Getting started on your CV

Daniel Mason, Senior editor
October, 2016

With so much competition for graduate jobs, putting together an effective CV has never been more important - and you can get a head start by following this expert advice

Writing your first CV can be daunting. Doing an online search for tips will leave you overwhelmed with information and advice, much of it irrelevant for relatively inexperienced university students. However, getting the basics right will help you to land a part-time role, internship or graduate job.

'It's essential to have a well-presented, professional CV,' says Julian White, careers and employability service manager at Manchester Metropolitan University. 'With the most attractive opportunities more popular than ever, students must invest time developing a CV that is a truly professional marketing tool.'

There are a number of simple ways you can impress employers.

How do I write a CV?

Writing a CV requires you to scrutinise your past experiences in work, study and leisure. Consider what you have learned about yourself, how you coped with certain challenges and what skills or qualities you developed. If you captained a university sports team, for example, you can use this as evidence of strong leadership skills.

'Reflection is imperative,' explains Alan Robertson, careers adviser at the University of Strathclyde. 'If you don't reflect on your learning, your story is only partly told.'

Answering these questions in as much detail as possible will make this easier:

  • Where have you studied and what subjects did you take? What qualifications have you gained and what awards have you won?
  • Have you taken on any extra responsibilities during your academic life? What teams or societies have you been a part of and what events have you helped to coordinate?
  • Do you have any paid or unpaid work experience? For each role, what did you do and what did you achieve?
  • What are your hobbies and interests? What have you achieved outside of your academic and work life?

Once you've listed all of your relevant experiences, create a document that categorises your answers according to key employability skills such as teamwork, communication and commercial awareness. The resulting document forms your master CV, which holds all of your experiences. This can then be used as the template for all your future CVs.

How do I tailor my applications?

Your master CV in this form should never be seen by an employer. Every time you apply for a job, the document you send should be different. This is because understanding and researching the specific recruiter - and then shaping your CV to focus on skills and experiences they are looking for - is essential if you want to stand out as a leading candidate.

This allows the employer to easily identify how well you match their requirements and means you can perfectly demonstrate your desire for the role. 'One size doesn't fit all,' adds Alan. 'Your CV is only as good as the last application and must be tailored to every job.'

Use the information contained in your master CV to make each application unique. Change the content and structure every time, embedding examples of your skills in action under the key headings of work experience, education and interests. Avoid modesty. Instead, sell your experience and achievements as positively as possible, providing enough detail to show that you're the best person for the job.

When deciding on your CV's sequence, imagine that you're talking face-to-face with the particular recruiter about your skills and experiences. Your CV should reflect the order in which you'd provide this information, with the most important and relevant at the top.

For example, a CV for a part-time job will be markedly different to one for an internship. Part-time employers typically value key skills such as communication, organisation and teamwork more highly than your educational background.

If you're going for an internship, remember that recruiters will want to see just how motivated you are to work in their industry. Therefore, include details of any relevant workshops or employer presentations you have attended.

It's important that you always describe your experiences clearly and don't leave recruiters guessing as to what you mean. 'It's not the employer's job to assume anything,' says Alan. 'The student must take responsibility for nailing the point, otherwise they could miss out. The benefits of a great experience or achievement could be lost as a result.'

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