Targeting Your Graduate CV

Writing your postgraduate CV? It is always best to target your CV for each role you are applying for, if possible.

Ideally your CV should be written specifically for the reader.

To achieve this you should put together a core CV using our CV tips, then configure this template to the recipient each time you send it off.

Applying for an advertised job vacancy

You should always tailor your CV to the different industry sectors you are applying to.

This is because the qualities an employer will look for in an applicant will differ between industry sectors.

By taking the time to tailor your CV to the specific industry that you are applying to, you can significantly increase your chances of being offered an interview.

When you first write your CV you should include every achievement – only leave something out if it is out of date, unimpressive, irrelevant or inappropriate.

The document you create will be your 'core CV', which you should never send out to anyone.

Using your core CV as a template, you configure specifically for each audience by including only those statements that will interest the potential employer.

How to tailor the main areas of your CV

1. Introduction

Summarise your key qualities and p[lace emphasis on those that you know the employer wants to know about. Do not include strengths if they are irrelevant to the job.

Briefly describe your career aims, making sure you state that the industry you are applying to is the direction you want your career to be heading in the long run.

2. Employment history

Although you can’t alter who you worked for previously and for how long, you can edit your role and responsibilities within those employers without exaggerating.

For example if you are applying for a laboratory research position, you should emphasise that your previous jobs involved a considerable amount of problem solving and time management duties.

Try to focus on a specific project that involved many of the skills you feel to be important qualities for a lab assistant to possess – e.g. meeting deadlines, working carefully and accurately, teamwork, IT skills, etc.

Describe your role in that particular project, what you did and the positive impact this had on your employer. Use quantitative references if possible.

If you are applying for a sales position, underline your powers of persuasion, how they influenced the number of sales and whether you helped an employer meet monthly targets.Your potential employer wants to hire a sales person who can get results!

Essentially, think about the job you are applying for, what it entails and what the employer wants from the successful candidate. You should then highlight aspects or projects in your previous positions that needed you to use those required skills, emphasising how successful you were at achieving results.

3. Hobbies and interests

Active pursuits are a good way to relax and relieve stress, and therefore applicants for positions of responsibility may wish to include some sporting activities amongst their selection.

If you are seeking a position that carries a lot of responsibility or being in charge of a group of people, you should consider emphasising participation in team sports or any other pursuit that involves functioning as part of a team.

Cultural diversity and awareness of what’s going on in the world are also traits employers may look for.

If you are applying for a writing position then it’s a good idea to state that you enjoy reading. If you aspire to be a designer or something that involves creativity, put down that you enjoy visiting exhibitions and the designers/artists you most admire.

The content of this section often has little bearing upon interview selection, though it will not do you any harm to show that you carry your enthusiasm for your subject outside of the workplace.

4. References

It is generally recommended that you don’t include references as part of your CV. However, if they are requested you can be selective as to which you give out. Include references that are relevant to the sector you are applying to.

For example if you are applying for a media-related job, include a reference from the student newspaper you worked on, or any editorial/writing job you have held.

Do not include a reference written by your old manager on the checkout at the local supermarket or by your employer as a pizza deliverer unless it is unavoidable.

Tailoring your CV for individual companies

Not only can you tailor your CV to the industry sector you are applying for, you can also tweak it so it fits a particular company you are applying to.

In order to do this you will need to:

1. Research the company

The easiest way to do this is using the Internet. Visit the companies' homepage to find in what area their specialisation lies, and what products and/or services they provide.

Try to work out how many people they employ - are they a large or small company? Do they have a modern or traditional outlook? What areas are they expanding into and what are their long term goals?

The answers to these sort of questions can help give you an idea of the sort of candidates they are looking to employ.

Also, by seeing what direction the company is progressing in the future, your CV can state that you want to head in the same direction. There may be experience and skills you have that complement that particular area, which you can then emphasise.

It is possible that you have worked for a competitor of the employer you are applying to. This could work to your favour (depending on circumstances under which you left the competitor company) and so when describing your previous employment make a point of focussing on the time you spent at the competitor.

