How can a recent grad without work experience make their resume more effective?

Jul 11, 2017

(Note from Ed: This was an “Ask the Career Coach” reply I wrote for a reader of

A reader submitted this question:

My son does not have work experience, but does have a Bachelor’s degree. How can he use his education to make his resume more appealing?

Your son is facing a classic problem for new grads.  The good news is this:  while employers value experience, sometimes they also like (and even prefer) to hire young talent who they can mold, train and develop in “our way”.   To get the attention of employers, the trick is to focus on skills.

Where to Start: Give Yourself a Title

Right at the top of your resume, give yourself a title.  Even though you are just beginning, you can still go with something like “Finance Grad with Focus on Capital Budgeting” or “Biology Graduate with Interest in Botany”.   Very important: the title MUST be in line with the job you are applying for!

Include a Summary

I recommend including a Summary section at the top of the resume.  This section should answer the question (briefly): “So, what can you do for me?!”  Include no more than 3 or 4 sentences.  Focus on your skills and education, and any accomplishments that are related to either.  You can also include one or two personal attributes (like team-oriented, articulate, high-achieving, for example) but don’t go overboard on those.

Here’s an example:

Recent graduate with BA in economics.  Notable success in application of complex research methods and business writing.  Excellent time management and problem solving skills. Highly organized with the ability to manage multiple projects and consistently meet deadlines.

How to Choose What to Include in Summary

Easy.  If you’re applying to a specific job, just look at the job ad itself.  It will tell you what the employer is looking for, and even suggest the priority of those needs.   Target your skills statements to echo those the employer is seeking.

If you’re not responding to a specific ad, do some research and find some typical jobs on or another job board.  Look for patterns of skills that appear over and over, and choose your skill statements to suit those.   And only include skills that you can claim legitimately.  Don’t even think about fibbing on a resume.

Skills Highlights/Key Qualifications

The next section should focus in more detail on your SKILLS, or KEY QUALIFICATIONS.  Again, use the job ad, or a sampling of typical job ads for your position of interest, and include as many skills or qualification statements as you can. This is a place on the resume where you can really do some selling.  Remember: the employer wants to know what, exactly, you can do for them, and they give you clues in job ads.   This section is where you can let them know you have all (or most) of what they are looking for!

The approach that most experts recommend for candidates that lack experience is to, again, Refer to the job description or emphasize the same skills that you mention in your Summary. Then, group your experience under some major headings.

Here’s an example:

Research Skills

  • Developed and conducted surveys to measure current attitudes towards personal financial planning.
  • Evaluated reliability of online and offline information sources for inclusion in research study.

Time Management Skills

  • Met weekly editorial deadlines as Sports Editor for university newspaper.
  • Managed detailed project plan to coordinate activities among team members for final group presentations.


As a recent grad, your recently completed degree is one of your most relevant selling points.  But it’s more than just a diploma.  Add some bullet-items under your degree which this employer would find enticing.  Some examples might include:

  • GPA (if it’s over 3.0.  If not, leave it off.)
  • Leadership of clubs or organizations related to the profession
  • Sports participation (shows vibrant health and good time management skills)
  • Awards, scholarships, recognition
  • Concentration of coursework (even if not technically a Minor, you may want to add this to show where you have depth of knowledge)
  • Software or technical skills used (if appropriate)

And then… the Work History Section

It is acceptable to include volunteer or other unpaid work in this section.  What you were paid (or not) is your business.  Examples might include coursework, class projects, volunteer work or extracurricular activities that are related to your target job.

Keep it simple.  Since employers inevitably want to see dates and positions, include this information in the Work History section. You’ve already described your experience, so you don’t need to describe what you did in each position.

Finally, if you absolutely do not have any work, volunteer or extracurricular experience at all, then leave this section off.  Remember, employers are more interested in what you can do for them now (as a college grad) than in what you have done already.  Sell those skills!

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