Q: ‘Help! I’m applying for graduate jobs but I haven’t got any relevant work experience. I had to work in a supermarket and then in a call centre to help fund my studies, so I didn’t really have time to seek out formal work experience opportunities in the sort of companies I want to work for in the long-term. Now I’m trying to fill in application forms for proper full-time jobs and I can’t exactly just say I’m really good at working on the till– it looks so unimpressive!’
A: Never downplay or undervalue your work experience! Working – even in a role that’s not at all related to your dream career – always develops your skills, teaches you about yourself and other people, and helps you to understand what is required of an employee in a professional environment.
Appreciate your skills
Sometimes people get so used to doing their jobs that they don’t see or appreciate the skills they’re using. One way to think about the skills used in your work is to imagine what a friend who had never done your job before would find challenging about doing it for the first time – would they have to get better at working under time pressure (ability to meet deadlines) or at thinking on their feet to resolve unfamiliar situations (problem-solving)? All jobs that involve customers develop your client service skills; any job where you have a number of different tasks requires you to be organised and able to prioritise. This means that your part-time roles can be used to show really convincingly that you have the competencies required for the jobs you’re applying for.
Let’s look at how to do this more specifically. The application form might require you to describe an example of a time when you demonstrated excellent communication skills. Think about your part-time job. When have you had to use communication skills? You might write something like this, for example:
When I was working at the call centre I received a phone call from a customer who was extremely upset and angry. I listened carefully to her explanation of the problem whilst maintaining a calm and friendly approach. Once I had listened to her, I explained clearly how I could help her and then answered her questions about the solution I was proposing. Because I had taken into account her issues and carefully explained what the company could do to help her, at the end of the phone call she was satisfied with the solution, and no longer angry.
Or you might need to show on your CV that you have excellent teamwork skills. In that case you might write:
Teamwork skills: when working in the supermarket I contributed to a team of 5 to ensure that the tills and the self-service checkouts were covered at all times. My primary role was on the till, but as well as ensuring that I performed this effectively, I took the initiative to help other members of the team when they were busy to ensure excellent customer service at all times.
The most important thing on a CV or application form is to give really clear and persuasively expressed evidence of how you have demonstrated the particular competencies required for the job. Think carefully about the ways in which your part-time work has developed the skills and competencies listed in the job ad. You can then have a look at our ‘How to write a CV’ resource for help with wording these examples for maximum impact.
Application Adviser, QML Careers Centre