CVs typically have 4 sections: personal information, education, hobbies and interests, maybe a short paragraph about your aspirations, and job history. If you’re a student, filling out that last section can feel daunting; most of us have only ever worked part-time – or maybe not at all. What are we supposed to do when graduate jobs ask for 2 years industry experience?!
If you’re struggling to find a job, volunteer work can be a great way to boost your CV. It showcases your work ethic and commitment to making a difference, which are great qualities in a job candidate. Plus, volunteer work is generally much easier to find than paid work – for obvious reasons.
If you have a specific career path in mind post-uni, you might even be able to find relevant volunteer work. Universities often have outreach programs for local schools – great if you want to work with kids. There are buddy schemes where volunteers provide companionship to elderly people – especially good for social work, but also for more general public-facing roles.
Animal shelters are always looking for extra pairs of hands too, and even if you don’t want a career with animals, walking dogs is probably one of the more enjoyable ways to improve your CV.
Education is great experience
So you don’t have much of a job history, but it’s not like you’ve been sitting around doing nothing for the last three years. Uni brings a whole heap of new challenges and opportunities: it’s the first time a lot of us have lived away from home, the style of learning is totally different to school, and we’re thrown in with hundreds of new people.
But surely every single graduate has these experiences at uni and doesn’t that make them pretty worthless on a job application? Not if you go about it the right way. Getting involved in societies or department activities is a great way to make uni your own, and these are easy to put on a CV.
If you have to answer more detailed questions on job applications, rather than on your CV, think about any specific difficulties uni might have helped you overcome. Perhaps meeting new people helped cure your shyness, maybe you learned to stop depending on your parents, or how to manage your time or money properly.
Emphasise transferrable skills
I don’t just mean taking skills from one job and applying them to another job (though that is definitely good). Transferrable skills come from absolutely everywhere.
If you’re the oldest sibling in a large family and you’ve grown up looking out for the younger kids, you’ve probably got great leadership and damage-control skills. Maybe you helped a friend through a tough break-up – clearly you’re caring and responsible. Taught your grandparents how to use a smartphone? You must be tech savvy with great communication skills.
Again, stuff like this isn’t always easy to put on a CV, but many recruiters now use detailed online applications which will probably have questions about your soft skills. Don’t assume examples not work- or education-related are useless for your job hunt.
Job adverts are only a guide
Very few candidates have the exact experience companies ask for in their adverts, and even if they do, it doesn’t necessarily make them a great fit for the job. In fact studies have shown that, employers will often go for attitude over qualifications – especially when hiring a younger person.
In other words, they’ll take someone with a positive outlook and enthusiasm for learning over someone with 5 years industry experience and a cold, dead look in their eyes.
Of course, it’s not always easy to convey your personality on a CV. Throwing yourself into your hobbies, taking part in uni societies, and giving volunteering a go is probably your best bet. Once you get to the interview stage, it’s much easier to get across the kind of person you are.
Remember that everyone has to start somewhere
Basically everyone else you go to uni with is in a similar position, and employers get that. When a company employs a graduate, they’re not looking for someone who already has everything they want. They’re looking for potential; all you have to do is show that you’ve got it.
Jen Anderson writes for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment agency which specialises in sourcing candidates for internships and giving out graduate careers advice. To hire graduates or browse graduate jobs, visit their website.