You know that CV you wrote during college or university? Burn it and start again. I speak to graduates daily and around 90% of them dedicate one line of their CV to their degree, yet have five lines about their job in a pub. I interviewed someone recently who had two pages of retail work experience, but just 14 words about their degree and not even a mention of which university they attended. Does that represent you fully? Does that reflect the three-plus years you spent studying and self-motivating? No.
To help you stand the best chance of landing your dream job after university, here are my tips for writing the perfect graduate CV:
School-leavers and graduates: how to write your first CV
What to include
Capitalise on what’s most impressive about you – your degree, your technical skills, that two-week internship. But don’t get complacent. Some of the worst (and shortest) CVs we see are from students at top universities. Your excellent degree will get you attention but if there’s nothing else to read, what sets you apart from the competition?
Does your sector require technical skills? If so, build a technical skills section. Mention the buzzwords, as recruiters will be looking for these, but expand further. If you’ve built something in C#, mention it. If you can use pivot tables, macros or v-lookups in Excel (one of the most important pieces of software across all job sectors), put it on your CV.
Be aware that if you do not mention your A-level grades or the university you attended, for example, recruiters may conclude that you have something to hide.
Above all, be honest. You want to present the most professional version of yourself in job applications, but you don’t want to lie because you will get caught out at the interview stage.
The order of your CV is important – I can’t stress it enough. The most important aspects of your CV should be on the first page. You’ll want to catch a recruiter’s eye early on to entice them to read the rest. Remember that when using this template, everything is open to your own interpretation and needs to be tailored towards you. The most important part of your CV should have the most written about it and be presented as early as possible – essentially, what’s going to get you the job? Below are two examples of how to order your CV:
The technical CV
- Personal statement
- Technical skills
- Work experience
- Other skills
- Extracurricular/positions of responsibility (optional)
Your degree is your biggest selling point here, so the more detail you include the better. For example, if you hope to work in the analytics sector, you could mention information about quantitative-led projects detailing specific software and techniques used. Extracurricular pursuits are still important to highlight even on a technical CV, as employers like to see some personality.
The non-technical CV
- Personal statement
- Relevant work experience
- Other work experience
- Extracurricular/positions of responsibility
Arts graduates should emphasise their academic achievements, but also mention relevant work experience and internships. Excellent communication skills are highly sought after too.
If you are looking at salesor management schemes, be sure to capitalise on any positions of responsibility or leadership
Your CV should be two pages. If it’s too short, you appear inexperienced; too long, you seem verbose. Don’t be afraid to change the margins as long as it looks symmetrical and prints well.
- All typefaces should be the same and sizing should be consistent.
- If you’re capitalising key phrases or sector names, make sure you have done so throughout.
- Make sure everything is in line.
- Bullet points must be short.
- Ensure the spacing is consistent.
If design isn’t your thing, get a friend who knows Word well to check your CV for inconsistent formatting.
Your CV is a vital door-opener, so don’t underestimate its importance. And remember, it must be tailored towards each job you apply for.
Steve Agace is the director of graduate recruitment at the Graduate Recruitment Bureau.
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A personal statement is a brief, eye catching statement that explains your reasons for applying while highlighting your key skills.
It should be the very first item at the top of your CV and should show that you know about the job you are applying for and why you would be good at it.
You might find this approach useful in other situations too. For example, on an application form there might be a section called ‘Reasons for Applying’.
Always think about how you might tweak your statement when applying for new jobs.
It might seem a little daunting at first but with the help of some examples (see below) you will soon get the hang of it.
It will help to begin by asking yourself these questions:
- what triggered your interest in the job?
- what does the advert or job specification ask for?
- why do you think you would be good at this?
- what do you hope to do in the future?
- what training are you keen to do?
You might want to include information about:
- what you are doing now – for example ‘experienced sales assistant’ or ‘school/college leaver’
- your key skills and strengths
- your background or experience
- what you are aiming for
This bit is important!
When giving your key skills, use one or two words that describe who you are as a person, so employers can get a sense of your personality and your strengths. Use words such as ‘reliable’, ‘friendly’, ‘motivated’, ‘energetic’. Make sure the adjectives are relevant to the job – and always truthful, of course.
It’s also good to use skills keywords that are mentioned in the job ad you’re applying for provided again that it is true!
I am a college leaver who is looking for an apprenticeship in business administration. I have good
IT skills including word processing, email and working with spreadsheets. I am willing to work hard, gain qualifications and build on the general office skills developed through my work experience.
With good basic skills, I am looking for practical work in a wholesale or warehouse situation.
I am a motivated person who is willing to work hard and flexibly and can work alone or in a team. I am keen to learn and succeed.
A hardworking and reliable sixth former with good GCSEs, I am expected to gain C or D grades in my A levels this year and am seeking the opportunity to develop a career in accountancy. Keen to learn and gain qualifications, I always strive to achieve success.
A friendly and energetic person with good people skills looking for an opportunity to work in retail
sales. I am a quick learner, willing to work hard and complete training.
I am a highly motivated school leaver with good basic skills. I am a hard worker and am reliable, punctual and willing to learn. I enjoyed my work experience in a local garden centre and am looking for an apprenticeship in landscape gardening.