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Thursday, August 8, 2013

Haven't done any internships? You can still make your CV look good!

Towards the end of university one of my friends and I would regularly lock ourselves in a battle of self-deprecating one-upmanship. She’d complain that no-one would hire her because she’d be an arts graduate, I’d lament that no-one would hire me because I hadn’t done any ‘proper’ work experience, she’d respond that she’d be an arts graduate and had no work experience and was therefore positively doomed. It went on until we would both happily agree that we’d both probably spend the rest of our lives shining shoes for a living and using our degree scrolls for kindling.

When we spoke about ‘those’ people who’d been unequivocally proactive and done numerous internships during the summer (instead of gallivanting off travelling like us) we’d accompany the conversation with a customary eye-roll. We had no chance next to go-getters like them.

So, as it went, my CV remained one page long, as it had been ever since my teenage self bashed it together to display a list of my GCSEs in size 16 font. Even up until I started my internship here, it was still only one page long – given with a few added jobs and slightly smaller print (a respectable 12 Times New Roman). I always thought that because I’d only ever done run-of-the-mill part-time jobs, I didn’t really have any experience worth showing off.

However, the research I’ve been doing here at TARGETjobs has made me realise that I might not have done any traditional placements at uni, but I picked up a lot of skills from my various other endeavours – skills worth showing off. In my last blog I talked about some of the jobs I’ve had over the past few years. These were listed on my CV followed by a single sentence describing the role. I thought that this was all pretty satisfactory, I mean, how much can you really say about working on a checkout? Well, it turns out a lot more than I thought. The trick is to break down each role into individual tasks and think hard about what specific qualities you need to undertake them.

So, if you worked in a shop:
  • You could probably clock a grumpy customer a mile away: brow furrowed, lips pursed the last thing you wanted to do was anything that would elicit an angry tirade resulting in the shift from hell. So you tried to be as helpful, competent and friendly as possible. Well in that case you understand the importance of excellent customer service skills don’t you?
  • I bet there was always that one customer who barraged you with questions or had an annoyingly complicated problem that needed dealing with. You know what you probably did? You communicated effectively and efficiently, and were attentive to customer needs. 
  • And who could forget the unadulterated stress of a Saturday afternoon in retail I bet you had to work quickly and accurately under pressure.
  • Chances are you weren’t running the shop by yourself – I’m sure you got some good team-working skills under your belt. 
  • Were you responsible for cashing up the till at the end of the day? Well in that case you were considered honest, trustworthy and you were confident handling money and counting change.

So if like me you didn’t do any impressive high-flying work experience during uni, then don’t worry. Because those jobs you did do: waitressing, bar-tending, shelf-stacking, PR-ing – you didn’t get them done by standing there like a lemon. You’ll have displayed some worthy abilities and it’s just a matter of recognising them. Extra-curriculars such as sports, volunteering, class repping and societies are another goldmine for soft skills that you can flaunt on your CV. Write for a uni publication? Well don’t do what I did and put ‘wrote for a university publication.’ Show what you learnt:

Did you:
  • contribute regular pieces? How many?
  • monitor social media and the campus environment to devise potential stories?
  • use initiative, news sense and knowledge of readership to pitch article proposals?
  • work to tight deadlines?
  • interview anyone or have to research anything?
  • brainstorm with others to plan content?
  • promote the publication over social media?
Remember, it’s all about analysing experience task-by-task. Even travelling can be a source of skills to show off. Recruiters will have piles of CVs to go through so they don’t want to have to figure out for themselves what you’re capable of. Show them! Of course, the skills you push on your CV will depend on what kind of job you’re applying to so visit the TARGETjobs website for some more in-depth advice or an example of what a graduate CV should look like.

As for my friend and I, we still like to pretend we’re heading for a life of impoverishment and despair, but that’s probably just because we’re arts graduates and have a flair for the dramatic.