It’s that time of year; you’re due to graduate this summer and enter into the scary world of work. Even worse, your CV may show you’ve been a star performer academically but, when it comes to work experience, it’s looking decidedly thin on the ground. Before you start your job search, here are five ways to make an “experience-lite” CV feel more heavyweight.
1) Scrap the personal statement
“I am a confident, enthusiastic, hard-working self-starter…” Oh please. No one, but no one, rates, or probably even reads, CV personal statements any more. Much better, and much more effective at selling you if you’ve not got much experience to back yourself up, is to use that space at the top to outline, ideally in quite specific terms, your career ambitions and why it is you are applying for this specific role. So, it could be something like “My goal is to build a successful career in field x, y, z and I see a role with [organisation name] as a key way of realising this ambition. In my academic career I have focused on building/developing [list relevant skills] while, in my work experience, I have sought out positions that offer challenges in [again list relevant skills].” You will undoubtedly also cover this ground in your covering letter but reiterating the point may be no bad thing.
2) Properly celebrate your academic qualifications
If your academic ability and degree are what you have to sell the most, then do so. OK, no one will want to know about your core or optional modules (unless you’re applying for an academic role), but focus in on the skills that three years of academic study have given you as well as the end result. These could be attributes such as time or project management, communication skills (for example if you’ve led or even delivered seminars), independent working, gathering information from a variety of sources, distilling complex concepts into an accessible argument, clear writing skills and so on. The content of your degree may have been specialised; the skills it took to get a good grade are still going to be valuable.
3) Think values and attributes rather than positions
You may not rate the dead-end jobs you did to get you through university. But sit back and think about them dispassionately. More importantly, think about the skills they have given you: interpersonal (working in a pub), financial acumen (you had to cash up at the end of the night), reliability (you had to open up on time or there would be hell to pay), a professional outlook (you had to buy a clean shirt), negotiation skills (breaking up fights at the bar). If you’ve done a load of very short-term roles consider bundling them together into a single period of time (temping jobs during the course of a summer, for example) and what you learned from the whole experience rather than listing each individual position. The key is to back each assertion with evidence. So, if the only evidence you’ve got is flipping burgers, you’ve got to think what you took away from that (and not just greasy clothing) – did you take on any responsibility for, say, dealing with suppliers or the public, managing money, maintaining quality standards and so on?
4) Sell your potential
As well as maximising what work experience you do have, go back and review very carefully everything else you’ve done, and been enthused about, in your life. You don’t need to go too far back (primary school is probably pushing it), but think about what clubs, activities, hobbies, sports or social groups you’ve been involved in over the years. What can you show you’ve learned from them – what do they say about you and, most of all, your attitude and potential? Have you stepped up and taken on leadership or organisational responsibilities, raised money, been consistent and reliable over a period of time, shown imagination to overcome obstacles or adversity? Again, try to highlight examples and evidence of how they’ve helped you become someone who can offer something special to the organisation you are applying to. It may only have been the university model train society but it might still help.
5) Don’t forget the basics
By all means focus on all the above, but don’t forget to get the basics right. So, keep in mind the common CV mistakes: spelling, grammar and readability (get someone to read it), accuracy (is the company name correct and have you got the person’s name right), brevity (no more than two pages) and relevance (is it tailored to the specific job). Are there, too, any obvious gaps or questions that you’ve failed to address? Oh yes (especially if you’re emailing it), have you actually sent it, and to the right address?