“I am a strong team player and can work independently” so start so many graduate CVs that go straight into the bin. It’s just meaningless waffle, creating the wrong impression in the ten seconds you have to make an impact. Here are some other immediate turn offs:

  • “I’m enthusiastic” – so is my dog.
  • “I’m highly motivated” – big wow, nobody writes they are lazy on a CV.
  • “I’m passionate” – so is everyone about something.
  • “I have extensive experience…” – no you don’t, you are a graduate.

But how do you write a good graduate CV? It’s not something you’ve done before and it won’t be something you do after landing a first professional job. Ultimately, writing an effective graduate CV requires the same skills you’ve been applying throughout university: thinking critically and communicating effectively.

Writing a Graduate CV – The Ultimate Guide

This article provides a step by step guide to writing the ultimate graduate CV. If you seek a quick CV template then you will be disappointed – there is no one-size-fits-all for capturing the attention of future employers. There aren’t any short cuts either. The higher the CV template appears on Google, the more often it’s thrown in the bin by prospective employers.

1. Mindset and Approach

Writing a CV is no different from writing an essay or an email. It’s about communicating your message as effectively and efficiently as possible. In the course of a career you’ll learn that all professional communication has the same tenets, especially when it is designed to impress strangers.

Communicating well requires significant experience and skill, or a significant time investment. As a graduate you have the latter – don’t kid yourself and think that a good CV can be written over a caramel macchiato at Starbucks.

  • Approach the task professionally.
  • Invest the time that is necessary.
  • A CV is about you, so keep it personal.
  • Have confidence in what you can do; believe in your purpose.
  • Don’t be pigeon-holed by templates or thoughts of an easy short cut.
  • Remember that writing a CV is also a key part of your professional development.

2. Purpose

Just like any professional communication your starting point should be: why am I doing this?

A typical response is to say “I need to write a CV so I can apply for jobs.” Yes, a graduate CV is usually pre-requisite for getting a job but you should be more specific and more confident.

The aim of writing your CV is not so you can have a fancy CV. Nobody cares about your CV, honestly. If you don’t have one so what?

The aim is to impress a future employer, get an interview, and land a job. Think positively: “I’m writing my graduate CV so I can get the job of [job title] at [company name].”

If you’re uploading a CV to a recruitment website then the aim will differ slightly but it should still be very clear before you start writing.

3. Target Audience

Just like any professional communication, the next step is to clarify who you are communicating with.

  • “Future employers” – that could be almost anyone.
  • “IT managers” (or any other profession) – Still far too generic.
  • “Apple” (or any other company name) – important to consider but not yet enough.

Let’s return to your purpose. You’re applying for a specific job at a specific company. So your target audience is the person responsible for recruiting to that position.

How do you know what that person is looking for? Easy. Read the job description. Research the company and, if you have a name, research the recruiter.

So does that mean you must write a different graduate CV for every job you apply for? Yes, of course. The better you can target the message and appeal directly to the recruiter, the better your chance of making an impression.

4. Content Creation Part 1 – Write It Down

Not everyone is good at writing. The tendency is to start at the top and continue until you reach the bottom. Or to get bogged down with presentation, continually changing font sizes and colours until it becomes a GCSE art piece.

As a professional copywriter the best advice I can give is to start by writing without restrictions. Get anything and everything you can think of down on the page (or on the screen). The more you start with the better the end result. If you get stuck with some form of writer’s block, just move onto the next section. Don’t even worry if some of your writing make no sense at all.

Every graduate CV is based on the same sections. Use these as titles and write down everything that comes into your head. Think about the questions listed below and move on to the next if nothing comes to mind.

Professional Profile

  • What is your current situation? What are you looking to do?
  • Why are you a good employment prospect?
  • Why do you want this job?
  • What makes you qualified for this job?
  • What do you have that the job description requires? What are your advantages over other candidates?

Skills

  • What skills and competencies do you possess that are valuable for this job?
  • Describe these skills and competencies, especially how they are transferrable and relative to the job description.
  • How can you demonstrate these skills? What specific examples do you have?
  • What do you have that the job description requires? What are your advantages over other candidates?

Education

  • Where did you study? What were your grades? What modules did you complete?
  • Did you obtain any special achievements? Did you work on any eye-catching projects?
  • What do you have that the job description requires? What are your advantages over other candidates?

Work Experience

Think about paid work experience as well student internships and voluntary work. Think anything and everything at this stage.

  • What role did you perform?
  • What responsibilities did you have?
  • What skills did you develop in these roles?
  • Are there any specific achievements you can highlight?
  • What do I have that the job description requires? What are my advantages over other candidates?

