With over 5 years recruitment behind me. I've had the privilege of speaking with some truly brilliant, intelligent University leavers who have gone on to great successes.
But something I've found is that you could be a 1st class graduate from a great University… but still not know how to write a CV.
Perhaps it's something that simply isn't covered at University – but how do we put that right and give you the best chance possible of landing that perfect job?
As the summer draws near, more and more University students are completing their courses and starting to think 'so what comes next?' For some that may be a gap year or a well-earned break from studies. For others it might mean a leap into their first graduate job and the kick starting of a successful career!
Maybe That's You?…
If it is, that means it's time to polish up – or write – a CV to act as an advertising board that says "Hire me. I'm the one you want working for you. Look what I can do". So it has to shine.
Don't know how to make that happen? Let's fix that. Writing a CV needn't be daunting or difficult, but there are some common mistakes that could make all the difference to your success. Let's look at the basics first. Your CV should feature…
Anatomy of a CV
Your name, address, contact details (email, land / mobile lines)
Make it easy for hiring managers to contact you.
Github / Bitbucket / Portfolio (if you have one / if appropriate)
If your speciality is centred around software development or something creative then having a portfolio is a great way to show off what you can do. If you do have one then make sure it shines as well as your CV does. Linking to it but presenting poor work might put people off! Show off your best, nothing more.
Open your CV with a short precise about who you are, what you know and what you're looking for. Leave out 'fluff' such as saying you're a 'quick learner', that's a given. Instead tell us about what you studied at University and it has prepared you for. What do you want to do with your career?
You might want to finish with a more personal note – a bit about you and what you like to do when not working. Keep it brief – but show you're a person and not just another applicant. Again – 'hanging out with friends' is a given – but perhaps you play an instrument or enjoy a sport? If it's something exciting like kite surfing… so much the better!
You're going to discuss what you know in time. But here you can provide an overview of what you can do. It might be a list of software languages or products, it might be infrastructure or networks you can support and work with… keep in mind the kind of work you're applying to do. What you say here should closely resemble that – but make sure it's all true!
As a graduate job seeker, you probably won't have a lot of relevant professional experience. But your recent degree is absolutely the first weapon in your arsenal to say "here's how I know what I know". Include your full course title, University, dates attended and outcome.
Now here's what many don't do…
Include the modules you studied (their titles at least). Include particular information that relates back to the kind of work you're applying for. (i.e. as a software developer, what languages did you study? What projects / applications etc. did you work on?). Simply writing "I studied Java and HTML for 4 years" doesn't tell us much, but if you tell me about how you applied these things and what projects you completed – you'll leave a much more complete and better impression of your skills.
That's what will get you an interview and – hopefully – get you the job you want!
Academic Experience (beyond University)
It's important to provide details of your A Levels and GCSE's – at least showing where you went to school or college, when you attended and what topics you studied. You may not want to go in to as much detail (your history GCSE isn't going to matter much when you're writing Java code) but it's still worth providing a complete breakdown. Omitting things may do you no favours!
If you've worked – tell us about it! Keep in mind though that unless it's relevant to the job you want to do (i.e. you did a sandwich year developing software at University) then don't go in to too much detail.
There's nothing wrong with the retail job you had – but explaining how you stacked shelves is not going to be as relevant as the aforementioned IT based work.
That said, again you should at least provide dates and the names of each employer – with a short description. Here you might well explain that your retail experience helped you 'gain customer service skills' or your administration work 'helped you improve speed and accuracy when using a computer'.
Not what you did at school / University, but any other qualifications you may have (full driving license, first aid training etc.) – you may not have these but if you do, it can help to show what you know and again makes you a more rounded individual.
You may also want to use this space to note if you know any languages (spoken ones, not technologies!) or have any other special skills… perhaps a flying license or PADI license?
Hobbies and Interests
Last but not necessarily least, why not finish up with a little about yourself? You might refer back to your opening precise and explain again that you enjoy playing an instrument or sport, perhaps you enjoy traveling and have just come back from holiday in Tanzania? From playing the bag-pipes to LARPing to restoring a classic racing car… this is where you show you're not just 'a degree' but a person too.
Content Finished? Quality Check!
If you've followed the above advice then you should have a fairly well rounded CV that'll serve you well in your job hunting. But don't use it just yet.
Check. Your. Spelling.
I can't impress this enough on you. Run a spell check. Have someone else read it for you. Make sure there are absolutely no mistakes on your CV.
We live in a world of spell checkers and all sorts of advice available to help us write documents – don't let yourself down by skipping this.
.PDF or .DOC?
There's an ongoing debate across the working world on whether it's better to use create your CV as a PDF or Word Document. There are compelling arguments for both.
A PDF can be read fairly universally and is not subject to corruption due to different software version conflicts. It is also difficult to change the information on a PDF, so what you write stays written.
It is not, however, impossible. PDF's can be converted to Microsoft Word files (.DOC) – doing this may corrupt the formatting.
A .DOC / .DOCX (Depending on your version of Microsoft Word) will be easy to alter and pretty much any business machine can read it.
As a recruitment consultant I'm compelled to recommend a .DOC as a preference.
When we work with you and make applications on your behalf, we'll remove your contact information and insert our company logo as a header for your CV so that the companies we work with know where the CV came from. Having a .DOC means we can do this easily – as well as sorting out any other small formatting issues or correcting any missed spelling mistakes. This would not be possible with a PDF.
The 2 Page Rule & Why You Should Break It
A common misconception when writing a CV is that you have to keep it at 2 pages in length.
I disagree with this, but make sure you do it for the right reasons.
Writing about your recent holiday to Madrid is the wrong reason. Writing in detail about your technical skills is the right reason. As long as it's worth saying, isn't it better to say it than to omit it for the sake of that mystical 2-page-rule?
We've covered a lot here but writing a great CV needn't be a mammoth task. Like most essays at school – break it down in to sections and work out what you need to say and how it paints a picture of you as a person. Always keep in mind the kind of work you want – write with that in mind – leave no room for the hiring manager to say you don't seem to have the right skills.
With the right skills and a good CV, you'll make job hunting less of a chore and more of a joy, every time.