Writing a graduate CV: top tips

Your final year at university is a tough one. Not only is there exam stress and dissertations to deal with, but there’s also the looming prospect of finding a job at the end of it all. To do that you’re almost defiantly going to need a good CV.

No matter what stage of your career you’re at, having a decent CV is crucial when it comes to job hunting. So you may as well get it right from the start. You’ve probably heard thousands of times before that a CV “is the first thing an employer is going to see”; “a good CV can mean the difference between getting an interview or not“; “first impressions count” etc. We all know the importance of getting it right -what you really need to know is HOW to get it right.


Tailor your CV to the job you are applying for.

If you want to just write one CV and then use it for all job applications, then you could be job hunting for a long time. In such a competitive market, it’s important to match your skills and experience with what is on the job description or specification.

Take each requirement for the job and think about what skills and experience you have that match. Put yourself in the recruiter’s shoes. They will be looking to find a candidate that clearly matches their requirements, so make it easy for them. Many positions will receives hundreds of applications, therefore matching up what they want with what you have to offer will make it a whole lot easier for the recruiter to identify you as suitable candidate.


Talk about what you can do, but don’t forget to include what you want to do.

Remember to talk about what you WANT to do. Your opening introduction is your chance to tell prospective employers what you hope to achieve and where you want to be. For example, if you are applying for a graduate scheme that offers the chance to work overseas, then mention how keen you are to gain work experience in other countries and cultures. It can be quite daunting writing a CV when you haven’t got a lot of work experience, so this is your chance to show how much you want to progress.

Don’t forget the importance of any part time or volunteer work.

If you have volunteered or had any unpaid work experience during your studies then you should include this in your CV. The bar jobs you had whilst studying may not seem relevant to you, but to a potential employer it can highlight skills such as customer service, and show your ability to juggle your studies and working. Also, extra-curricular activities such as blogging or writing for your university’s newspaper could be what will set you apart from the rest.


Create a standard template.

Although it’s important to make sure that you tailor your CV to each role that you are applying for, you need to have a good standard template to work from. Personal details, qualifications, and profile etc. are going to remain the same. If you get this right first time then you can spend more time focussing on including relevant work experience.


Is there such thing as a ‘graduate CV’?

Not necessarily. However, as with all CVs it is important to highlight your strengths first. If you are applying for graduate roles, the chances are the employer is not expecting you to have years of experience, but they will expect you to have a degree. So, give them what they want first and put your qualifications before any work experience.

After a few years of work experience this structure will of course change. Once you start applying for jobs that require you to have knowledge and experience in certain areas it will become more important to highlight this first.

Beware though, your qualifications might not be your strongest selling point if you are a mature student. If you have previous work experience, it might be worth putting that at the top of your CV. Although your degree may be important for the roles you are applying for, your previous experience may give you the advantage over other candidates.


Get some good advice

Talk to people who have been working for a few years and look at their CVs to see if you can use it as a starting point. If you have a friend who always seems to get the jobs that they apply for, ask to have a look at their CV and also speak to them about interview techniques etc.


Structure, layout and spacing are VERY important

Your CV may read beautifully and spell checked to perfection, but if your prospective employers just see lots of squashed up words on a page then all of that is not going to matter.

Space your CV into sections with headings. For instance: Personal Profile; Education History; Work/Professional Experience etc. This will allow recruiters to glance across your CV and easily find the section that is most relevant to them.

Use bullet points. Long paragraphs do not allow an employer to find the information they want quickly. When a recruiter is faced with a pile of CVs, they don’t want to have to read each and every one in detail in order to find out what they want to know.

Choose a standard font and text size. If you can’t fit it all onto two pages then don’t minimise your font size. It is much better to cut down the body of your text. No one wants to have to get out the magnifying glass to read your CV!

Be consistent. Keep your dates in the same format and make sure that all your info is in chronological order. Start with your most recent qualifications (in the education section) and your most recent work experience (in the employment history section).


Check, check and check again.

You could have a wealth of work experience, a first class degree and a perfect fit to the role you’re applying for – but if your CV is full of spelling mistakes and typos then the chances are it’s going to get thrown in the bin pretty quickly. Once you have finished writing your CV, ask someone else to check through it. Then check it again before you send it, and again! and again!