CV Tips for the Recent University Graduate
Even in a buoyant job market, securing that first graduate role can be difficult. Some of Britain's largest employers receive dozens of applicationsfor each graduate position – if you want to secure a job with them, you'll need to ensure your CV stands out for all the right reasons. After years of helping graduates across the country, here are my top tips for getting your CV to the top of the pile.
Use a clear, appropriate format
Before they get into the nitty-gritty of your CV, a prospective employer will scan it visually. That quick once-over can make or break your application. Use a clear, simple format to grab the reader’s attention and draw them into the detail of your experience.
A good CV will balance text with the right amount of white space, so the document doesn’t seem too jam-packed or overwhelming, nor too sparse. It will use concise, punchy bullet points, not endless paragraphs. You may see bold text or underlining to differentiate between sections, or tables used to space out content across the page.
Font is also worth a mention: some graduates, mindful of the need to keep their CV to two pages, will use a tiny, headache-inducing font to cram in extra information. As you can imagine, that strategy tends to backfire when the reader must strain to decipher the content. Stick to a font size of 11 or 12, and use an easily-read, PDF-friendly font like Times New Roman, Arial or Verdana.
Keep the content relevant
Broadly, your CV should contain your name, contact information, a short (two- to three-line) profile explaining who you are and what you’re looking for, details of your secondary and tertiary education, your work experience, and any achievements and skills (see below). At graduate level, employers will expect a chronological approach, with your most recent work and education appearing before older experience.
Knowing what to leave out of your CV is also key – UK employers won’t want to see your photo (the entertainment industry excepted), your date of birth, your National Insurance number, or details of your political leanings. If it isn’t relevant to the job, leave it out.
Historically employers would’ve expected to see a list of academic and work referees at the end of a CV, but the current trend is to omit this information or simply list “References available on request” – an employer will inevitably ask for details after a successful interview.
Focus on your transferable skills
You may have worked in any number of part-time jobs through school and university, from pulling pints and coaching football to serving customers in a retail environment. Believe it or not, these roles can help land you that dream graduate job – if you know how to sell the experience you’ve gained in a relevant, meaningful way.
The truth is, when it comes to landing your first professional role, any experience can be made relevant. Serving in a busy restaurant or bar? Delivering excellent service under pressure. Stacking shelves in your local supermarket? Working to deadline and complying with company policy. ASaturday job on the high street? Client contact and sales experience. Even if you're applying for a job in a completely different field, there will always be some relevant skills that you can use to demonstrate your aptitude.
When you're preparing your CV or completing the lengthy application forms favoured by larger employers, focus on explaining your work experience in a way that's clearly relevant to the role you're applying for. A laundry list of tasks done in each role isn’t good enough – be sure to highlight relevant achievements that showcase the skills you’ve gained.
Identify your USP
In a competitive job market, you need to focus on how you can stand out from the crowd. In trying to fit in to a particular role or job specification, candidates often forget to include something about themselves that makes them stand out and be memorable. Designers often speak about product “USPs” or unique selling propositions – what’s yours?
You may have advanced skills or qualifications. Perhaps you participated in a school or university leadership programme, speak a second language to a high standard, or have a strong track record of volunteer work in your community. These kinds of achievements are more likely to be unique to you, and make you stand out in the recruiter’s mind as an interesting, well-rounded candidate. You’ll inevitably be asked about your USP at interview, too – it’s a great opportunity to show that there’s more to you than just your grades and work experience.
Demonstrate attention to detail
Employers in different industries will look for a range of skills in new hires, but attention to detail is almost always a top requirement. Why? Simply, it’s a skill that’s useful in every profession, whether you’re a trainee solicitor cross-checking court bundles or a plumber’s apprentice finalising a tricky installation. Saying you’re detail-oriented just won’t cut it, unfortunately – but you can use your CV to demonstrate that you possess this key skill.
Proofreading is crucial to this: you’d be amazed how many bright candidates hand in CVs misspelling employers’ details, using punctuation incorrectly – even mangling the name of the company they’re applying to join. Check, check and check again before you hit “Send” on an application.
Proofreading goes beyond spelling and grammar – make sure you’ve used one font consistently across your CV, and that the sizing of letters and spacing between lines isn’t erratic.
If you don’t feel confident proofreading your own work, rope in an eagle-eyed friend or use a professional CV writing service to give your CV and cover letter some polish. Leaving things to the last minute is a recipe for disaster when it comes to producing a high-impact, well-written CV, so leave plenty of time to get your CV looking its best.