It’s not uncommon to find yourself feeling a little lost after graduating – employers are asking for relevant experience, but how do you gain that experience without being given a chance? Or, you might be needing some part-time work for alongside your studies but you aren’t getting anywhere due to a lack of general work experience.
It’s worth remembering that you most likely have more experience than you might think. Plus, your character and the individual life experience you have that’s specific to you might mean you have something an employer is looking for that others don’t have.
This guide takes you through 8 things to consider when writing your CV if you have little or no work experience.
Focus on your skills
Well-illustrated skills can be much more useful than previous job experience. Most recruiters understand that whilst candidates might not have the exact experience an employer is looking for, most candidates will have very useful skills. Go into some detail about them, including real-life examples of how they've been applied.
Hard skills are abilities that you’ll probably have been taught in a classroom and they’re usually easy to quantify – for example, list any foreign languages you speak, if you have a driver’s license, mention any computer software you’re proficient in that most people wouldn’t be. Even something like being savvy in social media is a skill that not everyone will be able to bring to a role.
TIP: If you’re struggling to think of any hard skills, maybe you could enrol in a class or undergo some online training. You can mention this on your CV. It shows self-drive and is a great thing to talk about in an interview.
Soft skills are more difficult to quantify and are skills that aren’t usually formally taught. They’re the people skills that are also sometimes known as transferable skills. These include all the abilities that are useful for most roles out there – skills like teamwork, resilience, communication, persuasion, leadership, problem-solving and time management.
TIP 1: Don’t list all of your soft skills, but try to focus on your top 3 or 4 and make sure that you can back them up with real-life examples. You may have led a team at university or led a sports team to success at school. You may want to mention a time you’ve won a group of people over with your persuasion skills. Being a member of a debate club is an example of an experience you have that would demonstrate persuasion, teamwork, communication and resilience and many more.
TIP 2: If you’re unsure which of your skills will be most attractive to the employer, go straight to the job description. This should list exactly what skills they’re looking for.
If you have no work experience at all, use the space that frees up to go into more detail about what you achieved in your education. Normally a CV will include the names of the educational institutions you attended and when, along with your grades – but you can also include examples of what you learnt there and any stand-out achievements.
Use a couple of bullet points under each institution to highlight any special awards or recognition you received. You might want to talk about your dissertation or any key university projects that brought out your presentation or teamwork skills.
How to open your CV
Start your CV with a personal statement. This is a great way to get the reader interested in you, giving them an overview of who you are and why you’d be a top candidate choice for the role you’re applying to. It shouldn’t be a story but more of a snapshot of what makes you a great employee. You may not have work experience, but you can still show off your charming personality. Try to keep it brief – 100-150 words is enough to highlight your best bits.
Tailor your CV
If you’re applying for multiple jobs, which you probably are, it’s important to make sure your CV answers the key elements of the job post. If an employer or recruiter can tick off the skills or attributes on your CV that align with the job description, you’re sure to get an interview that will allow you to show them your personality.
Scan the job posting and identity all of the relevant skills and qualifications they’re looking for. This could include things like good time management, communication skills or attention to detail. If these seem to be core to that specific role, focus on these on your CV. Another job might ask for persuasive skills, presentation skills or leadership – so give more focus with more in-depth examples for those, in that case.
The key thing here is to make sure the employer or recruiter can see that this is not a generic CV that you’ve been sending to multiple organisations, but that you have the relevant skills that will be useful for that particular role.
TIP 1: When scanning the job description, look out for any keywords that you think they will be looking out for. It will usually be obvious. These should be the standout skills or attributes on your CV, so place them at the beginning of the relevant sections, or even bold or underline them so they can spot them easily while they scan through multiple CVs at a time.
TIP 2: Don’t forget to also adapt your personal statement at the top of your CV too. If you refer specifically to the role you’re going for, they’re unlikely to just pass over your CV.
Add a covering letter
You might feel that there isn’t enough room on your CV to go into the kind of detail you want to demonstrate that you’re the right candidate for the role. This is what a cover letter is for. It’s a chance to show your personality, highlight your skills, and tell the employer or recruiter who you are and why you’re well suited for the job. Remember to keep it concise and easy to skim-read – they will be flicking through tens or potentially hundreds of CVs to shortlist. So, try to open it strong.
TIP: Some job listings will ask for a cover letter, but not all. Even if you’re not being asked for one, the information you can include here might set you apart – so think about including one anyway. And, as above, make sure to tailor each cover letter to each specific role you go for.
Show them your passion
Passion and enthusiasm for a certain role or career path count for more than you might think. You mightn’t have the exact experience that would be ideal for a role, but employers are often looking for candidates they believe will be a positive asset to the team – being keen to learn is a valuable trait that not everyone has. If you’re able to get your enthusiasm and willingness to learn across in your CV, this immediately puts you in a strong position.
TIP: Remember to continue showing this in your interview with lots of quality questions about the role, the team and the company.
Include information on your CV that shows you’re a well-rounded individual. What hobbies and interests do you have that show you have personality traits that are important for the role? Here are some examples:
- Mention any art or music you make if creativity is something they want.
- A personal blog also shows creativity, but also attention to detail and written communication skills.
- Leading a sports team is a great experience if teamwork or leadership are attributes they’re looking for.
- Long-distance running demonstrates drive and motivation. The same goes for any more extreme sports you’re involved in. Having done a skydive for example is something many people don’t have the guts to do – so it shows your courage and resilience.
- Any small-business ventures you’ve been involved in will show your business acumen.
Including personal pastimes like these gives them something to remember you by – plus, it’s also a great talking point at the job interview!
Any extra-curricular activities you’ve been a part of through university or school are also well-worth including. They may not have been paid work, but they might have been a valuable experience. Plus, they show you were willing to get stuck in and involved with things alongside your studies. So whether you’ve done any volunteering for charities like beach cleans or animal shelters, or you’ve simply got involved with a bake sale, it’s worth including this.
Think about how you format your CV
Here are a few tips on structuring the document so it doesn’t get lost in the pile of other CVs the recruiter might be sifting through:
- Most CVs tend to list the candidate’s employment in reverse chronological order, but if you’re fresh out of university or still studying, you might have little to no relevant work experience. Your shelf-stacking experience will be good to know about, but what you developed throughout university might be much more relevant to the role. So, start off your CV (following your statement) with your relevant skills and how you developed them.
- A tip for any great CV – consider how easy the information is to consume quickly. Break up sections with headings to allow the reader to navigate through them. Use bullet points and numbers so they can skim read.
- While you want to help it stand out, try not to overdo the design. Keep your CV professional by keeping the colours simple, avoid including imagery unless it’s relevant for the role, and make sure your font is easily read on and off-screen.
- It’s always worth printing off a copy of the document once you’re happy with it. That way, you can spot any formatting issues you mightn’t see on-screen. Many recruiters or employers will print off a stack of CVs and go through the physical copies.