Let’s be real, creating your resume can be one of the most stressful parts of your job search. It’s the first thing that you have to do before you can start applying to positions and can often be one of the most daunting, especially if you’ve never needed to make a resume before. And if you don’t have much work experience to put on a resume? It can be more daunting still.

Your resume is essentially your business card and your calling card when you hand it over to recruiters, meaning it’s the primary way they’ll be able to get in contact with you and it’s the first way that your interviewers will get to know you before they even meet you. Your resume, in this case, is your first impression. So you have to make it count!

If you’ve never made a resume before, don’t fret! This list will help get you started and well on your way to have a well-worded and tailored resume that will stand out to recruiters and interviewers. And if you do have a resume, make sure to read ahead to find out how to take your resume to the next level!

1. Create your master resume.

When I first heard the term “master resume” used, I was really confused. Wasn’t the resume I had already my “master resume?” Chances are, though, it’s not.

Your master resume is where you keep track of absolutely all the experience you’ve ever had in your lifetime (yes, even that unpaid camp counselor position you had when you were 14). Every leadership position you’ve ever held; every part-time or full-time job you’ve ever worked; every class you’ve ever taken; every award you’ve ever won; every volunteering project or position you’ve ever taken part in; every skill you’ve acquired, whether self-taught or through classes; every degree you’ve ever earned or place you’ve ever studied; literally, everything. There’s no page or word limit to this document, either, because you want to have as much information in here that you can pull for future job-specific resumes.

And here’s why: this master resume forms the basis of every other resume you will ever create. When you have your master resume already created, it’s easy to mix and match your job and leadership experience to the position you’re applying for. It can be as easy as deleting all the excess information that isn’t relevant to the position you’re applying for, leaving you with a finished product already in your formatting. It may take time to put it together, but once you do, it’s extremely simple to keep it updated. You’ll thank yourself later.

2. Put your personal and contact information in the header!

Seriously, don’t make it difficult for your recruiter to find otherwise they won’t know how to contact you. For all intents and purposes your resume is your business card, and what good is a business card if there’s no contact information on it? At the very least your name, your phone number, and your primary email address should be clearly visible at the top of your document.

There’s been some debate about whether or not your physical address is relevant in this day and age but I generally follow this rule of thumb: 1) If you’re at an on-campus career fair, your address is irrelevant, because they know you live at your University, so don’t waste the space to write it down; 2) If you live in the same area where the company you’re interested in is located, include your address, so they know they won’t have to spend money relocating you; 3) If you live far from where the company you’re interested in is located, don’t include your address so you won’t be written off from the beginning.

3. Make sure it’s one page.

First of all, this doesn’t apply to your master resume, but it applies to any resume you create out of it.

I know that there is a lot of conflicting information out there about whether or not it’s acceptable to have a multi-page resume, but when in doubt, just go with one side of one standard size page. Why, you may ask? Because if you have a multi-page resume, there’s a very good chance that parts of it will get lost going from Point A to Point B. Most recruiters will scan your resume into a database after you hand it to them at a career fair or a meet and greet, and even if you have your resume stapled together or printed front-and-back, there’s a chance they might miss scanning the second page. And even if they do, when they go to print it out again to hand off to the interviewers, they could forget to hit print front and back and leave the second page sitting on the printer.

If you’re going to have a two or three page resume, though, then a good rule of thumb is that every single thing on those pages needs to be completely relevant to the position you’re applying for. And if you’re just going to go for it, make sure that you fill up all of the space on your pages, otherwise, just stick with one.

4. Keep your color scheme black and white.

In the age of Etsy and Pinterest, colorful, aesthetically pleasing resume templates have become all the rage as a way to make your resume stand out and show off your personality. But your resume should be showing off you and your accomplishments, not the design itself. These fancy resume templates also often have graphics incorporated into them that take up precious space you could be using to go more in-depth about your experiences. Overall, you want to be remembered for the content of your resume instead of what colors you chose, therefore you can never go wrong with classic black and white. Plus, most companies won’t remember to print off your resume in color when they’re printing it along with 100 others for review, so it’ll just end up in grayscale, anyways.

The one exception to this rule is if you’re seeking a position in the creative sphere, such as marketing, advertising, graphic design, etc., as the design of your resume can be seen as part of your personal branding. But if you’re not going for a position like this, stick with black and white.

5. Use up as much space as possible!

Sure, the white space in that formatting you’re using is aesthetically pleasing and helps direct the eye to the relevant information, but that’s space that you could be using to expound more on your experience so you’re not using it to its fullest potential. Even if you don’t have much experience to talk about that you think is relevant, you have the opportunity to go in-depth about what experience you do have to really give the recruiter or interviewer the fullest picture about everything you’ve accomplished! Plus, a resume with a lot of white space sends the message that you don’t have enough experience to fill a page.

If you’re struggling to keep everything to one page, play around with your margins settings and see how much more space you can give yourself! I generally keep my margins on the narrow setting because it gives me the maximum amount of space to use while still ensuring my writing won’t get cut off when it’s printed.

If you’re having trouble with amount of space you have to fill up, keep your margins set at 1in on all sides. This is the standard, so you won’t have to worry about giving yourself more space to fill up if you honestly don’t have enough information to put down.

6. List the information you want your recruiter to focus on first.

Whether purposefully or subconsciously, we all recognize that if something is at the top of a list or a page, it’s what you should focus on the most. Use this to your advantage when you’re formatting your resume!

As someone who just graduated from University, I was fortunate enough to have part-time employment basically throughout the entirety of my college career. This meant that I had plenty to put down under the “experience” section of my resume. A lot of college students, however, won’t have such a lengthy employment history. Many of my friends only worked or had internships during the summer months when they weren’t at school, while others studied abroad more than once so they had even less experience to put down on their resumes.

What a lot of people don’t realize, though, is that leadership experience in extracurricular activities can be just as valuable, if not more valuable, than hard job experience. When I was interviewing I almost exclusively focused on my experience as an executive board member for Model UN to answer questions interviewers posed for me. Was I paid for this position? No, I wasn’t. Does this make my experience any less important than my paid experience as a Resident Assistant on campus? Not at all, and I found that the experiences I had in my extracurricular leadership opportunities were almost exclusively more relevant than other of the other experiences I had.

So if you don’t have a lot of job experience, list your “leadership” experience first on your resume!

7. Tailor your resume to the position you’re applying for.

For the most part, “required qualifications” aren’t just suggestions and can often make a break whether or not you’re selected to move on from a company’s pile of applicants. The way you demonstrate that you meet those qualifications, however, isn’t in your interview: you need to make it clear in your resume and in your application.

Are you applying for a finance position? Cool, let’s pull that time you handled the money for a volunteer project, and that time you were treasurer of your organization for a year, and even though it wasn’t your primary responsibility at that non-profit you worked for you still helped your book-keeper with the budget for a year, so let’s pull that, too.

Do you want to work for a government agency in D.C.? Awesome, then let’s list all of the awards you won in Model UN that are relevant to the agency you’d be working for, and your experience as an officer in your International Relations Organization, and that internship you had at that non-profit where you wrote a paper on international theory that was published. Need a demonstrated interest in military affairs? Great, list a couple of awards you won in war-focused committees, and that course you took on War and Peace your sophomore year, and that event that you planned for one of your organizations that brought a retired peacekeeper in to speak about Israeli/Palestinian relations.

Once you have your master resume completed, all you have to do is follow the required qualifications (and, if possible, the preferred qualifications) to decide what you need to include in your tailored resume, and you’ll be good to go!

8. Get rid of that “Skills” section unless it’s a quantifiable, demonstrable skill.

Here’s the long and short of it: most employers will completely gloss over this section if all you have written is “communication” and “leadership.” While these are skills, it’s more important that you demonstrate these skills in the descriptions of your work or extracurricular experience so that your recruiter and interviewer can ask you for more detailed examples. You want to show them that you have these skills, not tell them.

If you do have a skills section, it should only be for hard skills that are quantifiable and can be tested, like if you know HTML coding, if you’re trained in specific software relevant to the position, or if you’re fluent in a second language. These skills aren’t ones that can demonstrated through example in your resume before you get to the interview and more often than not are ones that the company will want to see on your application. But remember, if you’re going to list any “hard skills” on your resume, be ready to fully back them up. I know of people who listed fluency in a second language on their resume and the first half of their interview was conducted in that second language when they arrived, so you don’t want to be caught in a situation that you can’t handle!

Overall, the most important tip I can give you is to tailor your resume to the company and position you’re applying for. And sometimes? That means completely ignoring some of the rules I’ve written here and going with your gut! Remember, these are just guidelines to get you started. The real meat of your resume and resume formatting will have to come from you and how you want to best represent yourself to the company you’re applying to!

What are some of the best resume writing tips that you’ve used? Let me know in the comments below!

17 thoughts on “How to Write a Killer Resume (Even if You Don’t Have Much Experience)

  1. I’ve actually been a professional resume writer before and interviewed countless ATS experts and recruiters and my findings were that your resume can be more than one page and that you should never ditch the skills section! I do always recommend people keep a master resume though!

    1. Hey Rachel!!
      That’s so awesome that you had that opportunity! I’m looking to take some more workshops with my company on resume writing, but these tips are the ones that I’ve gathered from recruiters both for my firm and others as I went through the interview process. I agree, your resume can be more than one page and skills sections are important, and I clarified in the article that it should only be multiple pages if the information is relevant and a skills section should be filled with hard skills instead of soft!

  2. In the professional world, it’s one page for every ten years of experience! I can see how in college it can be difficult to keep everything to one page when you’re balancing classes, organizations, volunteering, jobs, etc. but students should keep in mind what is expected once you leave undergrad. I think your article did a really great job of balancing college vs. professional world when it comes to resumes, and it reminded me that I REALLY need to update mine.

  3. I never thought to keep a master resume, but I love that idea! It can be hard to remember everything I’ve done and what applies to the position I’m applying to. Mentioning skills that are quantifiable is so important! No one cares if you have “leadership skills” or that you’re “out going”.

  4. Yes, this is such a helpful post! I have actually never thought to keep a master resume but I can see why that would be handy.

  5. Yes yes yes! I was a business major in college, and learning to make your resume was a crucial part of our curriculum. I have a master resume, but I never really ever called it that. It’s such a good tool for creating resumes specific to the jobs you’re applying for.

  6. Tailoring your resume for the specific position really makes a difference. Also, if you are working in a creative field don’t be afraid to make your resume stand out (I agree with keeping it b&w though). There are some cool resume templates for sale on ETSY!

  7. I have never really heard the term “master resume” but I think it’s pretty genius! Having all of your accomplishments and different roles in one places helps save time when you’re crafting specific resumes for specific jobs! Great tips!

  8. This is great ! I struggle a lot to write a killer resume and I love that you shared these tips. I have to bookmark this for later!

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