How to write a CV with no experience

Last updated: 21 Feb 2024, 16:33

Discover how to present the skills gained from all areas of your life to help build your CV, even if you don’t think you have any work experience under your belt.

typing to show creating a CV

If you’re worried about whether you have ‘experience’ to include on your graduate CV or how to present your skills, worry not, we’ve got the answers for you. Jump to:

What is having ‘no’ work experience, really?

Well, some students tell us they have no work experience but what they really mean is that they don’t have an internship relevant to the profession. Others say they have no work experience and what they mean is that they have no paid employment, for example. Either way, students typically have other achievements that they can put on their CV: volunteering, involvement in extracurricular activities, caring responsibilities and so on. (In fact, those without a relevant internship often have other types of work experience, such as part-time jobs.) But they don’t think their other achievements count (they do count).

While having relevant and structured work experience on your CV is an advantage, it’s not everything. What recruiters are really looking for is that you have the relevant skills for the job – and these are not just developed through work experience.

Creating a CV with no experience is all about working with what you’ve got and playing to your strengths. Here, we break down a few ways you can do that.

Start by thinking about the skills you have already

Before you draft your CV, jot down any university and school projects, presentations and volunteering you’ve done – along with your interests and hobbies, plus any responsibilities you’ve had such as babysitting younger siblings. Then think about all the skills you’ve gained from these things and jot those down, too.

Choose the best CV layout

The secret of writing a great CV – especially when you don’t have much, or even any, work experience – is to emphasise your skills. There are two ways that you can do this. You can create what’s called a ‘skills-based CV’, where your CV centres around the skills you’ve gained, how you’ve gained them and how they make you a good fit for the job role. Or you can follow a more traditional chronological CV format in which you group together your activities/experiences/interests thematically in a rough chronological order while not necessarily using the heading ‘work experience’.

Option 1: create a skills-based CV

The skills-based CV is typically a good choice for showing how a range of life skills are transferable into different roles and industries. The point of using this format when you don’t have experience is to highlight the skills you have despite a lack of time in the workplace. You should mention any skill you have gained from different areas of your life and how that could be applied to the workplace and the specific job you’re applying to. Say there is a particular sport you’ve been playing for years – maybe this has taught you discipline and how to be a team player while showcasing your commitment – all skills that are essential for the workplace.

Most of the space on a skills-based CV should be taken up with different sections focusing on how you have developed individual skills. These sections could be written in bullet point or sentence format. For example, here is how you could write up two of your key skills:

Leadership

  • As social secretary for my rugby society in my second year of university, I organised three charity matches and over 15 social events for the team (including a successful charity fundraiser, a team building evening and pub quizzes – which raised £350 for our nominated charity). For the charity quiz, I liaised with the venue to book the event and I worked with a graphic designer on our team to create promotional posters. I coordinated a team of volunteers to help promote the event through social media as well as handing out flyers to other students.
  • Leading a group presentation for a group module in my first year. I delegated different parts of the topic for the group to discuss and organised how we would present it. This resulted in a 2.1 grade for the group and positive feedback from our lecturer.

Communication

  • Giving constructive feedback to the students I was working with on a film project in a way that both helped and motivated them. I read up on feedback techniques and applied them in an emotionally intelligent way.
  • Emailing and building rapport with external contacts to get involved with our short film project. Three of the four contacts contributed to the project.

Key tip: list these sections in order of importance, with the one most related to the job you are applying for at the top – and within each section, emphasise the most relevant accomplishments or results produced.

Lower down on your CV you will need to add the dates and details of your education and of any activities that you mention (eg when you were secretary of the rugby club).

Option 2: highlight your skills in a more traditional CV format

Many students think that the structure of a traditional CV has to include headings such as ‘Work experience’ or ‘Employment’ and this will show up the fact that you don’t have much (or any) work experience. But you don’t have to use set headings – you can group together the evidence of your skills and activities in any way you like.

Say, for example, that you are applying for a job in publishing. You don’t have any internships in the media or any time in paid employment, but you have been an online editor for your student newspaper and you post book reviews on TikTok and Instagram – you might think of these as extracurricular activities rather than employment. You can group these together under the heading ‘Media experience’ (because both of these are) or ‘Writing and blogging activities’ or ‘Pursuing my passion for publishing’ or any similar title.

