatting and a lack of typos demonstrates that you are attentive to details and care about the quality of your work. On the other hand, resumes that are inconsistent and have typos give the impression that the employee is lackadaisical when it comes to doing a good job – after all if an employee doesn’t care enough to give a good first impression how much will they care about doing a good job?

Another way to show attention to detail when submitting a resume is to ensure the resume is relevant to the job you are applying for. This can include making sure that you are truly qualified for the position, so if you find a position that requires 10 years of experience and this is your first job, you are not a fit for the position. It can also mean that you may have to highlight different skills or competencies or experiences based on the job you are applying for. If the job requires you to work with kids, then you should consider things you have done that show that you can work with kids – whether this is acting as a mentor for someone in a younger grade, babysitting, or helping your classmates with homework – rather than highlighting that you have strong computer skills. Remember, the employer only knows what you put in your resume, so ensure your resume details why you are a fit for the job.

Want to learn more about resume writing and work readiness? Contact us to explore programs offered to high school students with disabilities through The Bender Leadership Academy.