Figuring out exactly what to say on a resume is often a difficult task for even the most experienced person. When it’s your very first resume it all seems very daunting. You can rest easy in knowing that from the entry level receptionist all the way up to the president of the company – every one has at one point in their career had to construct their “first” resume.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of creating your first resume is the fact that you may not have a whole lot of experience to begin with. After all, you’re creating this resume so that you can land a great job. Yet, employers are expecting you to have substantial experience on your resume before they want to hire you. So which comes first, the great job or the great resume? In most cases, it all starts with a great resume.

Before you start on your resume, it’s important to sit down and do a quick assessment of yourself. On a blank sheet of paper write down every accomplishment or credential you can think of that applies to the type of position you’re looking for. Some of these things might include volunteer experience, educational degrees and awards, school club leadership, and extracurricular activities. Now that you have a starting point to draw from as you construct your resume.

In addition to your name and personal contact info, every good resume includes five basic sections: objective, summary of qualifications, experience, education, and skills.

Objective

This section is intended to state the type of position you want. This section can be changed to fit whatever position for which you’re applying. Your objective statement can be broad, but it should never be vague. An example of a good objective is: “To obtain a customer service position in a team environment.” An example of a bad objective is: “To obtain a job at a great company.” Your objective statement shouldn’t state the obvious. Rather, it should state that you have some sort of focus around your job search. The objective statement goes at the beginning of a resume.

Summary of Qualifications

This section is where you should summarize the key points of your qualifications that you want to highlight. This is where you should mention things like how many years of experience you have in certain areas of expertise or your expert skills. If someone was looking for a position as a receptionist, for example, they might write something like, “Two years of experience with multi-line phone systems.” The summary of qualifications should be brief, bulleted, and comes directly after the objective.

Experience

Of all the sections in your resume, this is the most important. Potential employers want to know what you’ve done in the past. They want to see if you have previous experience that matches or would prepare you for the position for which you are applying. No matter how irrelevant you may think your previous experience is it’s important to list something in this section. You want to look like you’ve been productive up until this point.

This section should include your past employment history, including dates, location, company names, your position(s) held, and your responsibilities in each position. If you don’t have a lot of previous work experience you can also list volunteer experience in this section. Just because you weren’t paid doesn’t discount the experience. When listing accomplishments or responsibilities of your previous positions, always use past tense. For example, “Recruited and managed a team of three volunteers.” The experience section should make up the bulk of your resume and should be directly after the summary of qualifications.

Education

This section should highlight any formal education you have. Formal education generally includes college, university, vocational training, and accredited certificate programs. If you are still in college or haven’t attended college, you can also include high school information. Each school or degree should be listed separately along with the type of degree or diploma, date of completion (graduation), and major or minor if appropriate. Sometimes it’s also beneficial to list your grade point average. If your gpa is particularly low, you may want to omit that information.

If you are lacking experience, the education portion of your resume becomes more important. Those with less work experience may want to also highlight certain courses completed. The education section of a resume doesn’t have a set location. Generally, it comes after the experience section, but it can also be at the top of a resume, just after the objective statement. New graduates in particular may want to highlight their education by listing it higher up in their resume.

Skills

This section should highlight any special skills that would interest employers. This isn’t the place to mention that you’re a black belt in Tae kwon do (unless of course, that pertains to the job). You should, however, list things like what types of computer platforms and programs you know, typing speed, programming languages, and spoken languages. These are just a few examples of the types of things to be included in this section. The skills section should be toward the bottom of your resume.

The great thing about structuring your first resume is that once you’ve done it, you can always tweak it as needed along the path of your career and never have to start from scratch again.

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