How to write your CV when you don't have relevant work experience

Every year in Britain, 15% of the workforce changes employment. While many people move into jobs they know well, lots will be making a dramatic shift. How do you communicate a major career change so you don’t come across as eccentric or indecisive? 

1. Remember, you’re in good company

Changing career is common, even the best do it. Our prime minister David Cameron used to work in corporate communications for a media business before entering politics; Andrea Bocelli worked as a court-appointed lawyer before becoming the world’s biggest-selling operatic tenor. Don’t fear having a rich and varied CV, just be careful you don’t appear to lurch between weirdly different positions.

2. Communicate change as part of a clear narrative

Rasheed Ogunlaru has coached hundreds of aspiring entrepreneurs in his role at the British Library’s Business & IP Centre. “If you’re changing career, work hard on the opening statement,” he advises. “This positions who you are and what you’ve done. Make it punchy. The key is to link all you’ve done and are now doing – ie, ‘An experienced project manager and trainer with experience spanning X, Y, Z now focusing on A, B, C…’

Sean Purcell, founder of WiseUpNow, helps finance staff become “more than just accountants.” He says you must emphasise the related skills between your old and new job. “If you’ve been a hairdresser, you’ll have empathy and communication skills; those same skills are vital for a good accountant, too, so make sure you stress them”.

3. Tell a consistent story across all channels

Your CV, LinkedIn profile, blog, Twitter account, even Facebook page (a potential employer might know someone you know) must all hang together. Here are some practical tips from Chris Simpson, marketing director of Home Learning College:

The purpose of LinkedIn is to be discovered for your skills, so you need to optimise your profile like a landing page around that career change – assuming it’s a positive/success story:

  • Use keywords that employers/recruiters would search for in the description
  • Move that section near the top
  • Make reference to it in your professional headline (this comes up in search result listings).

4. Quantify the change

It’ll help if you can show your commitment to the change. Mention any courses or work experience you’ve done in preparation for your move. And if you’ve already made the move, make the extent of the change, its impact on you and the company tangible, with numbers where possible – headlines like 4X gains in revenue etc.

Chris Simpson: “Have someone else (senior) from the organisation offer a LinkedIn recommendation and make reference to the change in their comment. And explain what you learned and how you could apply that in another organisation.”

5. Make change a virtue (but be prepared for negativity)

Emma Sinclair was the youngest woman ever to float a company on the stock market before moving – wait for it – into running car parks. She believes that if you’ve achieved elsewhere in business, chances are those skills are applicable to any role. But she warns that “sadly, people who recruit are often narrow-minded, it’s the disease of corporate life.”

Be prepared to make a positive, well reasoned case to the naysayers.

And one more thing…

The best story to sustain you at this momentous time comes from Derek Fung, who left investment banking to start the music site Tunezy (eventually sold to SFX Entertainment). Here it is, in glorious, high-definition full retelling:

The day I quit my job in the investment banking industry was just magical. It was the end of the year (December 2011). I had just got my bonus. It hit the bank a few days ago. I sent an email to my boss and told him I wanted to get coffee downstairs at the food court. I’m pretty sure he knew something was up. He sat down. I took out my business plan and put it on the table. He asked me, ‘what is this?’

“I told him, ‘I have some good news and I have some bad news.’ His eyebrows twitched. I told him that the bad news is that I am going to be leaving. He looked shocked. Then I said ‘the good news is that I’m not leaving for a competitor. Not leaving for another bank. Not even leaving to stay in the finance industry. I’m leaving to start something I’m really passionate about. I’m leaving to start a music company.’ A look of shock horror appeared instantly on his face.

“I felt like I was an animal trapped in a cage that was finally to be let loose. I felt like I was a prisoner who was captured in a war who was finally being rescued. I felt freedom.”

Useful links:

For more CV tips on what NOT to include in your CV, please click here.

Rasheed Ogunlaru is the author of Soul Trader – Putting the Heart Back into Your Business.  @rasheedogunlaru


Matthew Rock is the Content Development Director at Think Publishing Ltd and was the launch editor of the UK's first entrepreneurs' magazine (Real Business).

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