Applications and Resumes
Once you've found a job you'd like to apply for, the first step will usually be to submit an application form. This will be the standardized, employer-provided form that all applicants fill out to enter their names for official consideration; it may be a physical packet that you pick up from the place that's hiring, or an online fill-in-the-blank questionnaire. If you're unsure how to get one, just call or stop in to the business/organization. (You can read more about applications and what they're used for here.)Filling out the application should be straightforward: read the instructions carefully, answer all questions completely, and sign where asked to do so. Make sure that you've looked everything over for spelling/grammar, that any handwritten information is legible, and that you get the form in before the deadline.
An application is often the only thing needed to apply for a job, but if more is requested, you will likely need a resume. A resume is the story of your work history and qualifications; it typically covers what jobs/work experience you've had, how long you had them, what tasks/responsibilities were involved, and what skills you've developed. Education and other relevant skills or experiences may also be included. (More information about what resumes are and how they work can be found here.)
Resumes are often a make-or-break sort of deal, in that a good resume can move you to the top of the list for consideration and interviews, while a bad resume will land you in the 'reject' pile. This means that it's crucial you take the time to make your resume everything it can be — and while resume-building is a subject with lots of different opinions on the best approach, below are some tried-and-true tips to get you to a solid basic resume. You can also skip even further down to look at full samples and templates.
Step 1: Preparing to Write a Resume. Create a loose list of all the work experience you've had. Keep in mind that if you're coming straight out of high school, this doesn't necessarily have to be paid work experience (although if you've been working a job or keeping up a small side business, do lead with that). Instead, it can include any work-like experience you've had that's given you good general skills: volunteering, extracurriculars, or personal projects, for example. If you've earned special recognition of some kind (awards, titles, etc.), write that down as well. Keep going until you've dumped out on paper everything that might count as a qualification.
Step 2: Selecting What to Put on the Resume. Think about what job or jobs you're trying to apply for, and which things on your list might be relevant to those jobs. For example, if you'll be applying for a job at a daycare, you'll want to include experiences working with children. If you're applying for a position at a store or restaurant, any experiences involving people skills could be worth including. If you've won any recognition/awards for things relevant to the jobs you're trying for, or if you have any special training/education, feel free to include that as well.
If you have enough things on your list to do so, tailor which experiences/recognition you select for your resume for each different job you apply for. This may mean that you submit a shorter resume for some jobs and a longer one for others — for example, you may have a background working with cattle, but if you're applying to work as assistant manager at a movie theater, that may have to be cut from that resume. At the end of the day, it is always better for your job prospects to keep everything streamlined and to-the-point.
NOTE: If you are young and looking for entry-level work, it's expected that you won't have much of a work history. It's okay not to have much (or any) directly relevant experience: just list anything that gave you skills/experience that you honestly think could transfer, and we can worry about fluffing up what you *do* have in Step 4.
However, the older you get, and the further you get from high school or college, the less fluff belongs on your resume. This means that indirect work experience (such as volunteering or internships), unless highly prestigious, should be pruned off your resume as you go, and experiences without strong relevance to the job you're applying for will be less and less likely to help you.
Step 3: Putting Your Work History in Order. Once you have all your chosen experiences/achievements listed out, there are three typical ways you can sort them on your resume: a reverse-chronological list, a functional list, or a combined approach that mixes both functional and chronological.
- Reverse-Chronological = Most recent work experiences listed first, oldest experiences last.
- Functional = Emphasizes skill sets rather than individual jobs held.
- Combined = Usually leads with a short summary of your most relevant skills and qualifications, followed by a reverse-chronological job listing.
Applying for entry level jobs, your best bet is often the 'combined' format. This is because a reverse-chronological format may put too harsh a light on your limited work history, and a functional resume may not give enough credit to the experience you have. A combined resume should give you the advantages of both and leave you with a full-looking, balanced resume.
That said, your particular background may work well with any of the formats, so just select the one you feel most comfortable with to give yourself a starting structure.
