Writing your first CV is the integral first step of your job search. Your CV is the most important part of any job application and a crucial marketing tool for you and your abilities. For job seekers with little or no work experience, however, writing a CV is daunting. Even accomplished professionals can have difficulty showcasing their employability on a CV, and this challenge is much greater for students and recent graduates without work history to display.
Fortunately, there are several tricks and tips that new job seekers can use to create a great CV irrespective of their experience level. Whether you are a high school student, a college student, or a recent graduate, these strategies will help you to create a CV that stands out!
As a first-time job seeker, your CV will have some differences from a typical CV. Whereas job seekers with several years of experience will highlight work accomplishments and allow the education and non-work experience sink to the bottom of the CV, newer job seekers can have these fields take precedence. Further, new job seekers can be content with a single page CV, while more experienced professionals may want to use up to two pages.
Besides these small differences, however, good advice for one job seeker is usually good advice for the other. The principles of good resume writing remain the same. Instead of thinking of your CV as merely a list of your previous work and despairing that you have nothing to write about, think of it as a marketing tool. It is a document that can show that you are dedicated, hardworking, and enthusiastic. It is a place to show that you can learn and improve and that you will be a great asset to the company you are applying to. Just because you haven’t had a job yet doesn’t mean you won’t make a great employee.
For a more detailed look at writing a CV, please take a look at our resume guide. For more specific tips for writing a CV with no experience, please read on!
If you are looking for work while still in high school, there is no need to worry about your lack of experience. As long as you are applying for entry level positions, employers will have realistic expectations about your experience level. A minimum-wage or seasonal student position will not have strict prerequisites. Further, employers hiring for those positions will likely have experience working with young people who are new to the job market
In fact, your lack of formal experience may be an asset. Employers filling entry level positions often prefer candidates with a shorter work history because more experienced candidates will be seen as ‘overqualified’, causing the employer to expect them to quit as soon as they can leverage that experience into a better opportunity.
This does not mean, however, that you can slack on your CV. You will still be facing plenty of competition and your CV needs to stand out among the other candidates with similar backgrounds.
Though you may not have any formal work experience to showcase in your CV, there are still ways to market yourself and show that you are the right applicant for the job. For example, you can include informal jobs that you may have worked as a teen. Alison Doyle at The Balance recommends that you “include informal work like babysitting, pet sitting, lawn mowing, shoveling snow, or anything else you've done to earn money.” Odd jobs for friends and neighbours are perfectly acceptable additions to your CV and demonstrate your exposure to the working world.
These activities aren’t just fluff to fill out your CV or a substitute for ‘Experience’ in some conceptual sense. They show that you are a well-rounded, reliable person and indicate to employers that you will be a successful employee.
Of course, the best cure for a blank resume is to gain some experience to fill it up with. This does not have to be work experience, however; instead, find something with a lower barrier to entry. There are plenty of non-work activities that will impress employers. As India Miraglia at FastWeb says, “Some activities obviously belong on a resume: math team, a sport, any community service.” According to Monster, “Your volunteer work, after-school programs, and extracurricular activities all tell potential employers about your ability to complete projects on time, work well with others, and stay organized.” Experience isn’t just work experience, it’s life experience.
To fill out your CV, join a club, volunteer with some student groups, or help to organize a local event. When employers are looking for experience, they don’t just want people who have held jobs before, they want people who have enthusiastically dedicated themselves to a shared goal, collaborated with other people, and achieved important things. The workplace isn’t the only location these tasks can be accomplished. Andrew Fennell, writing for The Guardian, recommends that you “start with your school or university and enquire as to whether they list any volunteering opportunities”, then try “contacting local businesses or charities to offer your services”. There are many organizations and groups who would appreciate a helping hand.
Employers know that young people often don’t have much experience, so it is no use trying to fool them. Instead of filling out your resume with exaggerated experience, try to emphasize your hireable qualities. If you have perfect attendance, or if teachers or mentors think you have “positive attitude or outstanding service”, feel free to mention that in your CV, says Alison Doyle at The Balance. Every little thing counts. According to FastWeb’s Miraglia, “Every time you join a club, volunteer your time, or win an award you should write it down. Nothing is too small or insignificant.”
