Accessibility statement

Writing a CV when you have little or no experience

Filling two pages of A4 can feel impossible when you have nothing to put on your CV.

But the truth is, everyone has something they can put on their CV. And it’s easier than you think to create an interesting, well-written CV even if you don’t have an internship to fill the space.

Here’s some advice on where to start if you’re feeling a bit lost.

Reflect on your skills

A CV is not just about your work experience. The employer reading it wants to see that you have the skills and enthusiasm to do the job. It’s quite likely that you’ve demonstrated skills in various parts of your life, and this is worth including if you can make it seem relevant to the job you’re applying for.

Before you try to write your CV, stop and do some self-reflection. Think about these things, and write down anything you have done or achieved:

  • Your experience and achievements in education: high marks, particular modules that might be relevant for a job, educational awards, group work and leadership, presenting to large groups of people, time management, etc.
  • Volunteering: one-off or long term volunteering you have been involved in.
  • Part-time work: any kind of work, even if you think it’s not relevant for a graduate job.
  • Involvement in campus life: societies you’ve joined, committee positions, campaigning, etc.
  • Online courses: list any online courses, free or paid, that you’ve done for fun, out of interest, or to develop your skills.
  • Interests and hobbies.

Now go back over this list and think about how you have demonstrated skills when you were doing these activities. If you’re applying for a particular job, use the person specification in the job description to see if you have demonstrated the skills they’re looking for.

Think about how you can make something seem relevant to an employer. For example, an employer might not care that you like swimming, but they might care if you explain that you like swimming, that you’ve created your own training plan, and that you set yourself achievable short and long term goals, demonstrating your planning skills and your high levels of motivation.

Similarly, saying you've cleaned tables in a cafe won’t help you get a graduate job, but saying that you can follow procedures and manage multiple small tasks in a hectic work environment might help you.

Try a skills-based CV

When it comes to putting together your CV, there are a few approaches you can take. A conventional or chronological CV is the most common. You list your education followed by your work experience, in reverse chronological order.

If you don’t have much in the way of solid experience, a skills-based CV could be a better way to go. After your education experience, you focus on your skills, highlighting what you think are the most relevant skills for the job you’re applying for. Skills-based CVs can be good because they shift the emphasis away from your work experience (or lack of). We have some examples of skills-based CVs on our CVs page.

When it comes to listing your work experience, remember that you can include a lot more in this section than just internships or part-time work. You could call the section ‘Experience’ or ‘Experience and achievements’ rather than ‘Employment history.’ List any positions of responsibility and any volunteering you have.

Your CV does not have to follow a particular template. It needs to work for your experience. For example, if you have taken a number of online courses, include an ‘Additional courses’ section, and list them along with the skills you developed and the things you learned.

If you have experience from your degree that could help you, expand your education section. Don’t just list your degree title. Include some relevant modules, project titles, your dissertation title if it’s relevant.

Make the most of your personal profile

The personal profile or personal statement is the paragraph of text at the top of your CV where you briefly outline your key skills and what you are looking for.

It’s not an essential section, but when you don’t have much experience it can add direction to your CV and help the employer understand why they should take your CV seriously.

Read more about personal profiles on the Prospects website.

Make a cover letter to complement your CV

A good cover letter can expand on and complement your CV. Think of it as another opportunity to sell yourself to an employer. Try not to repeat word-for-word what’s on your CV, but stress that you have the skills an employer is looking for.

Remember, you might be competing with another student who has more experience than you, but that doesn’t mean they’re better than you at making that experience seem relevant.

Read an example cover letter for a jobseeker with no experience on the Prospects website.

Get more experience

Ultimately, you might want to get some experience to bulk up your CV. Read our advice on work experience.

If you’re in your final year, you might be thinking about ways you can get experience quickly. Try

  • taking free online courses to develop skills and show your motivation
  • applying for volunteering opportunities or contacting charities and organisations directly for volunteering 
  • getting more involved in societies and clubs you are a member of, or joining societies and clubs in you are not already a member
  • undertaking a personal project in your own time to demonstrate your skills.

Checklist

To sum up:

  • Think broadly about how you have demonstrated skills
  • Try a skills-based CV
  • Make the CV work for you - you don’t have to follow a template
  • Write a good personal profile
  • Use a cover letter to expand on your CV 
  • Try to build up more experience to expand your CV