How to Optimize Your First Resume

Career Counseling Tutorial

How to Optimize Your First Resume


If you are a high school or college student writing a resume for the first time, it can often be difficult to produce something that will catch the attention of employers. You may not have the career experience for your jobs section to stand out, so you will need to use other means to make your resume pop. By emphasizing your strongest areas, you can draw positive attention to your resume even without years of experience.

Sample Problem

Let’s suppose you are a college student beginning your career search in a specialized field. You’ve only worked part-time or summer jobs and don’t have much or any experience in the field you’re looking into. However, you’re very passionate and you want to increase your chances of getting a job that you love. There are a number of things you can do to “beef up” your resume to make up for your lack of experience.


Step One: Streamline your formatting.

When you’re first writing your resume, you may think that it’s a good idea to stuff everything you possibly can onto the page. However, this actually makes your resume hard to read and unpleasant to look at! Filling every possible space with “fluff” makes you look sloppy and inexperienced. It’s much more important to design a resume that looks clean and professional and that is easy to read.

Separate out each section of your resume, leaving space between different simple categories like “Education,” “Experience,” and “Additional Skills.” Put your name and contact information by themselves at the top so that they’re easy to see, and use bullet points to keep the page neat and organized. At the beginning of your career, your resume should be one page long or less.

If you are going into an artistic field like graphic design, your resume is a great way to showcase your work. Design something you think is awesome (but still professional), and chances are your prospective employers will think it’s awesome too!

Step Two: Showcase your skills in other ways.

Your lack of specific job experience doesn’t necessarily mean you lack the skills that are important to your field. You can showcase these abilities in other areas of your resume by thinking about how the experience you DO have can apply to your chosen field. For example, if you majored in the field where you’re pursuing a career, you can list your GPA in your “Education” section. A high GPA will show employers that you’re both intelligent and knowledgeable about your subject.

You can also sit down with a list of your past jobs and think about what they have taught you and why it’s important. If you worked as a counselor at a summer camp, you probably learned a lot of leadership and organizational skills from leading a group or managing activities. If you worked part-time as a barista, you probably learned to memorize complicated formulas and exercise your problem-solving skills while under pressure. Use descriptive bullet points to list these skills in your “Job Experience” section, emphasizing the points that are most relevant.

Step Three: Highlight your volunteer experiences and internships.

Sometimes you just don’t have enough job experience to properly fill out that section. However, you can still show your knowledge and hard work by listing volunteer or unpaid work. The absolute best substitute for paid experience in a field is a relevant internship. If you have the time before you graduate, pursue internship options with your department head or internship director. Not only are internships an excellent way to get experience, but they can even result in a paid job offer when they end!

Volunteer work is also a great way to fill out your jobs section. If you can volunteer in your field or related fields, that works almost as well as an internship. If not, doing volunteer work still shows a dedicated work ethic, good teamwork and social skills, and a strong moral compass. These are all great personality traits that employers often use to judge whether a person will fit well in their workplace.

Step Four: Customize your resume.

A lot of the time, successful resumes can depend on the proper use of “buzzwords.” Think of the phrases you always hear when it comes to job postings and applications: “work ethic,” “critical thinking,” “problem solving,” “positive attitude.” Using these buzzwords in general can bolster your resume, but you can gain an extra edge by thinking harder about how you use them in individual situations.

Look at a job posting carefully before you submit your resume, and see what buzzwords they favor. Different jobs will use different buzzwords in different combinations, and you can up your advantage by echoing the same language. If the job asks for “attention to detail” and you realize you don’t have that on your resume, look for a place you can add it and replace something less relevant. If you tailor your resume to better fit each application, you’ll also show how well you fit the position.

Step Five: Write a cover letter.

While your resume is one of the most important parts of your application, you shouldn’t expect it to stand alone. Job postings in specialized fields can receive tens or hundreds of applications that look just like yours. When you’re just one more page in a stack of hundreds, this can often result in your application getting thrown out before it’s even looked at! A passionate and well-written cover letter can make a tired hiring manager stop and look harder at you.

Your cover letter should be short and sweet – keep it around two or three paragraphs long at the most, and include your contact information again at the top of the page. If you can find the name of a hiring manager or HR manager on the company website, address the letter to them to create a personal connection. If not, address it to “To Whom It May Concern” to keep it general. Always end your cover letter with a “thank you” – after all, someone took the time to consider you more carefully, and you shouldn’t take that for granted!

Even with a great resume, job searching can be difficult and unforgiving. You may not get your dream job, and you may not get a job at all right away! The most important thing is to not give up. Apply to as many jobs as you can, and put your best effort into every application. If you keep looking and working hard, you’ll find a great job eventually. Good luck!

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