Today’s graduate job market is very competitive and your CV is your prime marketing tool. It must highlight your skills and achievements in a clear and positive light which will persuade the employer to call you for an interview. Taking time and some simple advice can really make all the difference. Here we will show you how to write an impressive CV and how to avoid the pitfalls.
- What should I include in my CV?
There is no single perfect way in which to write your CV, but there are general rules and principles to follow. All CVs need to contain some standard information, which normally includes:
Name, address, telephone number and e-mail address. Your personal details should not take up a large amount of space. Many people put them at the top of their CV directly underneath their name.
Career goal or personal profile
Many employers and recruiters like to see a personal profile or summary on a CV. It is not essential, but it can help demonstrate that you are focused (as long as you are). The section should be short and concise: three lines is about the right length. It should clarify your career plan and/or highlight your key qualities.
I am a highly motivated, confident and enthusiastic graduate in mechanical engineering with an aptitude for working in a team. Whilst studying I gained work experience in the maintenance department of an oil & gas company. I am now looking for a stimulating and challenging position in a research & development department in an offshore company.
Education and qualifications
List all your educational achievements, starting with the most recent. You do not need to list your secondary school qualifications in great detail. If you graduated with distinction or Cum Laude you should mention this. It’s not necessary to include your grades.
It is a worth providing a little more detail about your degree course, as employers will not know the detail of what you have studied and how it might be relevant to the job. Highlight the most pertinent modules and your MSc thesis, final year project or another significant piece of work which demonstrates your skills. For example, did you have any link with an employer as part of your course and how did this develop your collaboration skills?
Employment and work experience
This section should include details of previous and current employment (including temporary and part time), work placements, work experience and voluntary work. If the list is long, you may want to select the most relevant or significant examples.
It will help employers if you list briefly the experience and skills you gained in each case.
- If you are writing a chronological CV, list each job in turn and give a brief description of the key tasks involved, your achievements, and the skills you gained or developed.
- If you are writing a skills based CV, list all your jobs briefly but also have a section called 'skills' or another appropriate heading.
This section provides you with an opportunity to sell yourself using information outside your employment and other work experience. You can create subdivisions within it. For example, academic achievements such as prizes; sporting achievements; memberships of clubs and societies. Explain to the employer how these achievements make you a desirable candidate. For example, you may be a member of the local rowing club but might also act as treasurer, which is a position of responsibility and involves organisational and money handling skills.
If you do not already have a Skills section as part of a skills based CV, you may wish to include one detailing specific skills relating to, for example, IT or languages. In either case, list quantifiable (e.g. language) and abstract (orking) skills separately. Employers will scan your CV for key phrases (e.g. IT skills) and they won't always search too hard.
Be specific about your level of competency regarding IT skills, rather than simply listing 'Word, Excel, Internet'. Say whether you are proficient, competent, or a beginner. The same applies for language skills. Are you a beginner, intermediate or fluent? It can also be useful to distinguish between speaking, reading and listening.
Interests and leisure activities
Many people like to indicate what they do in their spare time, such as sports, visiting the theatre, or playing a musical instrument. Give priority to active rather than passive activities, and avoid a long list which gives no details. Think about why the employer would want to know what you do, and how you can tell them what's relevant. Selecting your words carefully can show how your interests have developed your skills or other attributes. For example, phrases like 'independent travel' suggest that you are resourceful and adaptable.
It is usual to list two referees, ideally one from university (such as a personal tutor) and one from an employer. Alternatively you can simply say 'References available upon request', especially if you are short of space.
Date of birth
It is unlawful for the European employers to discriminate against candidates on the basis of age. It is therefore entirely up to you whether or not to state your date of birth. The dates you went to school will be a good enough indication in any case!
Marital status and gender
Unless specifically and legitimately requested for the post (which is uncommon), you should not generally include marital status and gender. However, you may choose to do so if your first name is gender neutral (e.g. Chris).
It is not mandatory to state your nationality, but such information can be useful. It can help clarify your ability to work in a country. If you are an international student you can use this section to clarify your work permit status. Although many do, some European employers do not recruit non EU nationals who need work permits and so early disclosure is advisable to avoid disappointment.
- How should I present my CV?
Employers want to receive legible, clearly presented CVs, demonstrating care, effort and attention to detail. The way in which you present your CV may make the difference between an employer reading it thoroughly or not bothering at all.
Your CV should enable the reader to find the information they need quickly and without difficulty. They may have many more to read through, and if yours is difficult to read for any reason they may set it aside in favour of others. Similarly nothing says 'I'm not that bothered' like a CV with spelling mistakes or typos in it. Always double check for errors or, better still, get someone else to look at it.
Formatting your CV
Following a few basic formatting rules is the safest way to produce a readable and attractive CV. Some formatting is desirable to distinguish between different parts of the document. It helps break up the text and should make it easier to read.
- Bold (sparingly) to highlight headings and subheadings.
- Font sizes to distinguish between headings and other text.
- An 11 or 12 point font size.
