If you’re staring at a blank page, wondering how 16 years of education has amounted to membership of the funny hat society and 50m swimming badge then fear not, Finalist can free you from depths of CV writer’s block.
A CV is essentially a sales document,’ says Victoria Atwell from CV consultancy service, V&J Associates. ‘So it is vital that you structure the CV so that the reader is instantly drawn to your strongest selling points. Put yourself in the employer’s shoes and ask yourself: ‘what would I want to see if I was recruiting for this role’. Once you have identified this, structure the CV so the most relevant information is at the top, working down to the supplementary information.’
Sounds easy so far? Ahem, maybe not. In fact, one of the hardest things about writing your first graduate CV is identifying what experience you have which might translate into that all-important ‘relevant information’ that employers are looking for. And if you’re beginning to worry that your employment history may be looking a little on the thin side, then don’t panic – chances are you have lots of experience which will be valuable to employers you just need to consider how best to sell it.
The experience gap
Experts like Victoria have plenty of advice to offer graduates who are worried about expanding upon their work experience:
‘A skills based CV is an effective style for graduates, as it allows transferable skills from all areas of your life to be displayed in a way which will allow the reader to instantly see what you can bring to the role,’ advises Victoria.
‘Rather than the traditional chronological CV, which lists your responsibilities under each job you have held, a skills based CV, will combine your experiences from school, university, work and your personal life under key skill headings. This will enable you to show yourself in the best possible light, allowing you to concentrate on experiences from university and your personal life and will detract from the fact that you have limited work experience.’
The right fit
Once you have pulled together all of your experience, now comes the hard part, actually relating it to the role that you are applying for. One of the biggest mistakes that many graduates make is trying to create a one size fits all CV, in other words a CV, singular. In fact the best approach to have a few different versions of your CV ready to be tweaked and tailored to each job you apply for. As Sarah Evans, Director of Client Services from Discovery Recruitment and Training advises:
‘One of the key things that we always recommend that candidates do is think about the role that they are applying for when they are putting their CV together and really relate the work experience that they have had to the specific role. We appreciate that candidates are applying for different positions and therefore it may be necessary to prepare a couple of different CVs.’
In order to do this well, you will need to learn to pitch yourself effectively to different employers and that will mean doing some research. Aas Jim Bright, author of Brilliant CV: What Employers Want to See and How to Say It, explains:
‘Know exactly what the employer is looking for by reading the ad and position description and doing extra research like calling a contact person, getting on the web and searching or reading newspaper articles about the company or industry.’ Then think back to all of the experience you have identified and consider how you can relate this to the research you have done.
And the final tips for achieving the perfect fit? ‘Include only positive information about yourself on the CV,’ says Jim. ‘A simple rule: if it increases the fit between you and the position offered include it on the CV. If it reduces the fit between you and the position, omit it from the CV and if it is neutral with respect to fit, only include it if there is room.’
And now for the practicalities
Now you’ve drawn together your experience and you know how to relate it to what employers are looking for it’s time to put pen to paper. There are lots of different opinions about the perfect CV layout so here are just some of the basics:
‘Employers first impressions are created by the layout of the CV and the feel/quality of the paper,’ advises Jim. ‘Plenty of white space, consistent headings, readable conventional font and good quality white paper (e.g. 90gsm) are all important.’
‘A graduate CV should be 1 or 2 pages long and should never exceed 2 pages,’ suggests Victoria. ‘To make it easy to read, separate the CV into clear sections and bullet point the information. Ensure you use a standard business font such as Times New Roman, Ariel or Tahoma and the font size should not be too small (between 10 -12). Avoid graphics, colour or excessive use of italics and underline. The “busier” the CV, the less impact it will have. Simplicity is the key.’
‘The general rule is to make sure that the information at the top of the CV is the most relevant,’ says Sarah. ‘So make sure that the first half of the first page of the CV has all the relevant information on it.’
Once you’ve got the structure right, it’s time for the optional extras. According to Sarah a personal statement is one extra definitely worth considering: ‘A personal profile is the thing that entices somebody to want to read on,’ she says. ‘The one thing that candidates need to remember is the sheer volume of CVs that are passing in front of HR managers, HR directors, or managers when they are looking through applications - so make sure that your personal profile is short and punchy, outlines the role you are interested in and gives a little snapshot about why you are going to be right for that job.’
Standing out too much
‘Silly gimmicks or over the top stuff will prove a huge turn off for employers,’ says Jim. ‘I have done a study that shows that wacky looking CVs are not read by recruiters and are lower rated on all dimensions.’
‘Quite often we see candidates who have done some work experience or shadowing but then not thought to put it on their CV because it has been voluntary,’ says Sarah. ‘However unpaid work is certainly very relevant.’
‘Another common reason for rejection is the fact that the CV is not punchy enough,’ says Victoria. ‘It is important to remember that an employer will only give your CV approximately 30 seconds of their time. They want to flick their eye over the document and instantly see what you do and what you have achieved. If this information is hidden in pages of text and soft generalisations, the reader will simply get bored and will not read it.’
Author: Zannah Ingraham