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Need a CV for the UK graduate job market?

There are many CVs circulating in the job market in different formats, styles, number of pages, font sizes etc. The important thing about your CV is the story you are telling about yourself. This is your story, your experience, your evidence, ultimately your brand. Recognise that different recruiters may have different needs and wants in their ‘ideal’ CV. This means you can’t please everybody all of the time but hopefully your investment in your document (and your profile) will show the type of person you are and what you have to offer. Of course where a recruiter asks for your document to include specific information and/or be in a particular format, you must ensure you follow their instructions if you really want the job!

I made reference to ‘your profile’ above — if well-developed, this makes the CV so much easier to write. You’ll have so much evidence to call on from your education, work experience, free-time interests, positions of responsibility, awards, achievements, travels etc. that the only problem you’ll have, if at all, is getting all of that story down on the CV to best effect. However if you don’t have a story to tell then you have a much bigger problem — how do you pack out your CV? Experienced recruiters will spot immediately a CV that’s using padding to fill in the space. It won’t make much impact, certainly not the impact that you’d be hoping for. However if you are reading this as a current student and feel your profile is not where you would like it to be, you still have time to do something about this. Don’t delay — get out and maximise on your university or college experience — it’s not just about studying and sitting exams!

Think about what you could be doing:

- Next summer vacation: a placement? If yes — great, but…could you add value by travelling at the end of it? It’ll make it a really great summer to remember!

- On-campus: joined any clubs or societies? engaging in sport? volunteering? any positions of responsibility? mentoring earlier year’s students? Seek out these opportunities, enhance your university/college experience.

-Off-campus: part-time job? volunteering? caring for a family member? community work?

Get the very best out of this time — you won’t regret it! Your CV will benefit significantly from it. Your profile/story will be so much stronger that there will be no need for padding. Your story will stand out — for the right reasons!

To get the maximum benefit from all of these experiences you must do one thing: reflect! Ask yourself what skills, qualities, attributes were/are being developed from these various experiences. Reflecting will add true value (and enhance your competitiveness) — don’t just offer details of the experience, tell the reader what you gained from it.

Your CV is a document that should never be shared with any of your classmates or potential competitors. This is a document that is unique to you, both in terms of your experiences and the presentation/formatting of the document. There never should be any gimmicks or shortcuts in your CV. Invest strongly in the content and presentation — you will be rewarded for your effort.

My advice when developing your CV is to get your ‘story’ on paper — in full! This may mean the original document — or the ‘core’ document as I will refer to in this article — may be 3, 4 or more pages long in the first instance. The core document is never seen by an employer. This will be your resource from which you will select appropriate information as you tailor and target your CV for specific opportunities. So at the start of the process make sure all of the key things about you are identified and recorded in your core document. Get it all out! Typically the final document will be 2 sides of A4 for the UK job market. Some CVs — quite often very good CVs — are 1 side of A4. Whatever your preference make sure that it works for you i.e. that it is competitive! Ensure that your document is well crafted; makes immediate impact. Make the reader want to read it!

You may have a number of CVs. Perhaps for different job roles, different job sectors, graduate jobs, vacation placements, term-time jobs. While they should all be different from each other, albeit only slightly in most cases, they will all be drawn from the core document. It also means that you’re not going to be writing your CV from the beginning every time you apply for a job. (It should also mean that you don’t send off the same CV to every employer — strongly not advised if you really want the job!).

The format of your document is very important. It must be easy to read; easy to pick out the key points. Be comfortable using bullet points for example — they allow the information to be presented concisely without losing any of the message. Avoid big long paragraphs or lines of dense, heavy text. They probably will not be read! Please make it easy for the reader — it’s in your best interest to do so.

Have you ever thought about how much time is spent by recruiters reviewing individual CVs? Somewhere between 30–60 seconds seems to be quite common. Can your document be read in full in that time? However not every recruiter will give as much time as this to reviewing CVs — some have told me recently it can be as little as 7 seconds! Ask yourself — what can a recruiter learn from your CV in that time?

One thing that can put a recruiter off reading your CV is the font size. I’ve seen too many CVs in a font size 8 (!) They did not encourage me to read the document. It created a negative impression at the outset. Remember — first impressions really do count. Ideally you should use size 11 or 12. If you cannot get your document on the required number of pages and feel you have to reduce the font size to get it to fit — what does that say about your written communication? Not many, if any, recruiters will impressed with your Word skill of being able to reduce the size of a font! You must go back to your CV content — review, revise & edit once again. Show you have the required written communication skills!

In many cases when the processing of CVs begins, recruiters will deposit your CV under one of the following headings: ‘Yes’ — proceed to the next stage; ‘Maybe’ — put on hold; ‘No’ — reject…….bin!

You have to make sure that your document lands on the ‘Yes’ list and stays there! Often this list has to be reviewed yet again to get those going onto the next stage — often the first interview — down to a manageable number. Recruitment is expensive. This tells you that if you have been selected for interview you’re a serious contender for the job. No-one gets invited for interview just to make up the numbers!

So get started on developing your core CV. Don’t worry about the formatting at this stage. Identify your ‘key selling points’ or put simply, your ‘must-tells’ — get them into your document. These will be key when you get to interview — make sure you don’t overlook them.

Think of the main headings:

Name; Contact Details; Education; Work Experience; Interests; References ……Skills!

Optional headings/sub-headings:

Projects (individual, group); Awards/Achievements; Positions of Responsibility; Professional Experience/Other Work Experience; Additional Qualifications; Personal Profile/Career Objective/Summary.

(Also — if you use LinkedIn make sure you hyperlink to your profile).

You can decide how you want set out your document. Decide the style that fits best with your story. Don’t feel obliged to put every ‘optional heading’ into your document. You might include ‘Awards’ in your ‘Education’ or ‘Interests’ section where appropriate; you might choose to ‘sprinkle’ your skills across your CV rather than have a separate heading. It’s up to you.

Once you have the outline in place i.e. the main headings, start to populate with the detailed information. Present a positive, interesting story. Make sure it’s true and honest. Make sure it can be backed up with evidence. Include dates where appropriate; double-check there are no date gaps. The STAR technique can help you tell your story concisely i.e. Situation, Task, Action, Result. This can be particularly useful when explaining your projects or work experience. You can also use it in application forms and in interview.

Make sure you develop your own style — don’t copy from the internet or worse copy a brother/sister/friend/classmate’s document! Develop your brand — make it yours!

Now your document is ready to be tailored to meet the needs of the person specification from the job description for the post you are applying for. (Remember — the recruiter never sees your core document!) Be sure to use the terminology used in the person specification — the recruiter will recognise the effort you’ve made.

Getting that interview you’re seeking doesn’t come down to luck. It comes down mainly to how much effort you put into your documentation. OK — you might not get an interview from every application you submit but you can help yourself enormously if you invest in the process as advised.

Do you really want to get that job? What are you waiting for?


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Written by

My name is Alan Robertson - a careers adviser, counsellor, coach and motivator with over 30 years experience supporting UK university students and graduates.

Career Conversations

Written by

My name is Alan Robertson - a careers adviser, counsellor, coach and motivator with over 30 years experience supporting UK university students and graduates.

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