Make yourself stand out: how to write a CV with no experience

Writing your CV when you don’t have much work experience can be daunting, but this is the situation for many accountancy and finance students or those at the early stage of their careers.

How can you make yourself stand out to recruiters if your work experience section is bare?

Don’t panic

A lack of work experience doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apply for jobs. “Experience can be important but don’t get too hung up on it,” says David Yates, resourcing team manager – trainee talent, at Grant Thornton, “Grant Thornton and many other firms now look beyond work experience and hire based on candidates’ strengths and potential. We do not want the level of work experience to be a barrier to joining the firm.”

A CV featuring lots of work experience isn’t the only way to put yourself in the running for your dream job.

“Focus on meeting people who work in that sector, getting into their network and introducing yourself,” says Nadim Choudhury, head of careers and employability at The London Institute of Banking & Finance.

“Pick up the phone and try to get a meeting with the hiring manager. Once they hear how confident you are on the phone and your tone of voice, they’re much more likely to invite you in.”

Do your research

Before you start writing, think carefully about the role for which you are applying. Set a “hidden agenda” for your CV, says Victoria McLean, CEO of City CV. By looking at the job advert or careers page of your target company, list the skills they are asking for and demonstrate those throughout your CV.

All firms want accountants with business, interpersonal and leadership skills, in addition to technical ability. “You need to show that you are well-rounded and give evidence of those four competencies across your CV,” says McLean.

You have more professional experience than you think

If you’ve worked in sectors outside of finance and accountancy, don’t write off your experience as irrelevant. Instead, highlight any finance or business aspects of this experience, as it is applicable to your chosen career.

“Maybe you volunteered at the local Oxfam shop and looked after money or accounts or were treasurer of a university society. You may have been doing something related to finance in terms of trading, such as having a virtual portfolio,” explains McLean.

Good assessment results and qualifications are always taken into account, says Robert Cockle, a director at accountancy firm Baldwins. It’s important to emphasise personal work skills that are appropriate to accountancy life, whether that’s experience using Excel and Word or the ability to work both with others as a team and as an individual.

Don’t overlook your extracurricular strengths

Your experiences outside of work can help show your personality and potentially be the differentiator for recruiters and interviewers overwhelmed with applicants.

“Maybe you have overcome adversity or taken on a difficult personal challenge. Think about some great examples where you have demonstrated your ability to lead and take ownership [in difficult situations],” says Yates.

Think about how your interests demonstrate how well you can lead, communicate, present or think strategically – the competencies an employer is looking for. Did you captain a sports team at school or have you always participated in theatre productions?

“The more that you can demonstrate, the better. It shows you are proactive, that you can build relationships and communicate. All these things are really important and lots of people go wrong because they don’t recognise how important they are,” says McLean.

Be convincing

Statements such as “I’m a good communicator” are commonly used but can be meaningless unless backed up with hard evidence.

An evidence-led approach should apply to all areas of you CV, whether describing your professional experience or extracurricular interests and achievements. Choudhury recommends using the STAR model (situation, task, ability, result). If you only write down the responsibilities you’ve had in a previous role, for example, how will a recruiter know if you are capable of completing your duties? “Including the impact you had and the results of your actions are much more effective,” he says.

Get past the system

When you’re writing your CV, it’s important to realise that 80% of jobs are built within an applicant tracking system (ATS), says McLean. An ATS will give you a % score based on how well your application matches the job specification by looking at the language used as well as certain keywords. Sadly, if your score falls below the level set by the recruiter, your CV won’t get seen by a human being.

If you don’t have the relevant work experience that allows you to directly address the requirements outlined in the job description, think about where else you can feature the language that an ATS might be looking for. This could be referenced in modules you’ve studied as part of your qualifications or details of part-time, non-accountancy work, for example.

Format and layout

A CV gives you the chance to show off your personality through structure and content. Think of how the CV’s structure can highlight your personality and strengths. One page is recommended for those early in their career and Choudhury recommends a very short profile at the beginning clearly outlining who you are, what you’re looking for and your availability.

For candidates with little work experience, it’s important to separate your most relevant, finance-related professional and extracurricular experience into different sections. This allows you to list the most pertinent items first even if they’re not the most recent.

Font, text size, margins and justification must be consistent as this could be the first impression you make on a potential employer. “Keep your CV concise and easy to read by using clear spacing and bullet points. This type of layout allows employers to skim your CV and quickly pick out the important information,” says Cockle.

Don’t forget to proofread: “Two typos and you’ve probably blown it”, says McLean.

Your CV isn’t your only profile

Recruiters are very likely to check any public social media profiles. Cockle suggests removing “posts that appear unethical or unprofessional. If you do have these types of posts, make sure your social networks are private to anyone other than friends and family.”

Having a detailed LinkedIn profile can be a real asset – even for students, says McLean: “Recruiters can use it to help make their decisions and you can give more of a flavour of your personality on LinkedIn, while the CV tends to be a more formal document.”

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