Step 4: Writing (and Editing) the Resume. Start with your contact information at the top. This should include your name most prominently, and then a physical address, an email address, a phone number, or any other professional and reliable way to contact you. (Keep in mind that 'professional' means that any email address listed should be on the formal side as well — in other words, FirstNameLastName@email.com is definitely preferable to email@example.com. If all the accounts you have involve user names that are too casual, consider creating a new account just for professional business.)
Next, move on to whatever specific jobs/experiences you want to list. Write in the position you held, where the job was, what time range you worked there, and, if you'd like, what city the job was in (more helpful if you've moved around a lot). Then fill out a description of what the job involved, highlighting skills that might transfer well to the new job you're applying for.
When you're done with that, each entry might be shaped something like this:
Position at 'Former Employment Place'. 2013-2014.
Brief description of duties and responsibilities. Include any special tasks you had that display leadership or particular responsibility, and highlight relevant, transferable skills developed through this job.
If you want a strict reverse-chronological resume, writing in job details like that may be all you need. However, if you've chosen a different format or would like to build out your resume, you could also add any of the following to the page:
- Skill summary. As called for in functional and combined resumes, this would be a statement of your main qualifications and relevant skills, and it would go right under your contact information at the top of the resume. If you are going to follow this summary with a reverse-chronological listing of your work history (recommended in most cases), make sure to keep this summary paragraph brief and to the point.
- 'Career objective' statement. This is a one-sentence statement of what you are looking for in a career. It can be added to the top of any resume format, or can be incorporated into a skill summary paragraph. Less recommended for entry-level workers.
- Sort your work history into different categories, and put them under headers. If you do happen to have a varied enough work background, you could sort your experiences into two or three main groupings so as to make the resume easier to follow. Keep everything within each category reverse-chronological, and just top each category with a descriptive heading (e.g. 'Administrative Experience' or 'Sales Experience').
Step 5: Formatting the Resume. 'Formatting' the resume means making it attractive and easy to read, and you can take a look at some of the samples/templates below for examples. Ultimately, any layout is fair game so long as your name is highly visible, all your information is easy to follow, and everything fits easily onto one page.
The only other formatting consideration is whether you'll be handing your resume in on paper, or uploading it online. If it's going online, you may want to keep the formatting as clean and simple as possible: many upload services will not preserve the exact original appearance of your document, and sometimes special lines/spaces/bullets in the original can be twisted into something truly bizarre by the time they're received electronically by the employer. If it's on paper, you'll maintain complete visual control.
Step 6 (Sometimes): Resume Cover Letter. A cover letter is sometimes used to accompany a resume. It is mostly appropriate to write one when you will be sending your resume in to someone you haven't met personally, and/or if the place you are applying to has a more formal atmosphere. The gist is to write a simple statement of your interest in the job, as well as a super-brief summary of why you're ideal for it (see the samples/template below for a better idea of what this looks like in practice).
As with resumes, you might be applying to multiple types of jobs at the same time, but it's essential to keep each cover letter targeted to one specific job at one specific place. Tips on keeping cover letters targeted can be found here, and you can also check out how to avoid 7 common mistakes when writing these letters.
The resources below are meant to provide a 'fill-in-the-blank' approach to creating a resume/cover letter. All of the resume templates can be downloaded so you can keep the original formatting; from there, just choose which sections you'd like to delete or change, and then fill it out with your own information. For the cover letter, just create a new text document and follow basic business letter formatting.
(Note: Many 'resume builder' services appear high in the search results, and will let you create a resume for free, but will then require payment before letting you print or download. All of the resources listed below have been verified as offering 100% free template downloads, and you can then edit and fill out the resume on your own computer.)
Samples of Finished Resumes and Cover LettersIf you'd like more help in creating a resume or cover letter, check out finished examples at the links below.
- Resumes: Intro Samples of Chronological, Functional, and Combined Resumes
- Resume Samples from High School Students
- Resume and Cover Letter Samples at JobHero — Search for job titles you've held to see how other candidates with similar backgrounds have described their work experience on resumes and cover letters.
- Cover Letter Samples