It can be hard to know how to write a CV with little or no work experience. Applying to roles can feel like a double-edged sword; So many jobs seem to require experience, but the only way you can gain experience is by getting those jobs - it’s a vicious and frustrating cycle. However, not all is lost. Often, the skills and qualities demanded by job descriptions don’t necessarily need to be obtained from previous employment. It is more than possible to produce a CV with no work experience that stands out just as well!
The Role of a CV in Job ApplicationsEmployers use CVs to help them create a profile of you and decide how suitable you may be for the role in question. The information you include in your CV should provide everything they need to know in order to create this profile. Consequently, a CV should be an overview of who you are as a young professional and most importantly, why you would be the perfect person for the job. Your previous work experience isn’t necessarily what’s important - what’s important is how well you fit the job description.
How Do Employers View a CV With No Experience?The key piece of advice for writing anything has always been to know your audience. Studies have shown that recruiters spend an average of less than 9 seconds looking at a CV so it is important to make it count. If you were trying to build a profile on somebody you know nothing about, what would you need to know? Consider some of the questions a recruiter might ask:
- Who is this person?
- What is their current situation?
- What skills or qualifications do they have?
- What makes them unique?
- Would they suit this job?
- Do they want this job?
How to Write a CV With No ExperienceNow, to get into the nitty gritty - if work experience isn’t something you can include in your CV, then what can you offer instead? This may seem like a daunting question to answer at first but trust me, you have more to offer than you might think, all it takes is a little ‘outside the box’ thinking.
You Have More Experience Than You RealiseFirst of all, it is vital to note that NO ONE has NO experience. The purpose of experience in a CV is to show evidence for the skills you have. Even if you’ve never had a ‘proper’ job before, there will be many skills that you’ll have developed through some other kind of experience, be it volunteering, hobbies or extracurricular activities. For example:
- IT Skills? What computer programmes have you used in the past?
- Written Communication? Perhaps you have a blog, or write voluntary articles for the school newsletter.
- Budgeting? Have you helped to organise an event with limited funds? How did you work around that?
- Team player? Do you play a team sport? Being part of any extracurricular activities can offer a wealth of transferable soft skills.
- Organisation? Are there any times when you've been responsible for your own time?
How To Write a Skills Based CVWhen working out how to write a CV with no experience, the skills you have take centre stage when it comes to what you have to offer. However, it is crucial that you don’t just produce a list of generic keywords with no explanations. If you have listed something as a skill, the employer will want to know why you have listed it. If you’re stumped on what skills to list, turn to the job description - all job descriptions list the skills and qualities they are looking for in candidates, so list them yourself! Be mindful of lying however, and avoid listing a skill that you don’t really have. Anything you include needs to be backed up; employers can spot ‘embellishments’. Understanding what hard and soft skills are and including both types is important - for quick reference, hard skills are often trade-specific skills that you have learned and perhaps gained a qualification in, such as being proficient at Microsoft Excel. Soft skills are the everyday skills that you develop and grow through multiple experiences, such communication or organisation. To learn more about soft skills, see our previous article.
Achievements - What Are You Proud Of?Not everyone includes an achievements section in their CV, but it’s a good idea to. Listing your achievements shows you are an effective person who has more to offer than just fulfilling daily tasks. If you’re stuck on what achievements to list, try to consider:
- Have you received recognition in school for anything you’ve done? Any certificates/awards?
- Achievements don’t necessarily have to constitute an official recognition, award or certificate; perhaps you helped to organise a bake sale for charity? Talk about how you were involved and what the outcomes were i.e. how much money was raised.
- Try to keep things as relevant to the role you’re applying to as possible; mentioning that you broke your school’s long-jump record when applying to a office-based admin role doesn’t help to prove your suitability to the job.
InterestsAnother section that you don’t necessarily have to include is Hobbies and Interests. Generally, best practice is, as with everything, to include what is relevant to the role you’re applying for. Listing all your hobbies might not be the best way to approach this and just takes up unnecessary space. However, say you’re applying to a chef apprenticeship and in your spare time keep a food blog, that’s a relevant interest that further proves to the employer that you are passionate about the industry that you are applying to work in. Another thing to watch out for is listing too many interests that aren’t relevant to the role you’re applying for. Listing that you enjoy going out with your friends every Wednesday night could raise more questions and concerns about whether you’ll be reliable and punctual rather than helping. Stick to two or three interests that demonstrate something you can offer to the employer.
Structure and FormattingKnowing how to write a CV with no experience is only half the job. It is equally important to make it visually appealing. Deciding how to format your CV is a personal choice, however when considering the information you want to offer, it is sometimes helpful to reference other CVs and templates for inspiration. Templates can be very useful in terms of using for inspiration on where to start but proceed with caution. Employers will recognise commonly used CV templates and this immediately causes them to lose interest. Some good templates can be found on Reed and Prospects. It is useful to think about how a recruiter is reading your CV to help with the layout - you want to keep them hooked and you want them read it all the way through to the bottom. Taking the questions they may be asking into account can help you to format your CV into a logical and comprehensible structure that keeps the recruiters eyes on the page. Some other formatting tips:
- A CV should be no more than 2 A4 sides, so it can be printed on one sheet of paper
- Display your name clearly and always include your contact information.
- Use a professional font - no swirly, hard to read nonsense
- Make use of bullet points, bold and underlining to segregate your sections clearly
- Be consistent
- Things to include (in order of appearance):
- Personal details (address, email, number)
- Experience/Previous Employment
- References: You can either include a couple of references details OR include a line at the bottom stating ‘References available upon request’.
You Are Unique - So Your CV Should Be TooOnce you've learnt how to write a CV with no experience, it can be tempting to send off multiple copies of the same one. Don’t. Use your original CV as a base and adapt it to fit each role you apply for. Yes, this will take up a lot of your time but it is essential and well worth doing.
How to tailor your CV to a particular role:As we’ve already asserted, it is important to consider the way in which employers will be reading your CV, and taking time to read the job description should provide all the information you need on how to present your CV. Check the skills and qualities section. Show that you have read the job description carefully and make sure you have listed down skills that are included. It’s less important to say you have great watercolour skills when applying to a receptionist role, but including that you have good organisation and communication skills is a must. Always be truthful. Though it is important to list skills that match the job description, make sure that you do in fact have these skills. Employers are very good at sniffing out a white lie.. Edit your personal statement; this should be sitting just under your name, right at the top of your CV and is one of the first things a recruiter will look at. Those 3-4 sentences should summarise you as a professional; your knowledge, skills and experience. What sector/industry are you going for? If it is a more creative/artistic role, it might be worth investing more time into the formatting of your CV You can include a little personality by using colour if deemed suitable, but don’t get carried away and prioritise keeping your CV looking neat and professional.
- Use a good quality paper, if handing in physical copies - it may seem trivial, but printing your CV out on quality paper will make it appear more professional and gives the impression that you put a lot of care and effort into it. Another tip is to go for cream coloured paper rather than white - it will make it stand out more amongst the other CVs.
- Always get it proof-read by as many people as possible. It cannot be stressed enough how crucial proof-reading is!
- Ask for help. If you know somebody in a similar role to the one you’re applying, don’t be afraid to ask for guidance. After all, they successfully landed their job, so ask them how they did it!
- For even more CV advice, check out our other CV article: How To Write a Graduate CV - The Ultimate Guide