Top Tips for Writing a CV
Your CV is one of the first things a prospective employer will see, and they will generally scan it in about 30 seconds to see if you’re what they are looking for, so it’s important that it represents you and your skills really well. We spoke to employers who have reviewed plenty of graduate applications and they gave us their tips for writing a CV that will make the best first impression!
What should I include on my CV?
Your CV gives an overview of your education, qualifications, skills and experience.
It should be well-presented and concise, no more than two pages. However, do check your industry standard, as financial CVs are usually one page only, whilst academic CVs need to be longer and much more comprehensive.
Other than the obvious, such as your name, contact details, previous employment and qualifications, there are some other key things that you can include to help sell yourself.
Bruce McKendrick CEO of Forest Holidays, explains that employers really want to get a feel for what a person is like. Your CV should reflect your personality. Be truthful and write in `your own style, avoiding clichés.
Don’t underestimate the importance of your personal interests, particularly as a new graduate with relatively little experience of work life. Think about what strengths and skills they demonstrate, then talk about those that are relevant to the job requirements or company culture and values – for example you might play sport for a team or be an accomplished musician, both of which show dedication and commitment. Or perhaps you share the company’s passion for sustainability and can show how you have adapted your lifestyle or done some volunteering.
Bruce suggests using the PAR (Problem > Action > Result) technique to highlight your skills to ensure you get all the key information across clearly:
Problem – outline the situation and challenge you faced.
Action – what action did you take and why?
Result – explain what impact you made, providing measurable evidence if possible. Include what you learnt from the situation, and if there was anything you would do differently next time.
Note: This is also known as the STAR technique: Situation > Task > Action > Result
For every application you do, tailor your examples to the specific role and company.
Lizzie Fane, Founder of Global Graduates emphasises that you should focus on what is relevant to the job and employer and put that first.
‘So, for example in an internationally-focused business like ours, I would particularly want to know about your travels, your interest in working abroad plus any language skills. Do mention your passions and activities on your CV. Not only does this help the employer to build a picture of who you are, but as a small business owner, I could even adapt the role to suit your interests if I believed you would be good for the job!’
Monica Lucas, Brand and Retail Consultant says:
‘We look for honesty and personality, so your interests are important. Employers will hire people they can relate to, and who would fit with their team. Whether it’s diving or football or bellringing, it could be irrelevant to the job, but if you’re interacting with someone who likes the same thing, you have one area of commonality.’
What are the common mistakes to avoid?
Jon Benjamin, British Diplomat, advises never to lie on your CV. You are highly likely to be found out if you get to the interview stage.
‘I think people do it because they feel embarrassed about not meeting all the requirements in the job spec. As a recent graduate in your 20’s, it would be pretty remarkable if you met all
the specifications right now. Be honest, make a virtue of it. Turn it around and say “I don’t
have experience in X but I really want to learn about that, and feel passionate about
acquiring those experiences during my career.”’
Emily Garnham, PR business owner, recommends you don’t overuse buzzwords like ‘enthusiastic’, ‘motivated’ or ‘confident’. Instead choose vocabulary that will show creativity and differentiate you, such as ‘assertive’, ’articulate’, ‘perceptive’.
When writing a CV, everyone emphasised the importance of avoiding errors, particularly spelling and grammar. It looks careless and unprofessional and will lead to instant rejection. So check through your CV several times and get an eagle-eyed friend to proofread before sending it off.
How can I stand out?
Chris Matchan, an HR Specialist, explains three things he looks for in a CV: scale, complexity and track record.
‘When explaining your achievements and experience, mention the scale of what you have done, for example, if you worked on a project, was it with a team of two or 20 people? Did you have a Saturday job in a small shop or a full-time job with a large retailer?’
‘Describe the complexity of your experience, for example, did your role involve challenging tasks? Or was your degree course difficult?’
‘Finally, your track record refers to your actual achievements. What grades did you get for your degree and A-Levels, did you receive any awards?’
Chris says your CV should show what you are best at, what you love doing and how you can add value to the organisation.
What if I don’t have the best academic grades?
Sometimes we don’t get the qualifications we were hoping for, but this doesn’t mean that we can’t still have a great CV. Monica suggests that if you haven’t got good grades, try to get a job (or volunteer role) so you can talk about acquiring valuable experience.
‘My advice would be to someone who has not got the best academic track record, is to do a job that gets them over their lack of academics. So they can acknowledge they may have got poor A Levels or fluffed at university, but have now had two years’ experience working for Pret A Manger and have actually become supervisor of the store. Demonstrate that you’ve done something with your life that compensates for your lack of academic tick boxes.’
Takeaways for writing a CV
Always tailor your CV to the company & role you’re applying for.
Give relevant examples of experience, attributes & accomplishments.
Explain with the PAR technique: Problem > Action > Result
Make it clear what you’d like to achieve and learn.
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