The complete guide to writing the perfect graduate CV to land your first job. Written by the professional CV writing specialists at CV Nation – the UK’s leading CV writing consultants.
When you come to the end of your university degree or your high school studies, it’s time to start applying for jobs. One of the most difficult aspects of the job search process for many graduates is preparing a professional CV that illustrates their skills and experiences in the most effective way.
The task of compiling everything you have learned and gained over the previous years into a CV is a daunting task. How do you condense all those important modules and life lessons into a one or two page CV? How do you ensure your CV is sending out the right message about you as a graduate? Here, we provide a complete guide on how to write the perfect graduate CV.
1. Education – As a graduate, your education is your most sellable asset. It’s important that you utilise your academic experience because this is what is going to encourage recruiters to hire you.
Start your graduate CV with a short introductory paragraph that describes you as a professional. Follow this with an education section that goes into significant detail. Unlike CVs for more experienced professionals, it’s standard to highlight the titles of the modules you have studied and the more precise aspects of your courses. Include the grades you achieved, the university/school name, dates and any other relevant information.
2. Skills – Aside from including the details of your education, draw on your education to cover other areas/sections of your CV. For example, include a skills section and highlight the skills that you gained and developed during the course of your academic experiences. Maybe you developed strong team working skills while working closely with others on university projects. You could also tie other skills into this project, such as time management, organisation and attention-to-detail.
Did you take part in extra-curricular activities at university or high school? Maybe you captained the university rugby team or managed school clubs? These activities all involve leadership, organisation and communication.
Ensure to exploit the skills you gained during your education. List them using bullet points and describe in two or three sentences how you demonstrated them during your time at university or school.
- Leadership: Demonstrated leadership qualities while serving as the chairman of the University Student Support Group. This involved managing events, liaising with senior university professionals and delegating tasks to other members of the group.
3. Work Experience – Include your most relevant work experience first, below your skills section. Even if your most relevant work experience is short placements or voluntary periods of employment, ensure this is the focus of your work experience section. If you have been in full or part time employment in a role that is unrelated to your ambitions or studies, include these positions in a section at the end of your CV.
Ideally you will have work experience in roles related to your education and your career ambitions. If so, describe what you learned and what experiences you gained. Try to highlight activities that show your enthusiasm for your targeted line of work. For example, if you’re a law graduate looking for your first law position, maybe you could draw attention to that time when you assisted lawyers with court proceedings and developed a knowledge of the court process.
4. Awards, Prizes and Achievements – Include your awards, prizes and achievements, and try to link relevant skills into these. These can be related to either employment, education or extra-curricular activities, but ensure to place the initial focus on those that are most relevant to the role you applying to.
5. Interests and Hobbies – Unlike CVs for experienced professionals, it’s fine to include your interests and hobbies in your graduate CV. It’s likely that your key interests will be related to your education or degree, so use these to demonstrate your enthusiasm for your targeted industry. For example, maybe you could include your interest in reading industry-related newspapers and attending industry-related events.
If you’re hobbies and interests are generic, it’s a good idea to leave them out of your graduate CV. Hobbies such as ‘running, TV and movies’ are not going to add a great deal of value to your CV.
Skills Employers Want in Graduates?
According to a recent survey, the most sought after soft skill in graduates is active listening. In the survey that gathered information from over 650 HR professionals and Hiring Managers, 74% indicated that listening was the skill that they valued the highest. 70% indicated that attention-to-detail was vital, while 69% selected communication. So, according to the study, the three most important skills for graduate roles are listening, attention-to-detail and communication.
What are these skills and how can you demonstrate them in your graduate CV?
Listening Skills – The skill of listening is the ability to follow instructions and interpret information. Effective listening helps to improve efficiency, solve problems, optimise communication and reduce errors. Poor listening skills result in poor performance and mistakes.
Demonstrate your listening skills in your graduate CV by describing your ability to work to instructions. Highlight specific achievements and link them into your active listening skills.
* Identified problems with a client's account through active listening. Developed resolutions in collaboration with the Manufacturing department and saved £3.3M
Attention-to-Detail – Attention-to-detail is the ability to be accurate, thorough and focused. Sound attention-to-detail skills ensure you avoid errors and mistakes, which can lead to cost savings, efficiency improvements and overall success.
The easiest way to show recruiters you possess strong attention-to-detail skills is through the appearance of your CV. If you send in a polished, error free CV with professional sections and honed writing, you instantly convey your penchant for attention-to-detail.
Additionally, include achievements that describe your attention-to-detail. These might state that you delivered a cost saving by noticing an error or solved a problem by identifying the root cause of an issue.
Communication – Communication is a broad term that encompasses listening, presentation, writing, speaking, negotiation, influencing etc. Quality communication optimises productivity and ensures the smooth-running of operations.
A professional graduate CV will bring out your communication skills in various ways.
Start by structuring your CV in the correct way. The aim of your CV is to communicate your experiences and skills to the reader; doing this in a concise, flowing manner will say a lot about your ability to effectively communicate.
As with the previous skills, try to link your communication skills into your achievements. You will likely find that communication was involved in all of your achievements in some form. For example, if you created a new student organisation at university, go into detail about how you engaged with members of staff and external professionals. Maybe you had to influence others to buy in to your ideas. Maybe you had to listen and take advice on board? These all offer a platform to draw attention to your communication skills.
Finally, your graduate CV should be submitting alongside a tailored cover letter. Your cover letter should be written in line with the values and culture of the company you are applying to, touching on why you want to work for the company and what you can offer as an employee. Ensure the right level of enthusiasm for the role and the company comes across in your writing, and if possible use the STAR approach to provide specific examples of how you have added value in the past.
If you feel that you could benefit from further help with preparing your graduate CV, feel free to get in touch with our professional CV writers here.