by Michael Cheary
Looking for your first job after leaving school, but worried a lack of experience will hold you back?
If you have no previous work experience to speak of, you may not think you have much to include in a CV. But, with the right amount of enthusiasm, research and professionalism, (not to mention time spent viewing some helpful CV examples), there’s no reason your application still can’t stand out.
To help you increase your chances of success, we’ve put together our CV template for your first job:
Just here for the template? Click the link below:
Download School Leaver CV Template
Always start with your personal statement – and tailor it to the role in question. To put it simply, every time you apply for a new job, you will need to write a new personal statement, which should be tweaked to match the job description.
In terms of structure, consciously try and answer the following questions: Who are you? What do you have to offer? What are you aiming for in your career?
Also, try and quantify and give examples, where possible, and be specific. Generic personal statements can prompt a CV to fall at the first hurdle.
How to write a personal statement
Personal statement: dos and don’ts
Personal statement examples
Instead of concentrating on a minimal work history, the most effective CVs written by school leavers often give precedence to skills.
Just as with your personal statement, try giving examples that are applicable to the role in question. For example, IT skills (naming specific programs), or soft skills such as problem solving, public speaking and interpersonal skills, not to mention a friendly and welcoming demeanour, are all desirable qualities to have.
Hard skills vs. Soft skills
Skills based CV template
Education should be included from GCSE level on. State the number and general grades you received (Maths and English at the very least). If you’re awaiting any results, you may state mock/expected results where possible, although this is not essential.
Write in reverse-chronological order, with the most recent events coming at the top.
In direct terms, particular course modules you’ve undertaken may be relevant to a role or scheme you’re applying for and can be used to demonstrate your wider knowledge of the subject.
Which parts of my education should I include in my CV?
Hobbies & Interests
A Hobbies and Interests section is optional. However, if you lack any notable work experience, they can be a great way of getting your personality across.
Feel like you don’t really have a hobby? Don’t panic. It’s never too late. Starting a blog, for example, can be a perfect way to show what you can offer – and could work for practically any career you look into. From the obvious such as fashion and retail (fashion blogs) through to carpentry and construction (documenting a DIY or restoration project, for example).
Just be wary of anything too generic, such as socialising with friends or going to the cinema (unless, of course, you’re applying for a role at your local cinema).
Ask yourself: Will they help you get the job? If not, it’s OK to leave them out. Finally, make sure you’re happy to expand upon them during your interview if called upon.
Should I include hobbies and interests in my CV?
Six extracurricular activities to add to your CV
If you do have some relevant work experience, even if it was only for a brief period, this can be a great help.
If you have no employment history to speak of, you may wish to leave this section out. Alternatively, use this gap as your opportunity to be pro-active. Try volunteering with a local charity for a few weeks or at a locally run business. They will be grateful for the help, and you will have something extra to add to your CV.
Benefits of volunteering
Unless asked directly in the job posting, making them available on request is fine.
However, always make sure that you do have credible references. Close family friends, teachers, or career councillors are all good options, and are usually more than happy to help.
How to get a reference
Five lines that are killing your CV
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How to write CV profiles, personal statements, career aims and objectives.
A Career Aim, Personal Statement or Profile can be a useful way of flagging an interest and skills for a particular career on your CV, particularly if you have no relevant degree or work experience to give your CV focus. When profile is used used on this page it can be assumed that personal statement could have been used in its place. A profile is only part of a CV so this section should be read in conjunction with our CV examples.
What do you call it?
My own preferred title is simply:
Is it necessary?
What is the difference between a personal statement and a covering letter?
A profile is a short introduction to your CV, whereas a covering letter is a one page letter going into much more detail about why you are suitable for a specific job and organisation. There will inevitably be some overlap in content, so try to write any similar content using different words (use a thesaurus) and from a slightly different perspective.
Because your profile will be on all your CVs, you normally just mention the particular job sector you are applying for jobs in (e.g. publishing). A covering letter is normally used to apply for a specific advertised vacancy and so will focus on a particular job (e.g. editorial assistant in a particular publishing company). Sometimes you may send out a speculative covering letter with your CV and here the focus will be broad, just like in the profile, as you don't know which jobs might be available.
Covering Letter Content
What if I have no idea of what job I wish to go in to?
In this case it might be better not to include a profile. An unfocused profile is worse than none at all. However, a carefully worded summary of your key strengths and attributes will enhance your CV.
How long should it be and where do you put it?
