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How to Improve an Experience-Light CV

Applying for your first few jobs and placements can sometimes feel like a catch-22 situation. You need relevant experience to get the job, but getting a job is the only way to get that experience… it often looks like a difficult cycle to break, and can feel overwhelming. But don’t fret! There are still ways to make yourself appealing to prospective employers, even if you haven’t spent all that much time in the field yet – here are our top tips to power up a CV that’s light on previous employment.

Accentuate your skills

An oft-neglected and potentially very useful section of your CV is the part where you talk about your skillset: what you consider to be your strengths as an employee and what you can bring to the table.

The key here is keeping it specific and relevant. General phrases like 'team player' are fine, but they don’t tell an employer all that much about you, considering how ubiquitous those phrases are in CV-speak. If the job you’re applying for is one where you’ll have to produce a lot of work to a schedule, mention that you’re highly self-motivated and good at keeping to deadlines. If it’s a precise job, talk about your eye for detail and methodical approach to tasks. Going to be on the phone a lot? Stress your oral communication skills. Putting these qualities down tells the employer that you know why they’re important to the task, and that alone is a good way to earn yourself some early brownie points.

Show that you’ve done something with yourself

Don’t forget that work is not the only kind of experience employers are looking for! Indeed, someone who only mentions their past employment is not likely to fare too well; most companies will be looking for someone with a little more to them than their work life.

You should stick to the general principle of keeping your interests interesting and relatively unique, but don’t be afraid to expand on them a bit. You want to focus on things that are either generally seen as 'worthy' (DofE and other pursuits involving cooperation and lots of different challenges are especially good ammunition) or strongly related to the role you’re applying for. If you’re gunning for a job that involves a lot of writing, those short stories you write in your spare time or that blog you maintain might be worth talking about; they show that you’ve developed your skills in a given area even when it’s not part of what gets you paid, which is a good sign for a prospective employer.

Tell them what they want to hear

A CV should always be tailored to the recipient, of course, but this is especially true for cases where you lack experience. You need to really convince the employer that you’re good for this job specifically, and that might mean including material you’d otherwise leave out.

Say you’re applying for that writing job, and you wrote a couple of articles for your student newspaper – not as a regular writer, but you were definitely a contributor. You might think this is a bit insubstantial for a CV, but, for this job in particular, it demonstrates that you have an aptitude for a specific field of writing and implies experience in writing to deadlines, working with editors, and so on. It’s possible to go too far with this, of course ("I read a newspaper once" is almost certainly overkill), but in small doses it can really bolster your application.

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