- A font style that is easy to read. Serif fonts (so called because of the 'feet' or extender lines on the letters) are easier to read on paper. Times New Roman is a good standard example, but Bookman or Garamond are effective alternatives.
- Tables to align columns of writing, but don't have the borders visible.
- Too much bold or nothing will stand out.
- Too many variations in font size. It confuses the reader's eye.
- Headings entirely in capitals. They are difficult to read.
- Bold and underlining together. They serve the same purpose and bold is generally preferable.
- Background images. They distract attention and make the text harder to read.
Spelling errors and typos
Incorrect spelling or grammar and typographical errors in your CV will make it easy for an employer to reject you at the first stage, particularly if there is strong competition for a job or graduate training programme. Errors show a general apathy towards doing your best and clearly demonstrate that attention to detail, which many employers seek, is not your strong point. They can also get in the way of the reader's understanding.
When you think you have completed your CV, check it thoroughly, and then get someone else to do the same. Reading it aloud can also help to identify any problems. Make one final check before you send it off, particularly if you have made any amendments.
- Things to remember
Read our Quick Guide and improve your CV according our CV checklist.
Emailing your CV
Most employers and recruitment agencies accept CVs via email and many prefer them to be submitted in this way.
- Put your name and the job title, and reference number if applicable, in a header on each page of the attachment.
- Give the attachment a meaningful name. The employer may receive many documents called cv.doc. Use your name, e.g. johnsmithcv.doc and johnsmithcoveringletter.doc to distinguish yours.
- Make the subject box of the email meaningful, by including the job title and reference number and your name.
- Remember to attach the document(s) and include the words ‘please find attached’ in the body of your email to direct attention to it.
- Write your email in a formal style. You don't know who will see it.
- Use a professional sounding email address.
- Check and double check everything, including the recipient's address, before clicking 'send'.
- Ask for confirmation that your email and attachment has been received.
- Finding the right words
Using appropriate language and writing styles in your CV will make it easy for employers to understand the information you send them. It will also help create a good first impression and demonstrate effective communication skills.
Which style of writing?
There is no right or wrong stylistic approach to use when writing your CV. There are examples and suggestions below, but ultimately the choice is yours. Choose the style which suits you best.
The only essential rule is to be consistent. Choose one style of writing and stick to it. Many people start writing in one way and then switch to another. As a result, the document does not read well and may not make sense. Employers will only make so much effort to understand what you are telling them.
An effective and direct way of writing about yourself is to use the first person or ‘I’.
I am keen to pursue a career in Architecture and currently contribute CAD drawings for the renovation of the student association building. I wish to undertake a work experience placement in TIEN+ Architecten as my long term career goal is to be specialist in renovation projects.
An increasingly common way of presenting yourself in a CV is to write in a passive manner without using ‘I’ or your name at all.
Keen to pursue a career in Architecture and currently contributing CAD drawings for the renovation of the student association building. A work experience placement in TIEN+ Architecten will provide relevant experience for long term career goal of renovation architect.
Passive writing is often used to good effect when writing text in bullet points. Bulleted lists sound objective and clear, and can steer you away from the temptation to write a mini essay about yourself. For once, properly constructed sentences aren't essential and you can convey as much information in less space.
In this post, I volunteered to provide IT training to colleagues in my department and others. I also did the induction training for new members of the team.
Volunteered to provide IT training to administration colleagues and inducted new members into the team.
- Using power words to sell yourself
Action verbs or power words will help you explain what you actually did in any situation you give as an example in your CV. Using power words to begin sentences about your achievements can also encourage you to think positively about what you have done and can do in the future. It can be hard to think of different ways of expressing what seem to be everyday tasks. The attached list of words may provide some inspiration on potential words to use.
- Show some enthusiasm!
A little enthusiasm goes a long way. Someone with an enthusiastic approach, who clearly expresses their interest in the work, will often stand a better chance of getting a job than a person with similar skills and experiences who assumes that enthusiasm is either not necessary or goes without saying. So your CV should convey strongly your interest in and motivation for the post as well as your skills and experience.
A common mistake to make when applying for a job is to assume that those reading it will take for granted that you are interested in it simply because you have applied. But employers will rarely, if ever, make assumptions about you. If you do not state something clearly, and back it up with evidence where appropriate, they are less likely to give your application serious consideration.
- Things to avoid when writing
The language that you use in your CV will determine how easily your message is conveyed to the reader. Some types of language create obstacles which slow the reader down, and which they may not bother trying to overcome.
It is fine to use complex terms and language if you come from a very technical or specialised area, as long as it is relevant to the job or placement you are applying for. It is usual and polite to include a full definition on the first use of any abbreviations or acronyms, in case the reader is unfamiliar with them.
Officious or flowery language
Although your CV is a formal document, there is no need to write it in a style too far removed from the way in which you would speak to someone. The language you use should be easily understandable on first reading and neither confuse nor irritate the reader. Keep things simple and clear and make the information you supply relevant and interesting.