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Writing your first CV: advice for graduates and school leavers

resumeYour CV is the first opportunity to sell yourself to a potential employer. When you’re starting out in your career you’re likely to only have a short ‘work history’, but that doesn’t have to hold you back. Here are our top tips for writing a winning first CV for school leavers and graduates.

Stand out from the crowd

You will potentially be competing against a high number of candidates, so you’ll want to stand out from the crowd. In fact, you may have as little as 8.8 seconds to make an impression. That’s the amount of time employers spend looking at CVs for entry-level jobs according to research by the UK’s youth programme, National Citizen Service.

Not only that, half of employers would actually bin a CV if the candidate wasn’t able to demonstrate experiences outside of the education system according to the survey. While academic qualifications are important, life experiences and ‘soft’ skills – such as leadership, resilience and confidence – gained through extra-curricular activities are essential for the workplace.

‘You need to show the recruiter how your achievements, non-paid work experience and skills gained through extra-curricular activities are relevant to the role,’ advises Paul Myers, Internal Recruitment Manager at NonStop Recruitment. ‘Get it right, and it can give you an edge over the competition.’

Not sure you have any? Brainstorm with a trusted friend/advisor – with a bit of creative thinking you may be surprised at the amount of transferable skills you have gained from voluntary work, youth programmes, helping the family business, unpaid work experience and pursuing sports and hobbies.

Decode the job description

‘Hiring managers don’t want to feel that you have sent out a batch of CVs, hoping someone (anyone) invites you for an interview,’ says recruiter and careers coach, Aimee Bateman of Careercake. ‘For an employer to be genuinely interested in you, you need to be genuinely interested in them.’

To do that, you need to tailor your CV specifically for each employer.

‘Start by decoding the job advert and description,’ advises Paul. ‘Look at the key skills and experience requested and make sure your CV shows that you are a good fit for the role.’

Highlight key phrases, paying close attention to what appears first on the list of requirements. ‘The top three points of the job description are usually the most important,’ says Aimee.

Don’t stop there. Scrutinise the company’s online reports, brochures and press releases to see what language they use and note down key words used to describe similar jobs at other companies. Using the same key phrases will make you appear an industry ‘insider’ who speaks the same language.

Presentation matters

Design and format are important – particularly for creative or design roles – and recruiters want to see a well-written and clearly-laid out CV. With less than 10 seconds to impress, try highlighting key facts in short bullet points. Bury them amongst paragraphs of text and your message may be lost.

‘Pick a format; make sure it’s clean, easily readable and stick to the same formatting throughout,’ says Paul. ‘It should be logically structured and broken down into clearly marked, easily readable sections. Most follow the same format: personal details followed by education and work experience in chronological order and finally, your other interests. You might want to add a personal statement between your personal details and education explaining your skills and attributes, but keep it brief.

‘You don’t need to include a photo with your CV. This is not standard practice in the UK. However, it is sometimes a requirement in other countries.’

How long should a CV for graduates be?

When it comes to CVs for graduates and school leavers, there are no set rules as to length, though you should follow any instructions given.

‘If the employer wants you to limit your CV to one page, that’s what you need to provide,’ says Paul. ‘As a general guide, a CV should be no more than two pages long. Keep your points brief and to the point. You don’t need to include the words ‘Curriculum Vitae’, or your age, gender or date of birth.’

Don’t skimp on examples. ‘For each of the main skills listed in the job description, provide a brief statement that illustrates how you have used and developed this skill and show the results / achievements as a result of this,’ advises Paul. ‘It’s not enough to simply list tasks and activities.’

Explain the gaps

Recruiters always check for continuity and consistency in your history. If you have a gap between education and employment, always give a brief explanation.

‘Recruiters have no choice but to guess what should be there and why you’ve left it out – and this is nearly always worse than the truth. Gaps in information can result in a lost interview,’ warns Paul.

Check and get feedback

Finally, print off your CV and read through it to make sure it makes sense, there are no gaps in information, and the format is consistent throughout and your grammar and spelling is correct.

‘Get feedback from people you trust,’ advises Paul. ‘Take on board constructive criticism and listen to suggestions about positive traits others see in you that they think you should sell. This will help you to produce a more rounded CV that will be easier to read by recruiters and employers.’

Last but not least, be honest. ‘Don’t provide false or inaccurate information,’ warns Paul. ‘It’s likely you’ll be found out later in the recruitment process or even worse, whilst you’re on the job.’

Ready, steady, go? Post your CV now!

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