Then you could write up your student newspaper experience as:

Online editor for University of Abingdon Student News Now [Insert date]

  • Developed my writing skills, my creative thinking and my time management skills by pitching and writing four articles per term on various topics (including cost of living, student finance and university life) while completing my studies.
  • Developed my understanding of good writing and my attention to detail by copy editing and proofreading articles written by other students before they went online.

You could also create a bullet-point list of your core skills near the top of your CV:

Core skills

  • Communication skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Negotiation skills
  • Organisational skills
  • The ability to work under pressure

Find out what skills to put on your CV and different ways to present them.

Other things to include on a CV with no experience

Remember, you can customise and target the information in whichever way best presents your skills and attributes – whether it includes elements of traditional CVs, skills-based CVs or both. The key aim here is to produce a CV that meets your needs and gives you the best shot with employers.

Definitely include your contact details

With any CV, you need to have the basic information about yourself: name, email address and mobile number. It’s usually best to include this information at the top of your CV in bold writing – in a way that makes it easily visible to the recruiter looking at your CV.

Definitely include your educational background

At this stage of your career, details of your education may be of most interest to potential employers. Consider listing your education near the top of the CV – breaking down where you studied, what you studied, grades you got and the duration of your time there. For example:

Abingdon University [insert dates of study]

BA Hons Film Studies 2.1

Hilltown School [insert dates of study]

A levels: Media (A), Sociology (B), English Language (B)

10 GSCEs (include the most relevant subjects)

Consider writing a few lines about yourself and your goals

There is an age-old question ’are personal statements a waste of space on graduate CVs?’ . And the short answer is: it depends. The aim of a personal statement is to summarise your career goals, highlight the skills that are relevant to the job you’re applying for and to mention any key achievements. It’s understandable that if you’re writing a CV with no experience, you might feel the need to include a hefty personal statement to sell yourself to employers (and fill up the page a bit), but this isn’t always your best bet.

If you’re applying for a job that requires you to submit a covering letter – which is very common – you’ll have said everything you need to say in there. If you aren’t required to submit a covering letter, then you could include a personal statement to introduce yourself and talk about your achievements in more detail.

You could start with a personal statement or career objective near the beginning, focused on the industry, role and/or employer you are applying to. This could just be adding a few sentences about yourself that highlight your career aspirations and why your skills and attributes make you a good fit for the role. For example, if you were applying for a film journalist role, you could write something similar to:

‘As a recent graduate in film studies, I am well-versed in many areas of pre-and-post-production aspects – such as scriptwriting, camera operation, sound recording and editing. Practical assignments and written coursework I have completed allowed me to gain a combination of both practical skills and storytelling skills, both of which I am looking to further develop as a trainee film journalist.’

The rest of the CV must contain evidence to back up the opening statement. If you decide to start your CV this way, use our advice on writing a personal profile to help you.

Tailor the CV for the job role

When it comes to CV writing, you tend to hear a lot of people talking about how you should ‘tailor’ your CV for the job role. What this means in a nutshell is making sure you highlight the parts of your CV that best match the job description and your suitability for the role.

When reading the job description for a role, look out for ‘keywords’. These are words or short phrases that relate to what is required of the job role. A job description for a film journalist, for instance, could include key words such as: research, editing, storytelling, social media marketing, attention to detail and the ability to accept criticism. Make a note of these and try to weave them into your own CV. Here are a few ways you can reference keywords from a job description:

‘I have extensive practice with video editing at university, as I spend a lot of time in postproduction refining my short film.’

‘The student project I worked on required a lot of research into social media marketing and the different ways we could reach audiences.’

‘The scriptwriting module in my degree allowed me to understand the importance of attention to detail when storytelling .’

‘I spent a lot of time in focus groups with other students where we would give each other honest feedback and constructive criticism about our work. This improved my ability to accept criticism .’

Frequently add to your CV where you can

You might not have a ton of work experience right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t actively seek it out and build on your CV. Volunteering, passion projects and part-time work are just a handful of ways you can gain new skills and experiences to add to your CV. Snap up all the opportunities you can and add, add, add to that CV!

Get feedback

Before submitting your CV, seek feedback from mentors, friends or career advisors. Constructive input can help you gauge how effective your CV is and help you to refine it.

Remember, everyone starts somewhere. Employers understand that entry-level candidates may have limited professional experience. By emphasising your skills, achievements and potential, you can create a compelling CV that captures the attention of prospective employers.

More advice on CV writing

Check out our big guide to CV writing for more tips on writing and structuring your CV. You can also take a look at our CV and cover letter templates where you can download our resources and make them your own.

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