Lack of experience: how to make your CV shine

Lack of experience: how to make your CV shine

Crafting a great CV is daunting at the best of times. But it can be even more so when you don’t have any real experience in the area that interests you. How do you present yourself on paper so that you make the right impression?


Understanding how to pick out and highlight what you have to offer employers and recruiters is the key to success, according to Andrew Fennell, the founder and director of StandOut CV in London. “There are ways to showcase your worth and potential,” he said. This involves considering your education, training and other types of experience to decide what you prioritise. Here are his top tips.

Know what is expected of you

Pore over the job advertisement for details as to what their ideal candidate looks like. Then address those points in your application. “Make sure you tackle those points in your CV or cover letter,” said Fennell. Read the company’s “About Us” page. That will give you an understanding of its “work ethic, their clients and the people working there”, said Fennell. Real estate giant JLL, for example, says on its website: “We believe in teamwork—we share in order to succeed.” Candidates would do well to highlight that skill when writing up their application.

Stick with an appropriate layout

If you are applying for a creative role, such as a graphic designer, you can knock yourself out, get really creative and show your talent. This is one way you can shine early in the recruitment process. (Just make sure it is all still legible.) For other roles, it’s best to stick with a traditional CV. “This means no pictures, logos or design features,” said Fennell. “When writing your CV, it is important to create an easy-to-read structure by using short, sharp paragraphs and bullet points. Nobody wants, or has the time, to read big chunks of text.”

Consider leading with your education

If it is relevant, start by describing your highest qualification and what you learnt in the process. Consider mentioning your thesis and skills you drew on when researching and writing it.

Highlight relevant skills

Do you have a driver’s licence? Are you a whiz at coding? Is your French fluent? Find a place to mention relevant skills you have mastered. It may give you the edge over someone who just ticks all the boxes regarding qualifications.

Spotlight a hobby

Are you a track and field star? Are you the captain of your rugby team? Have you completed a triathlon? These may be hobbies to you, but they show any potential employer qualities such as being a good team player, being competitive or reliable. Don’t just add a vague “reading, travel, walking”. Be specific. One journalist, who was also a qualified yoga teacher, found that the editor who interviewed her was intrigued about what a BWY yoga instructor was. “It was a great talking point and I reckon popping it on my CV helped land me the interview,” she said.

Compensate for your lack of experience

Don’t worry about not having experience in the job you are applying for, you can compensate for that by emphasising other areas.

    1. If you are a graduate, you can highlight skills picked up during your university days, such as communication and organisation. Don’t forget to tie them in with the job specification and what the recruiter wants to hear. A great way to do this is to look at how you put your dissertation together, according to Fennell, who gives the example of Emily, a recent journalism graduate. “Emily didn’t have much experience with internships, so it was important to emphasise the skills she had acquired during her studies,” he said. While gathering information for her dissertation, Emily contacted a number of politicians and journalists, thus building up valuable contacts. “The fact that she was able to get those interviews and build great relationships with those she met shows journalistic flair, which got her a job quickly,” he said.
    1. If you want to change careers, write about the responsibilities you had in your previous role and how your skills could be of use in this new position. “Talk about the personal traits that make you employable and how you’ve used them previously to help a company grow,” said Fennell, who describes a pharmacist who decided in her 30s that she had a passion for public relations. “These are two completely different fields. However, her previous job allowed her to do a vast amount of research, which in many PR roles is a great skill to have, so she emphasised that in her CV,” he said. “This is a great example of ‘transferable skills’. Because of her background, she also targeted PR roles in the medical industry, which boosted her chances of finding her dream job.”
    1. If you work well in a team or a group, think of times when you have done so even if it was when you were at college. Fennell gives the example of a marketing student who was applying for his first internship. “He had just finished his first year of studies and had no experience,” said Fennell. “However, he was well spoken and confident. He would always smash his group presentation and, during one in particular, he stepped in when his project colleague froze in front of the class. Because he was informed on the subject, he was able to carry the conversation.” In mentioning this on his CV, he showed potential employers that he was a team player, confident and eloquent.
    1. If you have other strong personal traits, such as being resilient or proactive, you should explain when you have used them. For example, if you got yourself a Saturday job during the pandemic by pestering your local café, mention that on your CV. Go that extra step and show employers that you are hard-working, and you will add value to their company,” he said.
    1. Draw attention to any volunteer work you have done because it shows you are not afraid to take on extra responsibilities and can easily work with new people. “Most kinds of volunteering are worth highlighting,” said Fennell. “We worked with a client who volunteered through their church group during Christmas, gathering donations for disadvantaged children. This shows an employer your values and the fact you are not scared to put in the work—and time—when you are passionate about something. This will make employers believe you can do the same for your job.”

Take the time… it will be worth it

It may take time to consider all the ways you have interacted with people or responded to challenging situations to come up with good examples. It is worth doing so, however, as these experiences can help to add depth and colour to your CV, so that you can bag the position you want.

Photo: WTTJ

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Rose Costello

Editor and writer

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