Writing a CV, also known as a resume, can be tricky if you have limited or no work experience. When entry-level positions ask for experience, you may wonder if you’ll ever get that first foot on the career ladder.
Even the most seasoned professional started with a blank CV and no experience. But it’s possible to create an impressive CV without the advantage of work experience. Using a format that highlights transferable skills and achievements, you can create a CV that will land you interviews for the jobs you want.
Suppose you’ve just finished your education and have never worked. You’re now a job seeker. In that case, you likely don’t quite understand what employers are looking for in a candidate. To gain an advantage over similar applicants, research prospective employers and identify the values they want to see in their employees. You will then know what to populate your CV, giving you that advantage.
Researching a prospective employer before completing a job application or developing your CV will help you understand the role, its challenges, and why you’re a worthwhile interviewee. Areas to research include:
- The position and where it fits in the company
- Skills and experience the company values
- Culture, mission, and core values
- Community engagement and social responsibility
- Financial health
- The company value proposition
- Types of customers
- Products and services
- News and recent events
- Leadership team
- Future boss
If possible, speak to those organising the selection process; the more you engage and develop relationships with people inside the potential employer, such as the hiring manager, the better.
While researching the company, remember that the company might also investigate you. Take the time to ensure your application is consistent with your LinkedIn profile.
And remember, even if you don’t get a job interview, it’ll have been worth the time invested in building your CV, checking your LinkedIn profile and completing an application. Together, these actions act as a testing ground for future opportunities.
You must capture the attention of recruiters and employers within the first few seconds of reading your CV. Failure to attract attention can result in the CV being skipped over and quickly forgotten.
Start your CV with a short personal statement that summarises what you offer and persuades the reader you are an excellent candidate. Your profile should detail your education and describe a relevant hard skill, as well as transferable skills, technical skills, soft skills and knowledge related to the role you’re applying for. Tailor your CV to match the essential candidate requirements you gathered in your earlier research for the best results.
In your introduction, make a clear, compelling case for your overall suitability. Do not draw attention to your shortfalls; these will shift the reader into a negative mindset. But don’t be deceptive, just selective.
You see your ideal job advertised, but you don’t quite match the job specifications listed – should you still apply? Ambition is one key attribute employers look for. As long as you’re not applying for a position that’s a wild pipe dream, it’s laudable.
You may have more transferable skills and relevant work experience than you realise. The struggle is simply articulating those relevant skills in a meaningful way, so get help from friends, family, classmates and academic staff if you’re still in education.
Remember, no one is ever the perfect fit for a position. Any interviewee shortlist will include a spread of transferable skills, educational qualifications and work experiences.
If you’re short on a specific qualification, demonstrate how a combination of your qualifications, skills, and other experiences are as good as, if not better than, the missing qualification. What else have you done that facilitated sufficient relevant expertise? Can you bring something unexpected and potentially valuable to the organisation? Perhaps you speak a foreign language or have an extra qualification. Think carefully about the skills you can bring to the table. They might be from sports or a hobby, and you may not feel they’re all that relevant. But if they apply, use the job description to clarify what you’ve gained from these experiences and why they’re as valuable as other achievements.
Other Work-Related Experience
A lack of work experience can be compensated for with plenty of detail in all other CV areas. And this isn’t (or shouldn’t be) fluff; use this extra space, for example, to showcase a key skill from extracurricular activities you can offer an employer.
If you want to strengthen your CV, consider volunteering; this work history can boost a CV, convey additional skills and interests, and your cause commitment. Although unpaid, the work experience may prove invaluable to your career prospects.
If you’re looking for volunteer work, start with your student union. Ask if there are any volunteering opportunities. You can also contact local charities to offer your services for free; many organisations will appreciate and be happy to provide you with relevant experience and training. Once you’ve gained some volunteer work experience, ensure you give it a prominent place on your CV and highlight your crafted skills.
What if you’re a recent graduate or about to graduate? Write about your current education and showcase your talents by showing, for example:
- a list of relevant topics studied
- a summary of projects completed
- a high grade in a project, thesis, dissertation or another significant piece of coursework
- you were the project leader for a specific and successful group coursework
Writing about your educational experience allows you to demonstrate workplace skills such as organisation, planning, teamwork, motivation and meeting deadlines.
Interests and Hobbies
Interests and hobbies are not inherently irrelevant to your job search.
You should include interests related to the position you’re applying for – if you’re a software development applicant who builds apps in your spare time, adding this shows your skill and dedication to the field. Other impressive achievements, such as running marathons, organising fundraising events or leading sports teams, can also prove your proactive attitude and ambitious nature.
It used to be standard to include references in a CV, but thinking on this has changed recently. So why leave off this seemingly essential section?
The main reason is that references are usually only required near the end of the recruitment process. As an applicant, you may have one, two, or even three interviews or assessments before you’re made an offer. Typically, a reference is only requested after you accept that offer.
There’s also a tactical reason not to supply a reference. As you move through the recruitment process, you may think of other more appropriate people who could act as referees. Suppose you’ve already provided this information in your initial application materials. In that case, it may prove difficult to say you would like someone else to serve as a referee. It may be easier to add to your list of referees and demonstrate your excellent network.
And finally, LinkedIn
There’s a good chance you’re not using LinkedIn to its full potential. But if you master the basics, you’ll be able to design a page that will stand out.
The first portion of your profile and the first thing prospective employers will notice is how you present yourself. LinkedIn has found that profiles with photos receive 21 times more views and 9 times more connection requests than those without. For your background photo, add something with a bit of colour reflecting your personality. You don’t need a professional headshot; just look smart.
Make sure to fill out your profile summary. There’s no right or wrong way, but it must align with your CV.
Include all experiences but focus on your current role. If you are looking for your first job, share your experiences in college or university and dive into your educational experiences with much more detail.
List at least 5 transferable skills on your profile. According to LinkedIn, members with 5 or more skills received 17 times more views and 27 times more appearances in search results.
Use the accomplishments section; it’s there to help highlight your skills and talent. Highlight skills and actions relevant to you and your future career: projects worked on at college, an interesting essay or a dissertation completed as part of your studies.
Do you have any other ideas or techniques that you think would benefit those looking for a job or starting to develop a CV? Please leave a comment, and we’ll continue to update this blog.
Related articles and sources: It’s all about potential: How to write a cv with no work experience; How to apply for your dream job…when your skills don’t meet the job spec; Should I include references in my CV?; How to best use your LinkedIn page