Don’t let a lack of work experience put you off applying for a role where otherwise you meet most of the requirements. Instead, make the most of your other qualities: your skills, attitude, potential and enthusiasm.
1. Identify what qualifies you for the role
It isn’t only paid experience that counts. Voluntary or community involvement, work placements, coursework, personal projects and extracurricular activities can all be highlighted to show your suitability. Think from the employer’s perspective – decide on the most interesting factors, where you have used relevant skills, and then make these prominent on your CV.
For instance, this graduate CV highlights education and training, including achievements and endorsements, while this CV demonstrates how to emphasise project work above less relevant work experience. Breaking down each project into target, result and learned competencies shows relevant skills and achievements in context.
2. Make yourself irresistible to an employer
One of the hardest things to do convincingly on a CV is to convey desirable personality traits. Just writing that you are enthusiastic or motivated without giving supporting details isn’t enough. Instead, demonstrate through examples.
Starting something from scratch and overcoming hurdles can show resourcefulness and determination. You can use examples like this to illustrate other characteristics such as an ability to get on with others, or organizational and communication skills.
Holding down a job to help family finances or pay your way through college can reveal humility and a strong work ethic: “Consistent work record: held variety of part-time roles since the age of 16 to contribute to educational costs.” Learning about a role or sector through online communities, upskilling through tutorials or conducting your own projects all show enthusiasm – it could fit into the education, training or skills section of your CV.
Graduate employers like applicants who can demonstrate these personality traits, as well as attributes such as numeracy and commercial awareness, which you could show through retail, marketing or sales work.
Quantify achievements where possible (how much money saved, percentage of time reduced, etc) and mention instances where you were promoted, rehired, or given greater responsibility.
3. Speak the same language
This is especially the case for career changers, but all applicants should aim to use language that an employer would expect to see from an ideal candidate. Include keywords throughout your CV, in job titles, skills, and in how you describe your work experience. In this example, the course modules (international finance, risk management, etc) are keywords in their own right, and are included in the skills section, titled “specialised knowledge”.
4. Experiment with layout
You don’t need to always use a strict chronological work history format or have the same section order. Put the most important information first – relevant project work can come before less relevant employment, while voluntary projects bridging your move into a new career could come before current, paid work.
You can be flexible with layout and include additional sections for work that is less relevant, or earlier in your career. You can also put your education before your work experience, or extract relevant course work and place that prominently.
Don’t be tempted to flesh out a CV with long, rambling paragraphs and irrelevant details to compensate for a lack of work experience. Instead, write leanly and concisely, and focus on making it easy for your reader to find key information.
Consider putting a summary of stand-out points at the beginning of your CV. Put your name and contact details at the top of the page, then use the job title itself as a heading. Under this, summarize key details such as years’ experience in a particular skill, project experience or summer placements at that company, or a short branding statement highlighting your strengths and attributes. A couple of lines in note or bullet-point format (rather than entire sentences) can work well. Include a brief cover letter explaining your reasons for applying, and interest in the company.