Writing An Effective Resume With No Work Experience [+ Templates and Examples]

Written by recruiters, this guide tells you how to write an effective resume if you feel you don't have enough (or any) work experience. Plus, download templates in Google Docs that you can use.

a year ago   •   11 min read

By Resume Worded Editorial Team
Table of contents

If you’re applying for jobs, you need a resume to demonstrate your experience. But what if you don’t have any?

The good news is, you don’t need traditional work experience in order to build a resume. Student activities, internships, projects, and volunteer work can all be used to build a professional-looking resume that can help you land a job — all without a shred of paid work experience.

How to write a resume without work experience

If you're writing your first professional resume, here's a quick step by step guide to help you get started:

  1. Stick with a standard reverse chronological resume format. (Not sure what that means? We'll explain below.)
  2. Briefly list your contact information in a resume header.
  3. Pin your education section to the top of your resume.
  4. Include any internships, extracurricular activities, projects, and volunteer work.
  5. (Optional) Write a resume summary and/or cover letter.
  6. Double-check your resume for any spelling or grammatical errors.
  7. Run your resume through a free online resume checker for personalized advice.

Keep scrolling for professional resume templates you can use if you don't have work experience.

Professional resume templates — no experience required

Before we dive into actionable advice on what to include if you don't have enough work experience, let's take a look at two sample entry-level resume templates.

For students with little to no work experience

Here’s how your resume could look, with a link to the template in Google Docs below. Notice how we reposition our extracurricular, volunteering and personal experiences as 'Leadership and Work Experience'. This is a good approach to take if you're a student who's just getting started in your career.

Resume with no work experience with a focus on extracurricular activities
Resume with no work experience with a focus on extracurricular activities

You can download this template for free on Google Docs.

A second resume template if you don't have much experience

This is a great looking professional resume template that students can use to showcase an internship, student activities/extracurriculars and any relevant class projects.

Resume template if you don't have enough experience
Resume template if you don't have enough experience

You can download this resume template — and more — from our student resume templates page. They're available Google Docs and PDF format, so feel free to edit them directly.

If you do not have enough work experience, you can still write an effective and professional resume with only your unpaid experience (internships, extracurriculars, projects, volunteer work) by highlighting your most impressive and quantifiable accomplishments as well as accomplishments that showcase your transferable skills. If you’re not sure if you have listed the strongest experience for your resume, upload it to the tool below to get a detailed review of your resume and personalised suggestions or improvement.

What to include on your resume if you don't have experience

Here are the key sections you should cover on your resume, including how to format them and tips on what to include.

Education

If you’re a current student (high school or college), your education is likely to be the most recent — and most relevant — experience you have. That means you can add your education section to the top of your resume, which takes some of the focus away from limited work experience. Capitalize on this by elaborating on your academic achievements — anything from relevant coursework to study abroad can be listed in your education section.

As a university student or recent graduate, your education section should be the focus of your resume.
As a university student or recent graduate, your education section should be the focus of your resume.

More tips: What to include in your education section

If you're a university student or recent graduate

If you’re a university student or recent graduate, you can list your education section at the top of your resume, above your work experience. The more recently you graduated, the more detailed you can make this section.

What to include:

  • The name of your university or college
  • Location
  • Degree
  • Field of study — major and minor(s)
  • Graduation date (or expected date if you’re yet to graduate — an approximate date is fine)
  • GPA (only if it’s particularly impressive — it it’s below 3.5, you can leave it off)
  • Honors or awards
  • Relevant coursework

Example:

EDUCATION
Resume Worded University | San Francisco, CA, Sep 2015 - May 2019
Bachelor of Engineering, Major in Computer Science
Minors in Consumer Psychology and Mathematics
GPA: 3.5/4.0; Dean’s List 2015-2016
Relevant Coursework: Software Engineering, Operating Systems, Algorithms I & II, Artificial Intelligence, Mathematics, Discrete Mathematics, Statistics

If you’re a high school student

This information only belongs on your resume if you're still in high school. Once you're in college or your first job, you can safely remove it.

What to include:

  • School
  • Location
  • Qualification
  • Graduation date
  • Student activities
  • Awards or noteworthy accolades

Example:

EDUCATION
Resume Worded High School | Boston, MA, Aug 2015
International Baccalaureate: 42/45 (97th percentile globally)
Awards/Activities: Class Valedictorian, Cricket Varsity Captain, California Spelling Bee Finalist (1000+ participants)

If you didn’t complete your degree

If you didn’t complete your degree, that’s not a problem. You should still list an unfinished degree on your resume a) if it's relevant, or b) until you have more work experience.

