Student / school leaver

How to write a CV – 6 tips for school leavers

After leaving education and on the hunt for your first job, you may find it hard to write a full two page CV. A lack of work experience could see you struggling to make it over to that second page, and with little to go on other you’re your education who will hire you?

School leavers naturally find it hard to write their first CV, but we can make the process a whole lot easier. Here are 6 fantastic tips to help you write your first CV.

1. Gain voluntary work experience

If you have nothing or very little to add to the work history section of your CV, then there is something you can do about it. Voluntary work is a quick and easy route to gaining lots of experience and new skills. Although the lack of pay may put some off, the end game is far more important. If you want to get a full time job then it’s important you put the ground work in that’s required.

Think about how great your CV will look if you have valuable work experience and extra skills to add to it. Not only that, but you will also have a reference that can vouch for your hard work. So make sure you take it seriously if you do apply and don’t just assume you can take it easy and simply tick a box. You should treat a voluntary position the same as any other job, even if you aren’t getting paid.

There is no real substitution for a working environment other than actually being in one. Interacting with co-workers and customers will help you to build up your confidence – and bolster your CV. Employers will also look very favourably on someone who volunteers as it shows they are happy to give up their free time to help a good cause.

2. Utilise your education

A big misconception about education is that it isn’t helpful as work experience. Although this is technically true you can still use this on your CV in a similar way. You’ve spent a lot of years in school, college or even university, and that shouldn’t be dismissed the second you begin to write your first CV.

If you have no work experience at all then you are going to have to focus heavily on your education. Don’t be afraid of listing projects, presentations, assignments, essays and even dissertations. Explain what you did and the results you achieved. There are lots of skills to demonstrate through your work, like communication, public speaking, research, and much more.

Don’t forget to add any work experience placements you had whilst at school. List the company name, your temporary job title, a brief summary of what the company does, and your tasks and responsibilities. You can use the skills you picked up to also include in your skills section.

3. Remember that employers like soft skills

A soft skill relates to things like communication, problem solving, organisation, time management, and so on. These are more generic terms for particular traits and attributes that you will need to use in the workplace.

As a recent school leaver the employer would be concerned about your communication skills, your confidence, your organisation, and so on. So if you can show examples on your CV of the most important soft skills in action, then you will give the employer more confidence in your abilities to do well in your first job. This is why voluntary work can be so beneficial for your CV because you’ve already gained valuable soft skills and even hard skills already. But you need to recognise which of the soft skills an employer would want you to be good at.

A retail position would require you to be great at helping customers. You would need to be confident, friendly, approachable, and reliable. So if you can provide examples of this on your CV you are going to have more success. However, for a clerical position you may find that organisation, time management, problem solving and written communication is more important.

Tailor your CV to match what the employer would want to see rather than listing anything and everything you’ve achieved so far. Sure, it may be hard to fill out a two page CV at this stage for some, but that doesn’t mean to say you should completely ignore what the employer wants from a new recruit.

The very first place to tailor is the personal statement which goes just underneath your personal info. This is a very focused paragraph which explains who you are and why you’re great for the job. It’s not the same as the personal statement you might have written for uni – which would have been much longer. It’s meant, in effect, to be a short response to the job advert – “hey look, I’m this person, and I fit your role perfectly!”.

4. Boast about your valuable hobbies

A school leaver needs to take advantage of every single section of a CV. The hobbies and interests section is easy to overlook, but you can add a lot of value to your credentials if you know what to look for.

There are certain hobbies which would further demonstrate your soft skills. Here are a few examples of hobbies and the soft skills that go with them:

  • Sports or gym – hard working, passionate, dedicated, healthy (less sick days)
  • Captain of a sports team or president of a club – communication, leadership qualities, organisation
  • Arts and crafts – creative, attention to detail
  • Charity events – helpful, friendly, organisation

When it comes to the cliché hobbies, like reading, walking the dog, going to the cinema and socialising with friends – you are not going to add any value to your CV. There is nothing wrong with having one of these as a hobby, but try to remember that you need to focus on what you can offer the company which will benefit them. In this instance you may be better off leaving out your hobbies and using that extra space for something else.

5. Don’t plagiarise

It’s daunting writing your CV and unsurprising that loads of first-timers turn to the web for inspiration. There’s nothing wrong with inspiration but do make sure you haven’t copied from websites verbatim. Employers do sometimes scan for plagiarism, or may have read what you have written somewhere before! If in doubt, run a quick scan on one of the many free plagiarism checkers, e.g.

6. Use a free CV template

Writing a CV for the first time is of course a very difficult and daunting task, but it can be made much easier if you let someone else design your layout. How your CV looks is just as important as what’s contained within, but unless you are a graphic designer by trade it could seem impossible creating something which stands out – for the right reasons!

However, there is a very simple solution and that’s to let someone else create a CV template for you. Try these templates which are all free to download and use:

There is no point spending hours in front of a computer screen when you can get a professional to do all the hard work for you. Just make sure you get approval from a couple of friends before you pick one for your final CV copy. Then all you need to do is download the CV template and insert your details – what could be easier!

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