5. Content Creation Part 2 – Making a Concise Pitch

Now you have the raw content it’s time to make your pitch. The average time spent reading a CV is less than 30 seconds – some recruiters believe it is more like six seconds. So all those pages you’ve just written need to be boiled down to a maximum of two pages. Even then, there’s a good chance the recruiter won’t even get to the second page.

Now is a good time to return to the purpose and target audience. “I’m writing my graduate CV so I can get the job of [job title] at [company name].” Let’s translate that to help with your writing: how can I show I am best placed for this specific job at this specific company?

Use that question to formulate each of the sections. Then keep refining and refining. Can you say the same thing in five words instead of seven? Is that sentence actually relevant to the job? Are you demonstrating proficiency or listing cliches? You will have to discard most of what you wrote during step four – that’s just what good writing and good CV writing requires.

Think evidence, evidence, evidence. “I’ve proven my [skill] by…” or “I achieved [xyz] by applying [skill] and [skill]. Show how and when you have demonstrated the skills and attributes required, rather than creating a cliched list of adjectives.

And think always of front-loading. Put your very best side first to grab the attention.  If your key professional advantages are on the second page they might not be seen.

Structure

A professional profile should always come first on a graduate CV. The next section should be the one that demonstrates you are the best candidate for the job – the section that is most impressive. Rather than order your CV based on a template, put your best attributes as high as possible, whether that is education, skills or work experience (you may choose to skip skills and interests if these sections are not adding value).

Personal Details – keep is simple and essential. Name, address, email and phone number(s).

Professional Profile – boil it down to 3 – 4 sentences that specifically match you to the job.

Education / Experience / Skills – remember, this next section will be the one that best sells you. For skills, choose 3 – 5 then provide a description and some demonstrative evidence. For education, list specific achievements and where you have demonstrated transferrable skills. For work experience (unlikely on a graduate CV), consider responsibilities, skills, outcomes and achievements.

Education / Experience / Skills – These next sections are providing supplementary evidence. You’re not as strong here and there’s no need to fluff it out just to fill the page. For skills, stick to a handful of bullet points. For education, keep it objective and list your qualifications in reverse chronological order (degree, A levels and GCSE’s) – use bullet points to list relevant modules you passed during your degree. For work experience, keep it brief and include anything where you have developed or demonstrated relevant skills.

Interests – This is a chance to say a little more about who you are. Keep it appropriate and relevant. Rather than list six hobbies it’s better to say two specific things about yourself. E.g. I am a member of the Preston Harriers running club and spent six months traveling to South America in 2016.

References – Two references are enough for a graduate CV. At least one of these should be academic. The other could be academic or from your work experience. Include their name, title and preferred contact details (usually email). If you’re short on references then consider writing “references are available on request.”

6. Formatting

There is no correct way to format a graduate CV. Once you are happy with the content just make sure the formatting is clear, understandable and professional. If you’re not sure always air on the side of simplicity.

  • Use a simple professional font (Arial, Verdana etc).
  • Keep the header and body font sizes consistent throughout (16 / 12 is standard).
  • Use bold rather than underline to highlight lines. E.g. name of employer, job role. or qualification.
  • Use bullet points where appropriate as these help to highlight key elements of your graduate CV.
  • Ensure everything is in line with each other.
  • Keep it under two pages. Less is okay. More is a no-no.

7. Proof Reading and Finalising

Always overlooked but the most essential part of creating a good graduate CV. Start by forgetting about your CV and waiting until tomorrow. You need to step away from it in order to be objective.

Speak your written CV to a friend or family member. Speaking will highlight errors better than simply reading. It will also help you gauge which sections are good and which need improvement. This also proves as good practice for interviews as you learn how to promote yourself in front of others.

Don’t be embarrassed. Ask everyone you can to have a look, especially anyone who is in the industry. Peers can be a great source of feedback as well. The more people who react to your CV, the more it can be refined and improved.

Of course you will get some criticism. But a little criticism is better than a CV in the bin.

Writing a Graduate CV – Next Steps

So the CV has been sent and you await a reply. Don’t be downhearted if no reply is forthcoming. Even the very best CV can be rejected many times. Keep refining, keep applying. And remember, you’re not a failure because you can’t land a job. This is a tough and competitive world so keep your head up and keep searching. There is an employer out there who is looking for someone like you.

Every CV should be targeted to the specific job you are applying for. But that doesn’t mean you need to rip everything up and start again for every application. Over time you’ll realise the importance of section 4 – write it all down. With each CV you will pull out different information dependent on the job. With each job application it’s more likely you are simply manipulating the CV towards the purpose (a specific job at a specific company).

So good luck and remember to keep networking on Fledglink – the wider your network the more opportunity you will find.