What to include:

  • The name of your university or college
  • Location
  • Degree
  • Dates you studied
  • Number of course hours completed

Example:

EDUCATION
Boston University (2020-2021)
Boston, MA
Bachelor of Arts in Communication — Completed 20 credit hours

If you're changing careers

If you’re changing careers or just struggling to get started without much experience, you might benefit from continuing education. This doesn’t have to mean going back to university — look up free accredited online courses that are relevant to the job or industry you’re interested in to serve as a quick gateway.

Experience

Experience doesn't need to be formal, or paid, experience

It’s an age-old paradox — you need experience to get a job, but you need a job to get experience. Luckily for you, that second part isn’t necessarily true. Experience doesn’t have to mean paid work experience — it could include volunteer work, internships or student placements, part-time jobs, extracurricular activities, or personal projects. These all demonstrate transferable skills that hiring managers are looking for.

More tips: How to include work experience in your resume

Internships

Internships and student placements are ideal experience for your resume, since they’re still professional settings. You can list internships under your experience section, especially if you don’t have other paid experience.

What to include:

  • Company
  • Dates of employment
  • Job or internship title
  • 3-6 bullet points listing your duties or accomplishments

Example:

If you don’t have a lot of paid experience, list internships in your experience section.
If you don’t have a lot of paid experience, list internships in your experience section.

Volunteer work

Volunteer work is another great substitute for paid experience. Just like internships, these can be listed in your experience section or in a separate volunteer work section or community engagement section.

What to include:

  • Name of the organization
  • Your role
  • Dates
  • 1-2 accomplishments in bullet point format

Example:

Include accomplishments underneath your volunteer work to demonstrate the skills you’ll being to the new job.

Extracurricular Activities

Think nobody cares about your student activities after you graduate? Think again! Even extracurricular activities have a place on your resume. These don’t need to be relevant to the job you’re applying for in the sense of being in the same field or position — instead, think about the skills you demonstrated in your extracurricular activities and how to frame those as accomplishments.

What to include:

  • Name of the activity or organization
  • Your role
  • Location
  • Dates
  • 1-2 accomplishments in bullet point format

Example:

Like any other type of experience, start your activities with a strong action verb and focus on your accomplishments.
Like any other type of experience, start your activities with a strong action verb and focus on your accomplishments.

Projects

Personal or community projects are another great way to demonstrate relevant skills without traditional paid experience. These can go under a separate projects section, or in an activities or volunteer experience section. Focus on the skills you demonstrated as part of your projects or hobbies and how they’re relevant to the job you’re applying for — for example, leading a team or presenting a completed project.

What to include:

  • Project name
  • Your role
  • Dates
  • 1-2 accomplishments in bullet point format

Example:

Include 1-2 bullet points emphasizing your key skills and accomplishments.
Include 1-2 bullet points emphasizing your key skills and accomplishments.

Freelance work or side gigs

If you’re still struggling to think of things to include on your resume, consider gaining additional experience by starting up a side project, like running a blog or picking up freelance work. Every little bit helps — even things you may not consider to be “real” experience.

What to include:

  • The name of your company (this can just be your own name or the name of your client)
  • Your role
  • Dates
  • Projects you completed
  • Bullet points listing your accomplishments

Example:

Include any freelance work or side gigs on your resume to highlight key skills and experience

Skills

Work experience or no, you can still include a skills section in your resume. This doesn’t mean you need to list every skill you possess — just the ones that are most relevant to the job you’re applying for. Look for the skills listed in the job description and list those if you have them. If you’re not sure what skills hiring managers are looking for, you can use Targeted Resume and out skills and keyword finder to look for relevant skills to include.

What to include:

Your skills section should only include hard skills — in other words, things you can prove, like proficiency with a software program or technical process. Good skills to list could include:

  • Software programs
  • Programming languages
  • Hardware
  • Foreign languages
  • Certifications
  • Design skills
  • Research
  • Data analysis
  • Specific types of writing, like proposal writing or SEO

Example:

Include hard skills that are mentioned in the job description.

What shouldn’t you include in your skills section? Transferable skills — things like communication, leadership, and initiative. These are all great skills to have, but simply listing them isn’t going to impress a recruiter. Instead, think about a time you demonstrated that skills and include it in your bullet point accomplishments.

If you’re not sure which skills to include in your skills section, use the tool below to get a list of skills and keywords relevant to the job you’re applying for.