A college student CV will be similar to a high school CV, as you likely still have little in the way of work experience. By now, however, you have probably taken some more advanced classes and gained experience working on larger projects. Further, if you are a recent graduate or are studying to work in a specialized field, you will need a CV that puts a stronger emphasis on your area of study. A college student’s CV should showcase academic achievements and participation in collaborative projects in lieu of professional experience.
At this point in your life, most of your employable skills were probably gained via academic pursuits rather than professional ones, and your degree is likely the most employable thing about you. Because of this, your education should be front and centre in your CV.
List your degree, even if you have not yet finished (but be sure to note that your studies are ongoing). Don’t bother with class titles or course codes - as LiveCareer notes, “they will mean nothing to readers outside your university.” It is acceptable to add relevant areas of study, however, if certain classes or projects are applicable to the job you are pursuing. Kim Isaacs at Monster recommends that you also include “academic honors such as dean's list, distinctions such as summa cum laude, scholarships and other awards”, as well as your GPA (if it is high!).
As a student, you likely do not have much in the way of on-the-job experience. Because of this, you will not be able to give your work history much emphasis in your CV. A workaround, recommended by Resume Companion, is to “Swap the Professional Experience section for a Major Projects section.” What this means is you can use important projects from your academic career as evidence of your skills instead of examples drawn from past jobs. This works best if your studies are directly related to the job you are applying to.
Similarly, Erik Episcopo at PopSugar recommends adding a Major Achievements section. This can include noting that you “participate in student government, organize an event, present a project at a conference, volunteer, or write for the school paper”. There are plenty of ways to build your skillset and accomplish important things right on campus. Don’t let your lack of professional experience distract you from the successes you have achieved at school.
As a college student, you have probably had a job or two by now, whether a summer job or something part-time. However, it is likely an unskilled job that is not relevant to the positions you are now seeking, and as such should not be emphasized heavily. One way around this, as recommended by Deborah Federico at Vault, is to “break your experience section in two: Relevant Experience and Other Experience”. This way, your irrelevant part time job won’t get top billing in your Work Experience section. If all of your experience is unrelated, however, this may not be an issue. “At this point in your career, employers will view any work experience as a testament to your dependability and strong work ethic, even if the experience is in a different industry”, says Isaacs. She continues, “When describing unrelated jobs, keep the descriptions to a minimum. For example, if you waited tables to help pay for college but your goal is software engineering, you don't need to provide a description of your day-to-day food-service responsibilities.”
You simply can’t rely on a single CV for your entire job search. Different positions will have different requirements, and your CV needs to reflect the specific needs outlined by the job posting.
To customize your CV, use phrases and keywords found in the job posting to describe your skills and experience. This doesn’t mean you can lie – everything you include in your CV must be true – it means that your CV should be tailored specifically to each application.
For example, if you are a college student seeking an internship in your field of study, your education is very relevant and should feature prominently in your CV. The skills and experience you focus on will likely be drawn from your academic projects. If, however, you are a college student looking for part-time work in an unrelated field, your education can take a back seat to more relevant work experience.
For more tips on customizing your CV, you may want to take a look at our guide to customizing your CV.
Make sure you send a cover letter with your CV! Despite not having relevant experience (or any experience at all), you may well be the right person for this job. Your cover letter is where you can demonstrate this outside of the rigid structure of a CV. As Lily Zhang at The Muse writes, “The cover letter is the perfect opportunity for you to connect the dots between the company’s needs and the skills you’ve built across your eclectic career.”
For more tips on writing a cover letter, you may want to read our cover letter guide.
Your CV should be just as neat and professional as a CV for someone who has been in the workforce for years. Your inexperience is not an excuse for an unorganized or unprofessional CV. To ensure that your CV is organized and professional, you may want to read our CV layout guide, and be sure to follow these tips:
Ben is a writer and customer support specialist with 5 years of experience helping job-seekers create their careers. He believes in the importance of a great resume and the power of coffee.
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