I see dozens of CVs a day. They come in many different styles, and there is often a huge difference in quality. Over the years I have worked with 100s of employers, and the number of candidates that I have placed is into 4 figures, so I have an idea about what makes a good CV.  These are a few tips based on my own experience and preferences. I hope they will be helpful.

Even professional CV writers don’t always agree on the best layout and structure. Everyone has their own preferences, myself included. In truth, there is no right or wrong way;  though there can be some variances between career types. The key thing to remember is that the CV is there to get relevant information across to the recruiter, with the aim of attracting their attention. Make sure its formatted well, has key information on it, and is relevant to the role you are applying for. There is a template below that you can download, and fill in your own details.

The importance of work experience:
As a graduate you may have limited work experience, and it’s important to make the most of what you have. The person reading your CV will be looking to get an idea of your overall employability, not just your technical knowledge.

Some students and graduates have left work experience off their CV as it was not directly relevant to the job they were applying for. Please believe me that this is one of the worst things that you can do- add all your work experience, and be proud of it.

One example was a graduate who had worked for a well-known supermarket for 4 years, part-time during term and full-time during the summer. He had held down a demanding job for several years, shown loyalty, was obviously well thought of by his employer, and had developed a range of skills. Yet he had left it off the CV because he had been advised that it was not relevant. He only had the degree listed, and gave the impression that he had never had any kind of work experience. This is not something that is attractive to employers.

All work experience is valuable; whether it be a part-time Saturday job, voluntary work, university society work, cleaning, catering. Or anything else you have done. Be proud of it.  And if a job is not on the CV, it can’t really be used to support competency based answers to interview questions.

I used to be a Manager of a betting shop, and employed many undergraduates in part-time jobs. It was great to see them grow in confidence and develop a range of skills. They were then able to give examples in many work-related areas, including: teamwork, working under pressure, numeracy, communication, prioritisation, handling difficult situations, and many more. And don’t underestimate the importance of showing that you have a good work ethic and can hold down a job, with all that entails – including a reference.

If you had loads of part-time jobs while studying (particularly if they were one-off assignments for an agency), they can be grouped together. For example: September 2019-June 2020 Various assignments related to bar-work, customer service, and waitressing on behalf of recruitment agencies (a bit more detail than that, but you get the picture).

If you have a side-hustle, this should also be on your CV, Be careful not to overplay it though, as if the employer thinks that it will get most of your time (and may even progress to the stage that you leave your ‘day job’) then it can give a concern about long-term commitment.

If you do have any directly relevant work experience, including internships and placements, then it is a huge advantage. Make sure this is particularly prominent. This includes things you have done in your own time, or as a hobby.

Hints and tips:

  • First impressions count, so make sure you are happy with how the CV will represent you. This is one of the most important documents that you will ever prepare. If there are errors then it can give the impression of carelessness / lack of attention. Not good at spelling? Use the spellcheck or a programme such as Grammarly. Or ask someone to check it for you.
  • Make sure that you cover the key parts of your education; particularly if it’s something that is relevant to that employer. Write about modules, or projects; focus on the bits that may be most relevant to the job you are applying for.
  • I often hear from graduates that they have been advised by someone that the CV should only be one page. I would disagree. Two pages is ideal. Whenever I see a one page CV I can’t help but feel that something is missing. And often when I speak further I find that they took something useful out to make sure it stayed at one page. At the opposite extreme, anything 3 or more pages is probably too much.
  • Often when a CV is too lengthy (3+ pages) the reason is wasted space. For example, massive margins, too large font sizes (10-11 is ok). Also using too much space- an example is listing the degree date, course, and university in 3 lines. And listing multiple modules (often with single word titles) in bullet points: they may be; better; listed; like this – so it’s across the page.
  • Unless you are going for creative design type positions you will almost certainly not be judged on how artistic your CV is. The most important thing is to get across the information that is relevant to the recruiter in a clear way. I don’t see any need for boxes etc- particularly as they can take up valuable space (and make it hard to update if you need to add something).
  • Employment related bullet points of key achievements are always powerful. Perhaps showing something you did that had a positive effect on the business. And if these can be shown in measurable terms (for example % increase) all the better.
  • It’s a good idea to update your CV as you are going, or at least make a note of any key achievements / projects so they can be added later. Otherwise you will be trying to remember everything that you did – believe me, I have been there myself!
  • Write in the first person, not the third person (so you are referring to yourself, not as if someone else has written it for you). I know a lot of other recruiters, and all agree with me on this.
  • There is no need to put national insurance number, photograph, or reference details (or even to say ‘references are available on request’). I would put your location but there is no need for your full address. And if you have your own transport mention it.
  • I would advise against using your university email address for contact, as at some point you may no longer have access to it. It’s easy to set up your own email account, and will look more professional.
  • Make sure you have a professional looking email address – so nothing daft, jokey- or even worse (I have seen some crackers in my time!).
  • When adding work experience make sure dates are added, including months- this is important as it shows how long you were in those jobs (for example ‘2019-2020’ could mean anything from 2 to 24 months, whereas ‘January 2019 to June 2020’ shows that it was 18 months). Also, make sure you add the year that you finished (or are due to finish) your degree.
  • Some CVs have a ‘hobbies and interests section’ and there is debate about whether this should be on there. I would say yes: it adds something a bit different and can sometimes help to open conversations with the recruiter. If your hobby is something that is related to the job then even better. But if you don’t want to have this section then it is not a problem.
  • When saving and sending a CV I would always recommend using the ‘save as’ feature and naming the file, even if it’s just your name, rather than using the default title. It may seem a little thing, but it looks a lot better when it arrives as an attachment- and it also makes it easier for the recruiter to find your details amongst all the other applications.

Matthew Parry

Director. SME Graduate Employment

SME Graduate employment is a specialist graduate recruitment agency. Covering permanent roles, fixed-term contracts, student / undergraduate and graduate internships, and sandwich placements. All areas of the UK, and most industries and job types.

Students or graduates: You can see student and graduate jobs advertised here and read more blogs and advice to help develop your employability skills here

If you are looking for work email a CV to matthew@sme-graduates.co.uk together with a summary of what you are looking for and I will get back to you.

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