How to help students create a CV and cover letter for entry-level jobs

Entering the world of work can be daunting but everyone has to start somewhere, and securing an entry-level job doesn’t require formal work experience. This article will explore how to write a CV with no experience and a stand-out cover letter for an entry-level position that will get your student hired.

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8 months ago

​For students leaving full-time education without any work experience under their belt, the concept of writing a winning CV and cover letter can seem intimidating. With our guidance, you will be able to advise your students on how to write a CV with no experience and produce a cover letter for an entry-level job.

CV with no experience: what students should include

A CV for someone without experience should focus on everything that makes them the right person for the role, in terms of their skills, motivations and academic achievements. CVs consist of several elements that can help students shine on paper, regardless of their work experience.

The fundamental elements of any CV include:

1. Contact details

Students should first list their full name, phone number, and email address. Adding a home address is still common practice but isn’t necessary and, depending on where the CV is posted, could put the individual’s personal data at risk. Instead, they could list their town or city and county. Where relevant, jobseekers could also add any professional social media accounts or websites they have.

2. Personal statement

Here jobseekers write a sentence or two about who they are professionally, the type of role they’re looking for, and why.

3. Work experience

If a student has no work experience whatsoever, they can, of course, skip this part. Voluntary work, Saturday jobs, unpaid work experience, relevant activities, being a class representative or leader, extra-curricular activities, and relevant hobbies, can all be listed on a CV for students with no experience.

4. Qualifications

In other words, A-Levels, degrees, and certificates. Those who have yet to complete their studies can write ‘(pending)’ or offer their predicted grades instead.

5. Hobbies

If they are relevant enough to the role, hobbies and interests could be listed under work experience. If they simply illustrate the student’s character to the hiring manager, list them under hobbies.

6. Skills

Students learn many skills that could be applied in a work environment, such as IT and maths skills, soft skills such as communication – perhaps gained through roles in clubs and societies – and time management.

7. Other things to include

Educational school trips can be listed if they are relevant. For example, if you want to be a broadcaster, you can list your school trip to the BBC building.

CV examples for students with no experience will usually be laid out in order of relevance, to the role the student is applying for, as opposed to chronological order, which is somewhat more common for those with some work experience.

Student work experience: what counts as experience?

Work experience comes in many forms and doesn’t necessarily require an official job title or payment. Volunteer roles and practical tasks undertaken as part of education can count towards work experience, where the student has no other experience, especially if these are relevant to the role they want to apply for.

Some students will have already taken on a part-time role such as lifeguarding, babysitting, in retail or hospitality work – any position held will be indicative of a student’s character and motivation to learn and take responsibility. Employers will consider these attractive traits, even if not relevant to their industry. CVs should outline any duties that clearly illustrate interpersonal skills, achievements, an ability to take instruction, work in a team, and show leadership and technical skills.

No-experience CV: what students should highlight to help them get hired

To understand the skills the employer most values in any given role, look carefully at the job vacancy’s person specification. Note: the person specification is where an employer lists the skills, qualifications, and traits they are looking for in the person they need to fill a particular role. Those indicated to be fundamental to the role are the ones to highlight.

While the importance of specific skills depends entirely on the role you are applying for, employers in the sector you are working in might find certain skills more useful than others. Universally in-demand expertise includes technological ability, English language and numeracy, communication, and time-management skills.

Student reference requests: who should the student ask?

References can come from anyone who isn’t a close relative of the student, who knows them well and can speak positively about them. This can include former employers, or work colleagues, but doesn’t have to be work-related. Teachers and fellow students can provide academic references if they can vouch for the individual’s character, skills, and achievements.

Students can ask anyone who knows them well for a character reference, regardless of professional position, such as teachers or clubs and society leaders/representatives – it’s generally not acceptable to use relatives or acquaintances.

It's most common to either provide two references or to write “references available on request”. If your student is listing someone else’s contact details on their CV as a referee, they must ask for permission from that person first.

What no-experience students should not include on their CV

There are some dos and don’ts to follow when it comes to CV writing. Firstly, it is illegal to lie on your CV. While errors can be made, intentional falsehoods are not acceptable on a CV and can be checked easily through the candidate screening process.

CVs shouldn’t include any other characteristics protected by the Equality Act (2010), including age, date of birth, gender, religion, nationality, relationship status or sexuality. These details aren’t relevant to the role or the hiring process and can disadvantage certain groups of people if the employer hasn’t been properly trained in unconscious bias.

Finally, the student should consider how professional their email address and social media profiles are before adding them to their CV. They can list their LinkedIn, and if relevant, a professional Facebook page, Twitter account or other professional account – but any social media profile they wouldn’t want an employer to see should be made private. Most employers will look at a CV and search for the candidate on social media, examining their online presence.

How to write a cover letter for an entry-level role

Cover letters are written to the hiring manager to tell them why the applicant is right for the role. Research is crucial to a cover letter because the applicant must address the hiring manager by name and discuss what they could bring to their company. This shows interest in the business, and that the student isn’t just applying at random.

Jobseekers should write about the skills and traits that directly correspond to those listed in the person specification, referring to it throughout. This reinforces the idea that the person behind the cover letter is the one the hiring manager is looking for.

For example, a cover letter for an entry-level IT job might include excellent ICT grades, a hobby assembling computers, strong maths and analytical skills, and more.

Many cover letter examples for entry-level jobs will highlight education and hobbies, where relevant, and list skills related to the role. These don’t need to be proven by grades or a job title and are simply what the applicant believes themselves capable of, and where their interests lie.

If you want to take the next step in your career, contact Reed today and one of our consultants will contact you.

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