Originally Posted: Nov 15, 2017
Last Updated: Oct 3, 2019
Getting your first job often feels like the most impossible task in the world. If you’re looking for your first paycheck, you’re most likely a student with a pretty shaky résumé. Perhaps the only paid experience you have is when your grandmother gave you $20 to take care of her cat when you were 10. Will this be enough to win over hiring managers? Most likely not. But don’t give up! Just because you don’t think you have the experience a position requires doesn’t mean your résumé is bound for the trash bin.
First of all, don’t apply for jobs that require that experience. As a student or entry-level applicant, you won’t start out in the senior managerial positions. The job you’re applying for now shouldn’t be the job you want to have 10 years down the line, but simply one that will pay for gas, student loans or tuition payments, and food.
On the flip side, don’t think you’re out of your league to apply for jobs that look interesting and doable. Your school and life experiences over the last decade or more have taught you the basic skills you need to do basic jobs. But how, you may ask, do you express that on a résumé?
Use your school experience
Look at what you’ve been doing the last few years—clubs, sports, community service, and lots and lots of studying. And guess what—these are all experiences you can put on your résumé! As a student, your résumé will look a little different than someone’s with more years in the working world. Resume Genius recommends that students put their education section at the top of their résumé, while others emphasize their work experience first and foremost. You’ll still fill out all the same sections—starting with your contact information, a short introduction, professional experiences, education, and additional skills. Once you have some professional experience, you’ll want to cut back your education section drastically.
For now, go through and list your academic qualifications, starting with basics like current school year and GPA. Then choose the parts of your academic record most relevant to the job you’re applying for. If you’re looking at a tutoring job, list high grades in any subjects you might tutor. Additionally, if you’ve taken exams like the SAT, ACT, or AP, you can list high scores for similar subjects. Of course, if you haven’t received a decent (or at least passing) score in a class or exam, you shouldn’t use it. Finally, list any honors you’ve received in classes and clubs or from educational institutions.
For less academic-centered jobs, it might be hard to decide which course work is “relevant.” If you’re applying to work at a restaurant, your AP Calculus scores might never come in handy. If you’ve taken Home Economics or cooking classes, by all means write them down. However, for this type of position, grades and test scores will also simply serve to show hiring managers that you can show up, learn material, and focus on the task at hand. Pick whichever details you think demonstrate why you deserve the job.
Highlight activities and achievements
Now’s the time to put in those hours with grandma’s cat. Not every childhood side-hustle will be relevant to your application, but if you’ve babysat, walked dogs, or cat-sat for certain neighbors over the years, this might be worth putting on your list. They don’t look like much by themselves, but even these small jobs still provide evidence that you can do something well enough to get paid.
In addition to jobs, you can also list major activities here, whether paid or not. High school clubs and volunteer hours can make your résumé look especially noteworthy. If you’ve been with a club or program for many years or hold any kind of leadership position this will demonstrate your perseverance and work ethic to those who review your application. Sports won’t be as helpful to you, but again, if you coach or captain a team, this is good evidence of leadership, which companies value highly.
Add additional skills
If you don’t do much outside of school to show off your talents, you can add your special skills in this last section. Speak fluent Korean? Know how to code? Cook a good soufflé? Don’t put these tidbits on your résumé unless they truly apply to the job you want, but don’t be afraid to tell your prospective employers what you’ve mastered. Even skills you’ve just picked up at school can help, depending on the job. If your English teacher has been drilling MLA style into your head since freshman year, you can probably write “extensive knowledge of MLA style” with some confidence. Just remember to keep everything relevant, and don’t go overboard. This is not the meat of your résumé, just a catch-all for anything that can’t fit into the Education or Professional sections.
Finally, make sure you proofread! At the very least, run your final draft through a spell-check program. No matter what your qualifications are, solid writing can go a long way toward making a good impression.
For more information and examples, check out sites like Resume Genius, Hloom, Job Nexus, Venngage, and The Balance, which all have extensive samples of worthy résumés, including examples for students. Looking through these can give you ideas on how to properly word and organize your application.
Related: How to Write a Résumé