Resume summary

This is an optional section at the top of your resume that can make sense to include if you feel like you’re light on relevant experience. A resume summary and a resume objective function in similar ways — a summary outlines your key skills and accomplishment and is ideal for career changers, while an objective is a brief explanation of your professional goals and how these relate to the job you’re applying for and is better for job seekers with little to no experience.

What to include:

  • Job title — this should be the title of the job you're applying for, regardless of your past experience
  • Your relevant background
  • 2-3 key skills that match the job description
  • Specific highlights or standout accomplishments

Example:

Use a resume summary to highlight why you're a good fit for the job

Additional sections

As a rule of thumb, you should include anything on your resume that increases your chances of landing the job and omit anything that doesn’t. When you’re just starting out, anything that gives hiring managers a better sense of who you are and what you’re capable of can be worth including.

Relevant certifications and short courses, and foreign languages can all fall into this category. The qualities or skills you’re trying to highlight should be relevant to the job, even if the experience itself isn’t — for example, foreign language competency can be a bonus for a lot of jobs, especially for multinational companies or customer-facing roles.

What to include:

  • Additional certifications or qualifications
  • Short courses
  • Language proficiency
  • Publications
  • Awards

Example:

Additional sections on your resume could include language proficiency, volunteer activities, or relevant certifications.
Additional sections on your resume could include language proficiency, volunteer activities, or relevant certifications.

Tips for creating a resume if you don't have enough experience

Writing your first resume? Here are some of our best tips for creating a professional-quality resume from scratch.

Use reverse chronological format

In every section of your resume, your most recent experience should be at the top. That applies to any work experience, but also to your education, projects, and extracurricular activities.

Never use a functional resume format (which doesn't include dates) in an attempt to distract from your lack of work experience. Hiring managers will see straight through this and wonder what you're trying to hide.

Focus on resume accomplishments

Whatever you choose to include, remember to talk about your accomplishments, not your job duties. “Responsible for closing the store every night” is a duty — it tells recruiters what you were asked to do, but not what you actually did or how you’re likely to perform in the job you’re applying for.

Narrow down the accomplishments that are most relevant to the skills listed in the job description and focus on those — even a job one day a week at a pizza place can demonstrate relevant skills for an office job. Notice how the following example focuses on resume accomplishments, and not responsibilities.

Format your work experience bullet points by starting with an action verb and including a metric or result that demonstrates your achievement.
Format your work experience bullet points by starting with an action verb and including a metric or result that demonstrates your achievement.

Quantify your resume

Remember that including numbers and metrics can help any experience look more impressive — this is also known as 'quantifying your resume'. If you’re having trouble coming up with metrics, here are some questions to consider:

  • How many people have you worked with for specific projects or extracurricular activities? Instead of just saying that you worked in a team, specify the size of the team.
  • How many people attended an event you organized? If it was for charity, how much money did you raise?
  • If you collected, entered, or analyzed data, how big was the data set?
  • How many customers did you serve on an average day? How many sales did you make?
Including hard numbers and metrics is the best way to make your accomplishments stand out on a resume.
Including hard numbers and metrics is the best way to make your accomplishments stand out on a resume.

Highlight transferable experience

The experience you include on your resume needs to be relevant, which doesn’t mean that you need experience in the same type of job or industry. Relevancy is more about showing that you have the relevant skills to succeed. Look carefully at the job description and think about what you’ve done that demonstrates those same skills. For example, if a job mentions teamwork, you could link this to a sports team or university organization. Need communication skills? Mention your public speaking experience or a time you up an email newsletter. Recruiters look for transferrable soft skills on your resume, so if you can demonstrate them through your other non-paid experiences, that will help!

Related: How To Put Shadowing on Resume

Use the right keywords

Most resumes nowadays go through something called Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), which are automated programs that scan your resume for certain keywords. To get an idea of the specific skills hiring managers are looking for, search our list of top resume skills and keywords. Being a match for the key skills the job requires is much more important than having the perfect background or experience!

Keep your formatting simple

You don’t need a fancy-looking resume to impress. In fact, going overboard with creative elements — like downloaded fonts, lots of colors, images, and multi-column layouts — can do more harm than good. Stick to an easy to read font (default fonts like Arial or Calibri are fine), clear section titles, and standard Word or Google Docs presets. Even better, download a free resume template that does the work for you.

Include a cover letter

You can get ahead of most other applicants simply by writing a cover letter. This is a must if the job posting asks for one (following instructions is always the number one priority!), but it’s generally a good idea unless the description specifically asks you not to. Why? A cover letter is a great opportunity to talk about why you’re interested in the job and what you would bring to the table — which, when you lack traditional work experience, may not always be obvious from your resume alone.

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