Make Your CV Rock Even With No Experience

By Cristina Simmons

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Photo from Red Rocket Resume

While most job searches require a resume, there are certain professions that will require a CV, also known as a curriculum vitae. Candidates who must submit CV’s are usually going into the following career fields:

  • Higher Education: Professors; Higher Education Administration
  • Research Organizations and Institutions: Medical and Scientific Research Positions
  • Non-Profit Organizations: Directorships; Researchers
  • Public Education: Central Administrative Positions (e.g., Superintendent of Schools)

If you have been in your career field for a while, you have current and past work experience to speak to in your CV. But, what if you have just completed your Ph.D. and you have no work experience? And, to boot, you are attempting to sell yourself in a job market that may be limited? How can you make that CV “rock” and present yourself as the best candidate for the position? Here are some tips.

Detail Any Research, Assistantships, Internships You Have Held

You may not have paid positions to list as experience, but you really need to look at your academic career and all that you have done related to the position for which you are applying.

  • What original research did you conduct for you dissertation? A successful dissertation speaks to your ability to design a research project, implement it and analyze results of that research. What did you research contribute to your field?
  • Did you assist a full professor in your institution with major research? You can detail your task responsibilities for this project and speak to what you contributed specifically. Be honest and don’t exaggerate your role – you want to use that professor as a reference.
  • Have you had an internship? This is as good as real job experience, and you should highlight this prominently. Speak to your responsibilities but, more important, to what was achieved by projects on which you worked. Again, don’t exaggerate your role – you need the reference!
  • Have you performed as a teaching assistant? This will be a key piece of your CV if you are applying for an instructional position on higher education. If your institution had student evaluations at the end of courses, and yours were especially good, you need to highlight a summary of those evaluations and keep the documentation to back that up.

Photo from Skilledup

Detail Relevant Coursework

Every position for which you apply will relate directly to certain coursework you have had and not to other courses.

  • Tweak every CV you submit to highlight more significantly that coursework that relates to the position opening.
  • Spend some time speaking to the details of related coursework and provide any portfolio insertions that speak to major papers or research that you completed as a result of those course assignments. A potential employer wants to know that you have the academic background that suits the position.

Back Up All Strength/Skills You List with Evidence

You cannot just say that you are strong in research methodologies related to the position. You must “show” this expertise with specific evidence.

  • Attach your “evidence” as an appendix to your CV
  • Provide reputable references who can attest to your expertise in specific skills required by this position. Attach letters from these individuals – professors, people who supervised your internship, etc.

Your CV may not be as long as those of experienced candidates. But you can still make is compelling and engaging, if you spend some time in careful reflection on all that you have really accomplished in your graduate program.

Be honest about your skills

Talk about your skills sensibly. Remember, the employer does not expect you to have wisdom and expertise at this point. Make a list of top your top five skills, and find examples where you demonstrated it. If you want to say you have leadership skills, you could talk about an event you organised. Are you good at communication? Provide an example of how this has helped you in work or on your course.


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