2. Read the job description

This is extremely important if you're to have a decent chance of being invited to interview. Read it thoroughly from start to end, and make sure you understand exactly what the employer is looking for.

By doing this, you'll automatically give yourself an edge over the competition, some of which probably won't have spent much time looking at what the company requires.

3. Use keywords

By highlighting your skills with phrases and keywords used in the job description, you are showing the employer that you have taken the time to match your experience to their requirements.

If you follow these general guidelines and take the effort to tailor your CV to your industry sector, and perhaps even to each individual company, you will be well on your way to securing that first job after graduating.

4. Make your background fit

This might not always be obvious, but think about all of your experience to date and see if you used any skills in each role that are listed in the job description.

These include soft skills such as communication, organisation and teamwork, which are usually highly sought after by employers.

Darw attention to them if you can, and use specific examples to back them up where possible.

5. Place your most relevant experience first

Try not to worry if you don't appear to meet every single requirement listed in the job description, and that doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t be invited to interview.

Tailoring your CV is about making the skills and experience you have appear to the best advantage - so make the most relevant parts of your CV are the most visible.

Rejig the order of your CV so that your most relevant experience comes first. This might be a previous role, qualifications or training or some freelance work you did on the side.

You want to make an impression straight away, so lead with the thing that’s most likely to catch the employer's attention.

Speculative applications

Sometimes it’s worth sending off a copy of your CV to companies even if they are currently not advertising any vacancies.

In this avenue of 'cold-contacting', it is particularly important to thoroughly research the company (or companies) you wish to correspond with. With both your CV and covering letter you need to convey that you know exactly what it is that they do, and that you know what direction they are progressing in.

If you can tailor your experiences directly to what you think a particular employer needs then this should give you a good chance of receiving a positive response from them.

In your objective or profile statement at the top of your CV, try to associate your ambition and career plans with the direction you think that this particular company is or should be heading in.

You have to persuade them that you will be an invaluable asset to their business.

Applying for work experience

If you are not sure which direction you want your career to head in, work experience is a good way of helping you refine your options.

It is also a good idea if you have decided what career you would like to pursue, and want to gain some experience in the field, either with a large prestigious company or somewhere smaller.

Applications for work experience within organisations such as the BBC, and with broad sheet newspapers such as the Guardian, is extremely high. This means you need to make sure you have put together an exceptional CV to stand out from the crowd.

Unless you have a series of work experience placements you probably won’t have much employment history to include in your CV.

Don’t panic if you are in this situation – you just need to communicate your passion for the industry sector, and get across your enthusiasm and desire to start at an entry level position.

When writing your introduction, include a paragraph on how you would like your career to develop in the field to which you are applying for experience. Try not to be too vague regarding this – it’s best to focus on a particular area of the industry you are interested in the most.

Get across to the employer how your GCSE, A-Level and/or degree choices indicate your commitment to the industry sector.

Put down all the relevant skills you have learnt as part of your course(s), e.g. IT skills, teamwork, public speaking, problem solving, etc.

There may be some extracurricular activities you participate in that would be of interest to the employer - for example, captain of a sports team, enthusiasm for a particular author’s work or writing poetry/short stories.

If you have enough room (two sides of A4 is the norm) then references could be included at the end. If you do this, try to get an exceptional reference from an appropriate professional.

For example if you are applying for journalism experience, then ask your English teacher or one of your university lecturers to give you a glowing reference.

Sending your CV

Almost all job applications are now made online, so it's best to save your CV as a Word document, which is fairly standard these days.

We advise you stick with a standard font throughout, such as Arial, and use the tab and margin settings appropriately.

PDF format is another option, but they are large files and the recipient may not appreciate you filling their email inbox to capacity.

Write a formal e-mail, starting with "Dear Sir/Madam, please find attached my covering letter and CV" if you're emailing the company directly and are not using an online job portal such as Indeed, TotalJobs or Reed.

You may also want to paste your covering letter into the body of the e-mail if there is no seperate box on the application form for this.

Further information

For more tips and advice on writing your graduate CV and looking for a postgraduate job, please see: