School-leavers and graduates: how to write your first CV

February 24, 2015

You’ve finished years of education and it’s time to enter the world of work. The question you’re undoubtedly facing now is: “How do I showcase years of education, achievements and outside interests on a CV?” There is no simple answer. Every CV is unique and needs to be tailored for each industry and company, so this is where your research needs to begin.

Recent research from the National Citizen Service (NCS) shows that employers have less and less time to review entry level CVs. On average you have just 8.8 seconds to stand out, so you need be able to sell yourself and your strengths quickly.

First, study the company you’re targeting. Have a look at their mission statement if it’s online. Use any insight into the company and the role you’re applying for to highlight how your skills and attributes would fit with the company you’re applying to.

Numbers and percentages are always easy to digest quickly on a CV. If you can clearly show statistics that showcase your achievements then do so, but never exaggerate or embellish the truth.

The extra factor

You may think it can be difficult to stand out, but you just need to add touch of personality. I always look for that something extra, something which shows your personal drive and ambition.

In an increasingly competitive job market, graduate recruits need to be able to demonstrate they have something more to offer than just academic performance. High grades don’t guarantee a job or even an interview. The study by NCS goes on to reveal that half of employers would actually dismiss a CV if the candidate wasn’t able to demonstrate experiences outside of the education system.

Highlight the work you have done outside school to show you’re not afraid to put in the extra work for something you believe in. Academic qualifications are great to put on a CV and are incredibly important, but life experiences and extracurricular activities speak volumes about your character, not just your intelligence. An employer is looking for someone who can not only get the job done, but someone who will fit within the culture of their organisation and get along with the team already in place. One example is to list any youth programmes you’ve participated in, any volunteering experiences, passion projects or sport and social activities that you actively pursue.

Soft skills

While you’re writing your CV, keep asking yourself what you want this employer to know about you – what personal skills you are most proud of and how you could be an asset to their business. List specific skills that you have, such as confidence and resilience, presenting skills, the ability to work effectively in teams or examples of leading one. These traits are often neglected in CVs yet they are vital for the workplace.

Use the job description as a guide

You may have heard the advice that you should imitate your interviewer’s movements and gestures as a technique to get them to trust you – the same can be said for CVs. Read the job description and copy the language they use. This will show that you not only read their brief fully, but you can use language that resonates with them.

Presentation is everything

Last but not least, we can often focus so much on making sure the content is right, that we forget the most obvious of rules. Your CV needs to look good as well as sound good. The top three things that turn off employers is bad grammar, spelling mistakes and poor formatting. Take advantage of simple online templates or even use your own creativity – just remember to have a fresh pair of eyes look at it before you send it out.

There’s nothing to be afraid of when writing your first CV – it is ultimately all about you, and you know yourself best. If you get through to an interview my best advice is to be professional but more importantly be yourself. Enthusiasm and a keenness to learn are always attractive. Everyone knows a story about a person with the perfect grades that didn’t get the job because they lacked personality, so make sure you bring that to the table too.