What to Include in Your CV When You Have No (Relevant) Experience

Let’s face it, at some point in our lives everybody gets their first job. It could be at McDonald’s; it could be at the local bakery; or it could be at a petrol station (yep … that was me!).

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to help a friend’s neighbour, a client’s child, a client’s neighbour’s nephew (I’m sure you get my drift) with their CV. I suppose after 20 years playing in the recruitment space, people assume that I might have a few tips up my sleeve when it comes to CVs.

Putting a CV together when you’re looking to apply for a new job is one thing. But creating your first CV when you’ve never even worked in a professional capacity before is something completely different.

Needless to say it can be pretty daunting.

Here’s how to tackle it.

A CV is typically a document including the details of your education, qualifications, and ‘any relevant experience’ gained from previous positions.

But I’ve never had a job before” …

I won’t even be able to get a foot in the door” …

Nothing I’ve ever done before is relevant to what I’m looking for now” …

I’m applying for my first job so how could I possibly have relevant experience?” …

But while you might think that you don’t have any ‘relevant experience’, you need to stop worrying about what you think and put yourself in your potential employer’s shoes for a moment and ask what they might actually be looking for.

Trust me, if there’s even a slight chance that the role being advertised might be someone’s first job, then your potential employer won’t even be looking out for a list of previous organisations or job titles on your CV.


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For the most part they will be looking to see if you can demonstrate certain traits or attributes that 9 times out of 10 will fall into the following categories.

  • Your ability to handle pressure
  • Your ability to adapt to new situations
  • Your ability to communicate well
  • Your ability to take initiative
  • Your ability to work as part of a team
  • Your ability to manage your time well

So now let me explain where and how ‘relevant experience’ fits in.

If you’ve been to school or university and had to prepare for multiple exams, or had several assignments due at the same time, then hopefully you can prove that you can handle pressure and manage your time well.

Were you part of a netball team, football team, orchestra, band, drama club, boy scouts or girl guides group? Perhaps you worked on a group assignment with a few of your friends? If you’re nodding, then by making reference to any of these activities in your CV you’re demonstrating your ability to work as part of a team.

Did you ever move schools, move cities, join a local sports team or theatre group as a new member? Well then you can adapt to new situations.

Hopefully you are starting to see a bit of a pattern here.

“Relevant experience” can certainly come from stuff you did at school, activities you participated in outside school or Uni, or hobbies that you may have been involved in.

But if you spent all your time at school and Uni hiding in the library buried behind your books, then I hate to say it, but highlighting your relevant experience in your CV might actually be harder than any of the exams you blitzed!

If a job ad or position description includes certain criteria that you need to “address as part of your application”, then in your CV simply list the criteria (again they will probably fall into the categories I listed above) and then confidently outline your experience based on situations you’ve been in at school or at university.

It’s also important that in your CV you can reinforce a positive ‘can do’ attitude and that you’re genuinely motivated to learn new tasks. By doing so you’ll be well on your way to at least getting a telephone interview.


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Personally, I’ve always believed in the philosophy that to get your first job it’s really 1/3 based on relevant previous experience; 1/3 on a positive attitude; and 1/3 on your genuine commitment to learn.

You’re probably asking yourself how you can possibly demonstrate a positive attitude or your motivation to learn on paper.

Simple. Just state it in your list of personal positioning statements as described in this column.

Remember that you’re not the first person in history to be applying for their first job. And you’re certainly not alone in thinking that you might not have the ‘relevant experience’ required.

You do.

Paul Slezak is a cofounder of RecruitLoop and author of “21 things to do to get a new job NOW!”

Image: KimManleyOrt, via Flickr