So you just graduated high school or university and you are ready to enter the workforce to become a productive member of society. You've chosen your career path and are excited to finally see those four long years of all-nighters pay off.
The only problem is that you have never worked a day in your life. Your CV looks like a barren wasteland, and if it even makes it to the hiring manager's desk they will be sure to see tumbleweeds.
So the question is, "How can you write an effective CV with ZERO work experience?"
A simple Google search will result in generic CV tips like, "prove yourself" or "find the sweet spot." These tips are unspecific and provide little value when it comes to actually sitting down and writing out your CV.
Instead, here are three actionable tips that will actually help you write a CV without any professional experience.
1. Begin With a Career Objective
Let me begin by saying that the career objective receives a lot of criticism for being antiquated and damaging to your CV. This is due to the fact that the purpose of the career objective is misunderstood. The purpose of the career objective is not to tell the hiring manger what you hope to get out of the company. Rather, the purpose of the career objective is to showcase your skills and abilities that will help you to successfully fulfil the responsibilities of the position.
With that being said, a career objective is great for CVs that lack professional experience because it emphasises your character and personality traits that make you the right fit for the position. Starting your CV off with the characteristics that make you valuable to the company will help to snag the attention of the hiring manager.
Here are two examples of how a recent high school or university graduate might compose their career objective:
High School Grad Career Objective:
"Hardworking high school student (A/B grades) with exceptional interpersonal and research skills. Seeking to use my abilities to successfully fulfil the [Position] at your company. My enthusiasm to learn new skills quickly will help your company meet its milestones."
This is a strong career objective because it showcases the applicant's traits that will be valued by the company.
University Graduate Career Objective:
"Recent graduate (2:1) with a BA in [Field of Study]. Looking to leverage my experience in student government and the [chosen] society to effectively meet the requirements of [Position] at your company. An enthusiastic worker aspiring to help achieve company goals and take on more responsibility."
If you are a university graduate, then you should add the degree you obtained and your grade to your career objective. In addition, describe any provable traits or experiences that are relevant to the position you are applying for. In the sample above, the applicant mentions their experience in student government where they are likely to have gained leadership and management skills.
Finally, when writing your career objective try to find skills or traits that the employer emphasises in the job description. If you add these qualities in your career objective, your CV will definitely catch the eye of the employer.
2. Expand Your Education Section
For the seasoned professional, the education of their CV is often very compact and is a means to prove you have a degree. Most professional CVs will only include the name of the school, name of the degree, graduation date, and grade in the education section.
However for an applicant without professional experience, the education section of the CV should be strengthened in order to make up for the lack of paid experience. To reinforce your education section consider adding:
- Societies/clubs you participated in
- Academic Awards
- Relevant coursework
By expanding your education section, an applicant without professional experience is still able to effectively highlight their skills and qualities. Also, by adding your participation in clubs and athletics, you exhibit your potential to be an enthusiastic team player to the employer. Including your academic awards and relevant coursework conveys to the employer your work ethic and knowledge relevant to the position.
An issue for some applicants is that they have a hard time thinking of the activities they participated in or just weren't that active in school. In this case focus more on your relevant coursework. For more ideas on what to include, check out these education section tips. Although it may take some brainstorming, extending the education section is crucial to the success of a CV without professional work experience.
3. Add a Major Achievements Section
While at school did you participate in student government, organise an event, present a project at a conference, volunteer, or write for the school paper? If so, then adding a major achievements section would greatly benefit your CV.
A major achievements section can act as an extension of your educational experience and helps to fill space on your CV. The structure of major achievements is similar to that of a professional experience section. In this section your activities are treated as professional jobs, but because they were unpaid and for school they fall under the heading "major achievements." For each activity, list a few points that detail the responsibilities you had within each organisation.
Here are a few example points for someone who participated in student government:
- Organised 5 school dances within a budget over the course of one year.
- Raised student body complaints and issues with school administrators.
- Designed an anti-bullying campaign to raise awareness of the harmful effects of bullying on our peers.
The points above help to communicate the applicant's ability to organise, act as a leader, and resolve problems. Formatting your achievements like the sample above encourages the hiring manager to overlook the fact that the applicant lacks professional experience. For some more ideas on how to structure your major achievements section, take a look at this high school CV sample and university graduate CV sample.
There is no need to fear the lack of professional experience on your CV. Follow the tips above, and you will have a CV that compensates for the lack of experience and gets you the interview. As a final tip, writing a strong cover letter is also a great way to make up for the absence of professional experience and help to complement your CV. Good luck on your job hunt!