You should try and use your time at university to gain as much experience relevant to your ideal career path as possible. At the Careers Centre we have a number of resources to help you find such experience – check out the Careers website or drop in to the Information Room (Room WG3 of the Queens’ Building).
But when writing your CVs, cover letters and job applications, don’t discount experience which doesn’t seem directly relevant. Your degree, hobbies and societies, volunteering and part-time jobs will all have developed skills; these are valuable and important to employers and you should emphasize them on your CV.
As an Application Adviser, when I say this to students I often hear one of two responses:
‘But it’s so OBVIOUS. If I’ve worked as a waitress, I can obviously communicate. The employer’s not stupid – if I list the experience they will assume that I have developed these key skills through it.’
The problem with this is that employers read many, many CVs, and they often look at each one for a very short amount of time. They’re not stupid but they don’t have time to read between the lines and, harsh as it may sound, you don’t have any guarantee of their attention. Consequently, you need to make it really clear why you’re the right candidate. If the job requires excellent communication skills, show HOW your waitressing role has developed this skill. For example, you might say:
- Communication skills: demonstrated friendliness and confidence when welcoming customers, clearly explained customers’ orders to the kitchen and dealt with customer complaints through listening carefully and maintaining a calm and respectful demeanour.
Another objection students often have is:
‘But it’s so BASIC. Everyone has organisational skills!’
The first problem here is that not everyone does have organisational skills, or any other skill which seems simple! Remember that the person reading your application doesn’t know you. Giving a specific, clear example of a time when you have demonstrated a skill does two things: 1) it shows that you understand what the skill is and have the self-awareness to reflect on your own past performance and 2) it convinces the employer that you have the skill in question. Anyone can say ‘I am organised.’ It is much more convincing and believable if you can explain a time when you demonstrated that skill. For example:
- Organisational skills: ran a local football club; arranged matches with other teams and kept track of matches using the diary; created a rota for match-related tasks and ensured tasks were completed through regularly emailing team members.
Top tips for showing how your experience is relevant:
- Make a list of all the activities you have been involved in over the last few years. It might be easy to forget about a particular volunteering experience, or you might not have thought about your hobby from a career perspective, but you can shake up your CV and add interesting new examples by taking an open-minded look at all the experiences you have.
- Look at the job description and person specification, and highlight the key skills required for the job. Then think about your degree, part-time work, societies, volunteering and hobbies – how have they developed these particular skills?
- If the job description is quite short and not very detailed, do some online research on the job role and work out which skills are likely to be relevant, and then think about how you have demonstrated those skills in the past.