Graduate CV Writing
Writing a successful graduate CV can be a difficult task. Our tips and advice will help you prepare a CV that gives you the beest chance of securing a job interview.
What is a CV?
Curriculum Vitae is Latin for 'course of life'.
If you want to buy a new mobile phone, you read its specification first to make sure it can perform all the tasks you want it to do before purchasing it. An employer reads your CV for the same reason.
A CV is basically a personal specification - it details your abilities, and conveys to the reader exactly what you are capable of.
- An employer may have a pile of a hundred applications in front of them and from those applicants only ten (or usually less) will be invited for interview. A well written CV will get you one of those interview places.
- The only information that the employer has about you during the interview is what is in your CV and covering letter, which means many of the questions you will be asked will be based upon aspects of these documents. Therefore it’s important to make sure you know what you’ve written in them beforehand.
- After the interview, the employer may take another look at your CV to remind themselves of your skills and abilities. Depending on your performance at the interview, you will be offered the job.
- Your CV can also be a factor during salary negotiations, as it describes your skills and experience – normally your salary will be partially based upon these factors.
- Remember that a CV should always be considered a work in progress – it will need to be updated every time you plan to move jobs, or obtain a new qualification, etc.
What to include in your CV
An employer wants to know facts about your skills, experience, qualifications and a bit about your personality. If they like what they read about you then they will require contact information to get in touch with you.
The order in which these facts are conveyed is important - contact details should be at the top, then a brief introduction or profile, then employment history, followed by your qualifications and personal interests/hobbies.
1. Contact details
CVs are sometimes kept on file for long periods of time, so any contact details you provide ought to stay accurate in the long term.
A daytime phone number is most important, though include your mobile number as well if you have one.
Put down an e-mail address – if you don’t already have one, sign up for one with Google, Yahoo or Hotmail, as email is often the preferred method of contact with job applicants.
If you have your own URL domain name, add it to your CV for a touch of prestige - for example: firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. Date of birth and nationality
Employers are not allowed to discriminate amongst applicants, but putting these details down saves them having to ask you for them.
If you are not a citizen of the country in which you are applying, special arrangements may have to be made.
Although this section needs to go toward the top of your CV, put something together for this after you have written everything else. Summarise your key qualities and state your aims. You don’t need to put a header in for this section as it is self-evident.
4. Previous employment
Write this section in reverse chronological order, including starting and leaving dates for each position.
Write down succinct details of what the job entailed, what your responsibilities were and any significant achievements you made in the role.
If there are any gaps in your employment history, explain what you were doing in that time. For example travelling, studying, volunteering, etc.
Use active verbs to describe your achievements, for example 'I have experience in'; 'I am trained in'; 'I managed'; 'I developed', 'I organised', etc.
For maximum impact on the reader, bullet point these at the start of the sentence.
First of all, there is no need to list all of your O-Level/GCSE subjects. You can just put something like '10 GCSE passes, grades A-C, including English, Mathematics and Science'.
A-Level and degree qualifications can be listed, though the grades do not have to be included.
List only the academic centres and/or institutions where your qualifications were earned in reverse chronological order, including dates.
6. Hobbies and interests
This helps give the employer an insight into your personality - think carefully about what you wish to include in this section and its implications.
Team events indicate that are able to work as part of a team, while other activities such as Scouting, CCF, and the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme show commitment and that you are willing to take on a challenge.
If you like reading say who your favourite author is, or if you enjoy the theatre, say what sort of productions you like the most, e.g. musicals, drama, comedy, ballet, opera, etc.
Keep this section brief, and do not take it as an opportunity to write down every single one of your interests and hobbies.
You do not want to give the employer the impression you would rather be doing your hobbies, or travelling around the world, or volunteering in Africa than doing the job you are applying for.
It’s generally best not to include references in your CV. Instead, just write ‘References available on request’.
