What to Put on Your Résumé When You Have Nothing to Put on Your Résumé
Staring down at my resume well into my twenties, I had a gut-punch realization that a career change would mean more than a new degree and a will to succeed — I wanted to be a writer and I hardly had enough to fill a Post-it note, much less a sheet of paper.
It felt like a cruel joke, and unfortunately I'm not the last person to ever feel victimized by it.
If you’re one of the three million people who just graduated with their associate’s or bachelor’s degree, a current student hoping to land your first internship, or trying to start a new career, it's daunting to submit a resume that looks like it's starving for more.
Fortunately, Andrei Kurtuy, the chief communications officer and co-founder of online resume and cover letter builder Novorésumé, has some ideas for filling those spaces with useful content — without having to experiment with font size.
Here, we see John Smith's resume. It's stacked, right? Well a breakdown of each section shows us just how achievable that is, even when it feels like you have nothing good to share on your resume:
This matters above all else — pretty literally.
State whether you’re a student, recent graduate, or a working professional hoping for a career change, and follow it up with a short summary to set the tone. The summary is just one or two sentences describing the following: who you are in terms of your work ethic, what you’d like to achieve with this job search (or why you’re job hunting), and what you’d like to work towards once you get there.
Kurtuy advises against including a picture on your resume and avidly against unprofessional email addresses.
"This has been said so many times online, but we still see people with unprofessional email addresses," he said. "And if you have experience or not, when they see that the email is unprofessional, they would just not consider it."
A professional email address would be some combination of your first name and your last name, meaning nothing about your hobbies, adjectives that describe you, or your high school mascot. Avoid numbers if possible.
Focus on Your Skills
These will footnote your resume well into your career, but when you’re lacking in the experience department, they take center stage. Include your soft skills and your technical skills.
Your soft skills will be personal attributes that require no tools per say, but apply to a work environment. John Smith included time management, teamwork, and storytelling under this section on his resume, but other young applicants might also consider including things like organization, problem solving, or self-motivation. There is no shortage of options.
For technical skills, consider any program or website that you're good with and how to fit it into your narrative. The know-how to use Reddit or the ability to shoot and produce YouTube videos with nothing but a cell phone are actually things that could set you apart. And remember that when you're starting out, even the tools you think are most obvious are useful to include ...and yes, that means Microsoft suite applications like Powerpoint.
John Smith, a marketing hopeful, featured Excel and Powerpoint under his Technical Skills, but left Microsoft Word out. He also created a section just for Digital Marketing to highlight the skills needed for the position he’s vying for.
Give “Volunteer Work” a separate section and talk about it like you would work experience: Your role, name of the organization, time period, and a couple of bullet points describing metrics, achievements, or general participation.
“We’ve talked to some recruiters, and [they’re] actually seeing volunteer experience as work experience,” said Kurtuy. “The work and tasks that you have there are similar to the ones that you will have in the workplace.”
This includes time spent at a food or animal shelter, but it certainly isn't limited to philanthropic volunteer work. It could also mean helping your school club promote itself using social media the way John Smith did, or doing administrative work for a company you believe in — any organizational cause you've put unpaid hours towards.
This goes for personal projects or projects at school. Bonus points if the project applies to a passion that’s relevant to the job you’re applying to, like the book club John Smith co-founded specifically for people in his industry.
Even more bonus points if you had to work with others to complete it, which would help bulk up other parts of your resume.
“You learn verbal communication [and] teamwork, so you can mention that [under 'soft skills']. And then in the project, [say] ‘I worked with four colleagues to find…’” and then state whatever the conclusion of the project is, suggests Kurtuy.
Hobbies & Interests
And if you're still lacking, make sure you talk about how you use your time outside of school or work. This applies even if your extra time is spent doing something commonplace like reading, as Kurtuy shows us using John Smith as an example.
“If you apply for a first time job in marketing, you should add [that] your hobby is reading and then you should say ‘I’m reading the Journal of Marketing and I’ve read these last three issues where I learned about…’”
The point is to find a way to talk about what your interests have done for you personally or professionally.
For current students and new graduates, talking about how you use your extra time also means talking about your summer vacations. Did you have a summer job? Put that under work experience.
“Even if you just sold ice cream, you can put ‘Communications skills’ or ‘Sales skills’ and be like, ‘I improved the sales of the ice cream by like 20 or 30 percent per day by doing something.’”
Did you take classes? Talk about them: Create a section entitled “Summer Classes” or “Summer School” and use subheads to name each course. Then dive into details about the skills you developed in these classes, the grades you made, or any pertinent takeaways.
For more help, check out Money's free cover letter template and free resume template, all downloadable.