Graduate CVs: How to overcome a lack of experience

Graduate CVs - Image Credit: Thinkstock

You've got a great degree, strong technical skills and gallons of raw potential, so surely any employer would want to hire you? But there's one thing holding you back, and it's a lack of experience in full-time, permanent employment.

Of course, you're by no means alone. This is the same difficulty faced by thousands of talented graduates each year across the UK. Having only recently left full-time education, how can you hope to compete with job candidates who are already active in the world of work? What do you include on your CV if you’ve no employment history?

First and foremost, you shouldn't necessarily be going for the same sort of jobs. If you apply for the right sort of roles - graduate jobs or other entry-level positions - your lack of experience won't count against you. For these types of positions, employers are interested in what you can do, rather than what is missing from your CV. Your primary task is to convince them of your ability and potential, based upon your qualifications, skills and achievements.

As a graduate seeking your first job, you're likely to be competing against other candidates in a similar position. In order to attract the interest of hiring managers and get your name shortlisted, you need to focus on your strengths. A graduate CV needs to be functional and skills-based, concentrating on what you can do and the value you can bring to an organisation.

There are always employers willing to invest in talent, regardless of experience. If you can show them you are a high-calibre individual, with ability, education and drive, they will train you on the job. This is why it is so important to write a great first CV, something you can achieve even without the benefit of real employment experience. By following these CV writing tips, you can advertise your skills effectively and make a great impression with hiring managers:

What to include on a graduate CV

  • Outline your career goals

Rather than focusing on employment experience in your personal statement, outline your career goals and objectives. What do you want to achieve and why? This shows potential employers that you are a focused candidate - someone who has a plan. Very often, graduates emerge from university unsure of what they want to do for their career, and apply for roles indiscriminately. In most cases, they are not the best person for the job.

  • Highlight your skills

The focus of your graduate CV needs to be your skills and abilities. So dedicate space on the document to your practical and technical attributes, noting any qualifications or certifications you have picked up. You may have a specific talent that most other people your age lack, such as fluency in another language. If so, make the most of it. Niche skills are, by definition, hard to come by, meaning employers often compete to hire individuals who have them. This can see new opportunities open up, even at an early stage in your career, allowing you to maximise your earnings.

  • Include work experience

You may not have held a full-time permanent role, but any work experience you have is still relevant, even part-time or summer jobs. This suggests you are diligent, reliable and have had exposure to the workplace, and therefore know what to expect. It's is particularly important to document any work experience or internships you have undertaken - this may impress potential employers. If you're taken the initiative to find voluntary placements, it suggests you are really serious about building a successful career in your chosen sector.

  • Be interesting

Hiring managers could have hundreds of graduate CVs to sift through when shortlisting for a vacancy. Why should they read through your entire CV, let alone invite you to interview? You've got to think about what differentiates you as a candidate, and communicate your unique selling point clearly and concisely. Writing a brief summary of your CV, including key points, helps deliver this information to the reader. You might want to talk about placements/internships, extra-curricular activities or any niche skills you have.

  • Perfect your application

Each time you apply for a job, your CV should be tailored to the role. This means explaining how your qualifications, skills and personal characteristics help you meet the role criteria. You need to invest time and effort customising your CV, ensuring the most relevant details are the most prominent. Spelling, punctuation, grammar and CV formatting needs to be perfect; the document should look like it has received plenty of care and attention.

  • Demonstrate value

As a graduate, you have limited achievements to report on your CV - at least, ones that are relevant to work. So rather than including a comprehensive list of extra-curricular awards, talk about the value you can add. If you've had part-time jobs, what did you contribute? If you're been part of teams of societies, how did your contribution make a positive difference? Include specific details, with facts and figures, where possible to strengthen each example.

  • Show you are responsible

While many graduates are highly impressive young professionals, others are not quite ready to make the transition from university to the world of work. For some, full-time employment can be a huge culture shock. Employers want to know the people they hire are mature, organised and fully motivated to work. If you have held positions of responsibility - at university, in part-time employment or in other areas of your life - it is worth including them on your CV. It says to the employer you are reliable and trustworthy, and it also hints at leadership potential.

In summary

In the long term, you will need experience to develop your career. But when you're setting on in the world of work, and don't have an employment record and professional reputation to fall back on, your skills are your biggest attribute. Knowing how to advertise them to prospective employers, in the context of their job vacancies, is crucial as you look to establish a foothold on the career ladder. As a talented graduate with a strong functional CV, it won't be long until the interview offers start arriving.

If you haven’t written a CV before or it needs updating you can use our CV template to create or refresh your CV.