- No longer than six lines - some sites suggest a maximum of 4 lines. It must be short and positive with your key strengths, skills, experience and interests. It is mean to be an appetiser rather than to give the employer indigestion! The time to elaborate and give evidence for these is later in the CV.
- Place it at the start of the CV. Recently I've seen some CVs with the statement half way through the CV or at the end. This seems to defeat the object, which is to give a concise introduction to your aims and skills.
- Start with a short description: "A highly motivated graduate who has just completed a Law degree at the University of Kent"
- When badly written, they are vague with sweeping generic statements: "I have good teamworking and communication skills" sends selectors to sleep as it appears so regularly.
Use a Thesaurus or see our Skills Map for better words to use!
Learn to use action words to brighten up the content.
- Analyse your core strengths. A profile is a sales tool: a concise summary of why they should take you, so you should include brief details of your major selling points, especially those that are important in the job you are applying to.
- CVs sent to recruitment agencies can benefit from a statement as a covering letter may become detached. Some agencies send you for unsuitable jobs and a career aim can help to prevent this. However the career aim here needs to be fairly broad or you may get submitted for few vacancies.
Buzzwords make you sound like just another faceless candidate, a plastic applicant with no real personality who just cuts and pastes from other people's CVs. According to a survey by LinkedIn here are the top 10 overused buzzwords used in LinkedIn Profiles in the USA in 2010
In other countries extensive experience was most used in the USA, Canada, Australia, dynamic was most common in Brazil, India, Spain, motivated was the most common one in the UK whereas in France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, innovative ruled the roost. For more about this see the LinkedIn Article Stop Using These 16 Terms to Describe Yourself
The 2013 list of overused buzzwords in order were: Responsible, Strategic, Effective, Creative, Innovative, Expert, Positive, Passionate, Driven, Dynamic
THE GOOD ......
14, Wychurch Road, Canterbury, Kent. CT2 7SJ.
Tel. 01227 - 764521 email email@example.com
An adaptable and responsible graduate seeking an entry-level position in public relations which will utilise the organisational and communication skills developed through my involvement with Kent Rag and promotional work during vacations.
During my degree I successfully combined my studies with work and other commitments showing myself to be self-motivated, organised and capable of working under pressure. I have a clear, logical mind with a practical approach to problem solving and a drive to see things through to completion. I enjoy working on my own initiative or in a team. In short, I am reliable, trustworthy, hardworking and eager to learn and have a genuine interest in PR.
Education ........ (CV continues here)
The Profile normally starts straight after the personal details on the CV (these will be missed out in all the other examples to save space. See our CV examples to see how the profile fits in with the rest of the CV.)
Clear career aim and evidence of some involvement in PR related activities whilst at university. This is informative, factual and focused on the job in question and gives information that encourages the reader to delve further into the CV.
"Successfully combined my studies with work and other commitments". Public Relations is largely about juggling lots of different tasks successfully, so this is an important piece of evidence that she will cope with the demands of the job
Summariseskey attributes that make her suitable for PR jobs: initiative, drive, team-player, hardworking, meticulous, motivated.
Nice snappy ending to the profile
THE AVERAGE ......
I am an energetic and enthusiastic person who enjoys a challenge and achieving personal goals. My present career aim is to work within IT because I enjoy working with computers, I enjoy the environment and I find the work interesting and satisfying. The opportunity to learn new skills and work with new technologies is particularly attractive to me.
This statement is very bland: too vague and makes broad general statements.
This is a good example of where it would be better to use no statement at all as it adds nothing to the CV. If you are not sure leave out the profile and use your covering letter to sell your skills instead.
AND THE UGLY!
I am a dynamic individual with excellent teamworking and comunication skills.
It should be Personal Statement NOT Personnel!
CoMunication is spelt wrongly here - should be coMMunication.
Avoid hackneyed phrases such as "I have good communication skills and work well in a team" They sound vague and vacuous, send selectors to sleep.
A very vague career aim.
Statements such as "I am a dynamic individual" can sound arrogant unless well written, and more importantly backed up with evidence later in the CV, otherwise they can sound just like hot air! Although see our Confident Covering Letter to see how this strategy can be made to work effectively
I am looking for management training which offers me the opportunity to develop new skills while strengthening those I already possess.
My degree in History has enabled me to develop good organisational skills, an analytical/logical approach to tasks and the ability to work under pressure. I am able to work well both on my own initiative and as part of a team.
