Applying for a new job is never an easy task, and it can seem especially daunting when every vacancy appears to require years of experience. Even when a job description describes itself as ‘entry level’, or otherwise doesn’t mention work experience, it’s easy enough to psyche yourself out. How can you possibly compete if just one or two other candidates are bringing real-world experience to the table?
Fortunately for those with a lack of work experience, successfully landing a job takes far more than simply having more experience than all the other candidates. If you’re worried your lack of experience is going to let you down, remember: everyone had no experience at some point. It’s entirely possible to secure the job you want without having already spent years in the industry, and it’s just as likely that many who do have all that prior experience will be rejected for other reasons.
What’s important, when you find yourself coming to apply for a job without any work experience, is to take the time to make sure every other area of your CV stands out. To help you we’ve put together the following tips below. By following them, thinking creatively and spending a little extra effort in the application process, you’ll be able to differentiate yourself from more experienced candidates in all the ways that matter.
Tailor your CV to the role
A good rule of thumb when writing a CV – regardless of your previous experience – is to tailor your CV to the job description provided by your prospective employer. Scan the advert and any other documents provided, and pick out the key skills that are referenced. Then try to incorporate these skills into your CV, either with a dedicated ‘key skills’ section or by referring to these skills when talking about your qualifications and experience.
Emphasise transferable traits
After reading the last line above, you might be thinking “I don’t have any experience!” However, it’s hugely important – and a great confidence booster – to recognise that not all experience has to be work experience. You probably have many experiences that you’ve accrued throughout your life that, with a little creative thinking, can be framed as key skills an employer might find desirable.
If you don’t have any relevant work experience, talk broadly about experience that might not be relevant. Just because you’re applying for a graduate job and your last employer was a bar, that doesn’t mean everything you learned there is completely irrelevant.
If you don’t have any previous experience at all, you can talk about volunteering, charity work, casual and summer jobs, your activities in societies and groups – really anything that required you to exercise a skill an employer might value – whether it be time management, event organisation, taking responsibility, interacting with the public, or anything else you might have done.
You will always have something in your life you can use as material on your CV. Never volunteered? Perhaps you’ve played on a football team – a great example of working as part of a team and practising effective communication. If you’ve travelled alone then you probably have organisational skills and experience acting independently. If you sell a lot of stuff on eBay you can even talk about that as experience in customer service, or as an example of your entrepreneurial mindset.
These are all examples of ‘transferable skills’ – broad attributes that can be learned in one situation and then applied to a whole variety of scenarios. Employers value these skills just as much as specific experience, so shout about them!
Relate your qualifications to the job
If you’re a graduate, learning how to frame your academic achievements as something attractive to an employer is an important skill to learn. It’s likely that while studying for your degree you either didn’t work, or at best worked in a casual retail or service role. Following on from the previous point, this doesn’t mean you’re without hope of getting a professional position straight out of university.
Along with the transferable skills you’ll have gained if you held a part-time job, don’t forget that your degree itself is also a significant achievement, and one that will have required you to demonstrate many qualities employers value. Time management, ability to work under pressure, dedication to pursuing excellence, and intellectual curiosity all make you a well-rounded candidate for any job, so long as you make sure your CV focuses on those qualities.
Be honest about your skills
Now for an important caveat. Without work experience you need to draw on other aspects of your life in order to make an employer notice you, but if you embellish the truth too much – or even outright lie - you’re almost certain to get caught out when it comes to the interview stage.
Recruiters are generally smart people, and they know how to read between the lines of a CV. While you certainly need to boast about your qualities, and think creatively about how to turn life experiences into transferable skills, you also need to be honest with both yourself and your prospective employer. Besides, if you get hired based on a CV you’ve made up, there’s a good chance you may not be suitable for the job anyway, and that’s only going to backfire on you later down the line.
Consider the functional CV
You may be used to thinking of CVs as simply a reverse history of employment, with a little section for key skills somewhere near the end. However, this chronological approach is only one of a number of popular CV formats (and if often used for career changes). Another format frequently used by job seekers is the ‘functional CV’, which essentially takes the standard format and flips it on its head.
Functional CVs put skills and personality front and centre, while de-emphasising qualifications and work experience. They’re a great way for someone with a lack of experience or non-traditional work experience to do all the things we’ve talked about above – tailoring the CV to the role, emphasising transferable and academic skills – in an engaging way. Combined with a confident cover letter that lets your personality shine through, a functional CV can draw an employer’s focus to all the areas in which you excel.
Applying for a new job can be a disheartening experience. Sometimes it might seem as if all you’re ever going to receive is more rejections. But with perseverance and creativity you’ll undoubtedly get there in the end, and with a great CV – regardless of your previous experience – you might find your phone starts ringing with interview offers sooner rather than later.