I’m worried my CV shows I’m thin on skills and experience. What can I do to improve it?

'No experience, no job’ – the first forays into the world of work are rarely easy. Just how are recent school-leavers and graduates with no substantial history of paid employment (or even someone changing career horses in mid-stream) supposed to overcome this familiar Catch-22? Here are several tips on how to showcase your skills, enthusiasm, and work and life experiences in a way that helps your CV hold its own against the competition.

  1. Swot up. Steal a march on many of your more experienced rivals by tailoring your CV to reflect the values that you share with the organisation you are applying to. This will tell your would-be employer how enthusiastic you are about working for them and how you identify on a personal level with their mission and goals. Visit the company’s website, get hold of its Annual Report, or connect with its employees on professional networking sites to gain valuable insights into its culture and staff.
  2. Speak their language. Re-read the job description and incorporate its key words and phrases throughout your CV (so long as they honestly describe the skills and experience you have, and roles you have held). Structure your CV so that it answers each of the job requirements directly and shows the employer that you are in tune with what they need.
  3. Don’t focus solely on grades. It may be tempting to dwell on your formal academic qualifications – indeed at this stage in your life, they may be what you are most proud of. They are an important part of your CV, but employers are equally interested in experiences outside of formal education that make you stand out from the rest of the well-qualified competition.
  4. Show some (positive) attitude. Employers aren’t just looking for specific technical skills. There are more general capabilities that are valuable in almost any job, just as they are in life – such as the ability to work in a team, a willingness to learn, a sense of responsibility, a strong work ethic, etc. Coupled with that, each role will place an emphasis on different personal qualities – for example, one might require empathy while another would suit someone with strong initiative. Work out what they are and lay claim to them. But don’t just write down that you are, for example, the ‘self-motivated team player’ they need – prove it!  Something as simple as, say, giving up your Saturday afternoon to work in a charity shop can be explicit evidence of how well you get on with other people, and how willing you are to work hard for something you believe in.
  5. Showcase your transferable skills. Just because you haven’t yet held down a series of long-term, 9-to-5 jobs, don’t underestimate experience gained from holiday, temp or part-time jobs, voluntary work, community projects, youth programmes, and even sport and social activities – these can all provide genuine evidence of skills that transfer into the full-time workplace. For instance, cashing up after hours as part of your part-time bar job demonstrates good numeracy skills and shows that you are considered responsible and trustworthy by your seniors.
  6. Pay attention to the detail. Nothing puts an applicant in the ‘rejected’ pile quicker than unnecessary spelling mistakes and bad grammar. Give your CV a spell check and get an eagle-eyed friend to check it over for you.
  7. And don’t give up! Finally, remember the job market is tough – the average graduate makes 12 applications before they succeed – so try to remain upbeat even if you feel like you’re not getting anywhere. You probably have more to offer employers than you realise. It’s just a question of knowing how to tell them.


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