My main strengths are adaptability, dependability and the determination to get a job done as proven by my varied work experiences in retail, catering, hospitality work, teaching and patient care. I try to learn something new from every experience because I believe there is always room for self-improvement both personally and professionally.
Fairly broad career objective: she's trying to keep her options open here.
Sells the skills she has gained in her degree.
Summarises her main strengths and relates these to her work experience.
Nice last line about self improvement. Employers particularly like graduates who are up for new challenges.
I have a visual impairment (full details are available on request), but this has not in any way prevented me from successfully completing a demanding degree course and further education qualifications. Far from being a disadvantage, this has increased my awareness of the needs of others and has increased my determination to succeed and to persevere when obstacles are placed in my path.
This focuses on the applicant's disability, but rather than deterring the selector, it sells the skills she has gained from overcoming her disability ; awareness of the needs of others, determination and perseverance. It is short, to the point and effective.
Interesting title: About Me. This is a more informal title that might work well in the creative and media fields.
A graduate with strong communication and organisational skills gained in nursing, now seeking to move into a career as an analytical chemist. Whilst my degree is in forensic science a large majority of the course consisted of chemistry, as highlighted by the list of modules completed on my course shown below. I feel I have learned more than just the theory behind Forensics but also many fundamental skills for my career and life.
As I am a mature student I have other qualities to bring to the work place such as good team work, organisational skills, efficiency and I am very meticulous, I show pride in all the work I do, I work well under pressure and I love a challenge. I posses excellent verbal and written communication skills and am able to relate to a wide range of people. All these skills have been enhanced during all the work experiences I have gained over the years.
Profile for a mature student.
Starts with her objective. Also sells her degree, even though it's in a slightly different field to that she is applying for, by listing relevant modules (not shown here of course: see the science CV).
Sells the attributes she brings to the workplace as a mature graduate: pride in work, gets on well with a range of people.
Also says she has some of the key skills required by forensic scientists: meticulous, efficient, organised.
To enter a graduate training programme in multimedia, preferably in the new-media sector where my creative initiative, ideas and a genuine enthusiasm would allow me to progress.
I have a good working knowledge of many industry leading software applications such as Adobe Dreamweaver, Photoshop and Autodesk Maya. I work to the highest standards and have an eye for detail with skills in design and organisation. Completing my course projects has taught me to provide originality and quality whilst successfully meeting deadlines.
A clear, well written objective here can help to stand out from the crowd in the competitive area of the media or multimedia.
Gives brief evidence of technical skills. More details would be given later in the CV.
Evidence of core competencies needed in the work: originality, quality, attention to detail, organising, and deadline orientation.
A versatile IT graduate, possessing strong motivational drive to succeed in the industry.
Highly developed skills in problem identification and implementation of effective solutions. Comfortable with analysing and understanding data, working under time pressure and presenting myself in a professional manner. Excellent inter-personal communication and social skills built through extensive training with the Samaritans. A friendly, mature and flexible individual with a proven entrepreneurial approach towards objectives and tasks.
Here there is no heading to the profile. It's obvious that it is a profile by the content, and with CVs, the simpler it is, the better!
A very confident profile. Written without the use of personal pronouns (I have ....) to save space.
Second paragraph is rather dense and might be better broken up by the use of bullets or smaller paragraphs to make easier to read.
A Business Administration graduate from the University of Kent. He has skills and knowledge essential for managing key areas of an organisation and the problem solving skills needed in finance. He is looking for a graduate trainee post in marketing where he can use his strong influencing skills.
Through his studies, work and voluntary roles he has acquired the ability to meet deadlines while maintaining a high standard of work. He possesses a good telephone manner and is able to relate to a wide range of people.
Clear objective, although a bit confusing - mentions both finance and marketing!Targeted at the skills required for the job :
This is written in the 3rd person (he rather than I) as if written by a referee. This seems to be a modern trend recommended by some recruitment agencies, but I'm not keen as it seems rather false and impersonal.
Uses "key attributes" instead of profile here.
A bulleted list here. Looks well organised and easy to see the key points, but a short paragraph of prose is warmer and more friendly. Action words are well used here.
Misses out the personal pronoun and verb here (I am ....). This saves space and gives a cleaner look.
Project management skills are increasingly in demand so sell course projects and especially group projects.
Also evidence for other relevant skills: presenting, quality focus, people skills and team working.
Also see Personal Statements for Postgraduate Study and Personal Statements for Teacher Training
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