Skills to make CVs sparkle

Work experience is never a waste of time and often a career necessity

You might think that getting a degree, having reasonable A-levels, playing tennis for your school and listing reading and voluntary work as your favourite hobbies would be enough to make your CV shimmer. You might think so, but then so do the other 400 people who have applied for the same job. Ipso facto, it usually isn't.

You might think that getting a degree, having reasonable A-levels, playing tennis for your school and listing reading and voluntary work as your favourite hobbies would be enough to make your CV shimmer. You might think so, but then so do the other 400 people who have applied for the same job. Ipso facto, it usually isn't.

What work experience is required, however, varies greatly between companies. "The small to medium-sized companies rely much more heavily on work experience as a guide to which candidate to employ," says Tom Hughes, managing director of the online graduate recruitment agency Milkround Online. "The larger companies, such as Procter & Gamble and Nestlé, are not so interested in work experience. They are more interested in assessing people's ability themselves. But then they have the money, the staff and the infrastructure to do so."

Smaller companies find work experience useful because it indicates that an individual has acquired skills above and beyond those taught by university. As Hughes puts it: "Credible work experience demonstrates to employers that a graduate has had the rough edges knocked off them." It shows them that a graduate has been weaned off their student habits. "If someone has done decent work experience, an employer knows that they are able to turn up to work on time, five days a week, and work - all things that university may well not have taught them. It also shows that they can use a computer and answer the telephone in a professional manner."

These things might sound minor, but Hughes thinks that they can tip the balance in favour of one graduate. "They are all skills, they are all needed, and they all take time to teach. And quite simply, the employer would just rather that somebody else taught them."

What work experience is required of a graduate also varies depending on the sector they want go into. The core professions - doctors, teachers, nurses, dentists, lawyers, engineers - do require work experience but usually a limited amount, and usually only to secure a place at university. Once on a course for these professions, work experience will come as part of the package.

And even at the university applications stage it is not as important as you might think. "It is not essential that people have work experience for us to interview them," says Dr Martin Hughes, director of medical studies at Magdalene College, Cambridge. "We interview every applicant who meets our GCSE requirements - we are one of the few places which do so. We consider it is the only fair way. Although, to be honest, we don't really see anyone who hasn't done any."

Even in less vocational areas, such as accountancy, work experience is not vital. "It certainly isn't the case that we will simply bin CVs that have no work experience listed on them," says Sara Reading, assistant graduate recruitment manager at the accountancy firm KPMG. "The applicant may well have done other equally valid things with their time, such as sports or a voluntary work."

Which is not to say that any work experience you have done is null and void. "If someone does have relevant work experience, that can be a help," says Reading. "It can show career motivation and that they have an idea of what is involved in working in an accountancy firm."

However, it is in industries such as media, publishing and PR that work experience really comes into its own. Mainly because in these areas there is often a lack of clear application procedures. So a large part of getting a job in these industries involves simply being in the right place at the right time - and that means work experience. "Slave labour is still the way into the media," says Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow. "You have to be willing to do work experience. And unfortunately you have to do it for nothing."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
tech
News
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
film
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
News
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Software Developer

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Join a fast growing software co...

Guru Careers: Graduate Account Executive / Digital Account Executive

£20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate / Digital Account Exe...

Guru Careers: Junior Designer / Design Graduate

£18k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Junior Designer / Design Graduate to join...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager / Graduate Trainee

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Key Sales Account Manager/Graduate Trainee i...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas