Trying to put together an effective graduate CV might seem like a monumental task, but it’s a crucial tool in your job hunt.
To start off with, most students will create a general CV as a template. This should then be tailored and tweaked when you apply for different roles. If you’re interested in two different careers, then you might want to create two separate CV templates for each one. These should then be adapted for each and every employer you send it to.
The biggest challenge facing graduates is that employers are looking for candidates with a degree AND the necessary experience. Fresh out of university, it’s hard to show that you have both the maturity and the experience to handle the job role, as you probably won’t have an expansive list of work experience. You’ll need to use your CV to make the most out the education and work experience that you do have and use it to the impress the employer.
What should I include in my graduate CV?
First of all, brainstorm a list of everything you want to put in: education, grades, work experience, extracurricular activities, skills (such as language and computer skills), interests and achievements. Run back through the list and cross out anything that isn’t relevant to the kind of graduate role you want, or doesn’t demonstrate a particular skill you want to showcase.
Alternatively, you might want to put them in order, from the most relevant to the least important. You can then allocate more space to the most relevant items, and maybe omit the least important things altogether. You might also want to write down the relevant skills and responsibilities that you want to highlight through your education and work experience.
Most CVs have a basic framework: contact details, education, work experience and skills. They might also have the “contentious” things (e.g. the sections that are either absolutely vital, or you can leave out depending on who you talk to), such as the personal statement and the interests section.
The traditional way to structure a CV is chronologically by putting your education first. If you have gained lots of work experience, you might want to put your education at the bottom of your CV. However, it really depends on what you’re applying for and what you have to offer.
Let’s start at the beginning…
Most people will put their contact details at the top of their CV, usually as a header. You should include your full name, address, telephone number and email. Use a professional sounding email address, not firstname.lastname@example.org
The jury’s divided as to whether you should include a personal profile on your CV. It’s up to you. It can be useful for specifying your career aims, i.e. where you want to go or what you want to be. If you want to include one, keep it short. Don’t use it to list generic skills, such as “I’m a great people person” or “I’m really creative” (you can showcase your skills in the work experience bit). Either say something unique about yourself that is relevant to the job you’re applying for, or don’t say anything at all.
Education & Qualifications…
The norm for graduate CVs is to put your education first. This is because recent graduates won’t generally have that much work experience, apart from a few internships. You should list your degree subject and university, A-levels and GCSEs (or equivalent) in chronological order, with your most recent qualification first. Mention your grades (unless there are some shockers). To save space, you might just want to list your GCSEs like this: Nine GCSES, including A grades in Maths and English, or omit them altogether.
How much education you include depends on how much is relevant, i.e. does the job require you to demonstrate certain technical or academic knowledge? If so, you might want to include your grades for certain relevant units of your degree. You might want to highlight transferable skills gained from your degree course too. Otherwise, steer clear of overkill.
Here you should put down your work experience in reverse chronological order (i.e. most recent first). Include: relevant work experience, internships, voluntary work and placements. For each one, include your job title, the name of the company, and the dates you worked there.
Outline the role you performed by highlighting your responsibilities and achievements. You can also mention the skills you gained. Pick out the skills you learned on the job or during the internship which are relevant to the position you are applying for, and always give evidence: e.g. “I was in charge of marketing for the graduate ball. I designed a successful social media-focused campaign, selling 25% more tickets than the previous year.”
For some roles, you might only want to include a line, e.g. 2008-2010 Kwik Motors, Part-time Sales Assistant, whereas for the most relevant roles you might want to include more detail. If you can’t make it relevant, leave it out. Here’s where you might want to use positive CV buzzwords to emphasise your achievements and skills.
Here you might want to include skills you haven’t mentioned, such as language and computing skills. Tell them if you’re fluent in any languages. If you aren’t, but you can hold a conversation in a foreign language, then say that you’re an intermediate or conversational speaker.
This is also the place to discuss your general and specialist computing skills. Do you have a good working knowledge of Microsoft Office (e.g. Word, Excel or PowerPoint), Java or Adobe Illustrator? What is your typing speed? Can you use both PCs and Macs? Whatever you can do, put it down!
Interests & Achievements…
If you have space, you might want to include some interests and achievements. This is where you can give them a taster of your personality and show them that you’d be a good fit for their company. Keep it very brief and highlight things that make you sound interesting and someone they would like to work with.
In the references section, you can either choose to put down two referees and their contact details, or say something like, “Excellent references available on request.” The bonus of the latter is that it saves you some space on your CV and gives you time to think about what references you might want to use for this particular job.
If you decide to include references in your CV, it’s a good idea to use previous employers who have already agreed to give you one. You can also include an academic reference, i.e. from a university tutor or professor. You can also provide references from people you worked for during internships and work experience placements.
How long should my graduate CV be?
The popular wisdom is that it shouldn’t be longer than two pages. There are some exceptions, e.g. for academic and technical CVs, where you might want to put far more detail into your education section.
Some graduates feel that their CV has to be exactly two pages long and so they bulk it out, yattering on about every course they’ve taken and including an exhaustive list of achievements. Shorter CVs don’t annoy recruiters, but padded out CVs, where it takes them a while to locate what they need, will do.
The main aim of your CV is to convey the information required in a clear and efficient manner. You want the recruiter find things quickly and easily. Often, having a shorter CV, which really pinpoints the key areas of your experience and expertise, will be far more effective than a longer CV.
If you want more tips about CV length, read our How Long Should a CV Be? article.
How should I format my graduate CV?
Most employers will only glance at your CV quickly. They will be reading stacks of CVs and might only spend 30 seconds or so looking at your CV. If they can’t quickly see that you have the qualities and skills that match the job role, they will probably dismiss your CV.
So when you’re thinking about how to format and structure your CV, this should be at the forefront of your mind. You need to create something that is easy to read. Break up your CV using clear headings and formatting, so they can find what they’re looking for easily.
Choose a font and font size that is easy to read, such as Verdana or Helvetica (using a screen friendly font, i.e. not Times New Roman, is a good idea as most of the time you’ll be emailing your CV across). Highlight key points on your CV using bold, you might want to break up blocks of text into short bullet points.
Get some feedback…
Once you’ve made your CV don’t squirrel it away. Ask your careers adviser at university to go over it, consult a recruitment consultant, or get feedback from people in the industry. Go over it with a fine tooth comb, checking for spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. Make sure everything is correct. Double check all of your dates, names and contact details. Make the necessary changes and get ready to show your CV to the world.