Career expert: Writing your first CV

About 3 mins

No idea where to start with writing a CV? Careers adviser Sheena Mayers is here to help. 

Working as a careers adviser in a school, I’ve helped a lot of young people write their first CVs. Actually, I’ve had young people ask me to write their first CV for them! Obviously I won’t do that. Instead, I give them some advice to make it easier. 

Experience: you've probably got more than you think... 

I always ask people to think about the things they’ve done. A good example is a paper round. Have you had one?  

Think about what you actually did each day. Those tasks help you develop the type of transferable skills employers like to see on your CV:

  • Time management skills: organising your route and making sure that papers are delivered on time
  • Communication skills and customer service experience: chatting to customers
  • Cash handling experience; if you've taken money in
  • Experience that shows you’re reliable: you take that route every day

You can use this to think through any part-time job you’ve had. 

...If you've never had a job before

A lot of people I see haven’t had a job before. If that’s you, think about what you’ve done in your spare time – things like hobbies, extracurricular activities, clubs or volunteering. Have you done school work experience?  

There’s always something you can say, you just need to think about the type of job you want. If you want to work in construction, when have you used practical skills? Is it something you’ve done in school? Have you helped build a shed or put up some shelves at home?

I remember speaking to a girl who was looking for a job in retail. She was really interested in fashion and styling. She had a real passion for it. We talked about how we could put that across on her CV. It’s not just about writing that you’re interested – again, it’s about proof.

So, do you have a Pinterest account where you put looks together? Do you give style advice to your friends? 

Remember to talk about your education too. Which courses have you done? What have you learned? 

How to get a good reference

The first thing to remember is that you don’t have to put references on your CV. Instead, you can say ‘References available on request’. This means you have time to think about who would be a good reference for that particular job.

Who to ask

If you’re still in school or have just left, your guidance (or pastoral care) teacher should be able to provide you with a reference. 

You might think about asking one of your subject teachers. Pick someone who knows you well, or can talk about relevant skills or experience for the job. If you’re in college, you could ask a lecturer.

You could ask your supervisor from your school work experience, or any other work experience, for a reference. Other activities, like Guides or Scouts, sports teams, or volunteering give you more options.

How to ask

When you’re approaching someone to ask for a reference, be polite. Explain what the reference is for and why you want the job. If you can, let them know what skills the employer is asking for – they might be able to comment on those. Let them know when they might need to supply the reference.