Work experience on CVs – how to sell it and make it relevant to the employer

I see a whole range of experience on CVs. Sometimes people have already done exactly the sort of job they are applying for, which is an enviable – and very unusual – position at this stage of life. Other times people are searching for something to say about a McDonald’s job they had three years ago. If you are in the second group, there are a couple of ways to go about solving this problem.

The other day I read a CV and didn’t even notice at first that the applicant had had no formal employment and this was because the CV covered all the skills necessary for the job, with clear achievements and evidence. Through his work with a relevant university society he had showed motivation, leadership, and communication skills. From relevant project work on his course he had developed project management abilities as well as demonstrating problem-solving skills and both written and oral communication. At school he had held positions of responsibility that had involved him organising an event and attending meetings with school managers. And in his spare time he was reading relevant magazines and attending networking events. These activities were listed under ‘Experience’, ‘Positions of responsibility’ and ‘Interests’.

So, as you can see, work experience doesn’t have to be formal, paid employment. You can gain and demonstrate valuable skills as part of your course, through getting involved in university activities and societies, and through getting involved in your community. You can then use your CV to highlight these skills and convince employers that you have experience of communicating, organising, persuading, and problem solving – and much more.

Of course, formal jobs can also provide you with these skills – even a part-time job at McDonald’s can be effective on a CV if you highlight relevant skills that it gave you. For example, if the job you are applying for suggests that they need someone who can deal with clients, you can write about how at McDonald’s you communicated with customers in a polite and friendly manner. If the job requires sales skills or persuasion, perhaps you were successful in up-selling (persuading customers to buy additional items). You might also have team-working skills to offer, and have experience working under pressure – both of which would be useful to any high-paced office working environment.

If you still feel that your CV is looking a bit thin and you want to add to your experience of formal jobs, you might want to think about applying for jobs on campus, or internships. See for a range of opportunities.

Ultimately, employers will want to see evidence of work experience and skills on your CV. So gaining a combination of skills through extra-curricular activities or volunteering, and some experience of a commercial workplace or responsibility within an organisation will really help you present yourself to future employers.


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