- Use a word processor to write your CV – never handwrite it! Occasionally a company will ask for a hand written cover letter, but the CV should always be typed.
- Your CV should be no longer than two sides of A4 at the absolute most, with the most important information on page one. Do not print on both sides of the paper.
- It is important to keep the information concise because you will probably find that two pages does not give you a great deal of room to include all of your details – some careful formatting is required. The layout should be clear and logical; make sure to use sensible margin spacing.
- Using bulleted paragraphs is a good way to save space and add impact to statements.
- Use headers throughout so that an employer can immediately see what they want to read. However, try to avoid using boring, generic titles such as Skills, Objectives, Profile, Introduction, etc. Instead just use a few sensible broad headings, 'Career', 'Personal', and 'Professional'.
- A flashy design and layout might impress employers, though be careful not to go overboard – remember that at the end of the day, the employer is only interested in the content of the CV. Another problem with complex formatting is that when it comes to posting your CV online, the format is often lost. Try to save two versions - one flashy CV that can be snail mailed and e-mailed in Word, or PDF format, and one that is in a txt. format so it can be cut and pasted into online CV fields.
- Use the best quality paper you can afford, but use some common sense and don’t send it off on paper that is too thick.
- Tailor your CV to each separate job where possible by carrying out some research into the company. Tthe easiest way to do this is to look at their website – find out more info on what products/service they sell, how big they are, what their goals are, etc. Take a look at our section on targeting your CV for more help with this.
- Whatever you do, do not quote your previous salaries, and do not state or allude to why you left previous jobs!
- Try to use a few appropriate industry buzzwords, because as the employer scans your CV, you want them to think that you know what you are talking about.
- Use simple language - you are not trying to impress anyone with your vast vocabulary. Back up any statement you make with evidence, for example 'Excellent organisational skills, I co-ordinated a training session for a group of clients.' You should also try to quantify every statement, for example 'I launched a new marketing tool, which resulted in additional revenue of 20K'.
- You don't need to write things that already speak for themselves, e.g. your communication skills (the employer can see this in the quality of your cover letter and CV). Similarly, you don't need to write CV at the top of the first page.
- Write a positive objective statement clarifying what direction you want your career to head in, and make sure to avoid any negative language in your CV.
- Don’t use 'I' too much – a page or two of 'I did this and that' is a big no-no - it tells the employer you haven’t thought about what you can do for them, only about yourself.
- An employer is not going to be interested in someone who has appears to have drifted from job to job, perhaps across several different sectors. Your career should show some regularity so that it seems planned. Employers want candidates who are focused and ambitious, and know what they want and where their career is heading. Your CV should reflect this progression.
- Do not lie – always be honest and don’t write anything in your CV that you would not feel comfortable talking about at an interview.
- Get someone else to read your CV for a second opinion, as you may have missed some grammatical or spelling errors (though you should always use the Spellchecker on your software programme anyway!).
It’s important to realise you're going to have to put together something better than your usual boring, standard CV to ensure you stand out from the crowd and that the prospective employer actually reads your application.
Your CV needs to tell them instantly why you are better than the other applicants and why they should contact you to arrange an interview straight away.
To do this you will have to combine content that is clear, concise and readable with an attractive layout that stays in line with the usual conventions of CV writing.
This will give you a decent chance of landing that dream job.
I’m looking for my first job
If you are fresh out of university, college, or school it is possible that filling two sides of A4 with details of experience could be quite difficult.
Describe what skills you have learnt and put into practice during your studies - for example working as part of a team, presentation/public speaking skills, any volunteering or work experience placements, etc.
Do not worry about your CV being short to start with, because everyone has to start somewhere.
Try to get across to the employer the benefits you could bring to them through your skills, abilities and knowledge.
Remember that there are overall rules for writing your CV - the aim is to include all of the basic elements, follow the conventions, and then incorporate some of your own individuality.
For more tips and advice on writing your graduate CV and looking for a postgraduate job, please see: