If you’re in your final year, the beginning of your professional life is almost here. But have you prepared your graduate CV? Hays’ Karen Young is here to help.
Have you recently finished or are about to finish education and are about to take your first step into the world of professional work?
If so, then creating your first graduate CV may feel like a daunting task, given that you don’t have much professional experience to your name yet, and the advice your careers counsellor gave you at school is now outdated or forgotten. Understandably, you may be feeling daunted and unsure of where to begin.
You’re not alone; plenty of your peers will have this same dilemma. Let me reassure you, however, that just because your experience may be mainly academic, this doesn’t mean you can’t create a winning graduate CV that showcases your employability.
However, you will need to take the time to plot out the structure, and be resourceful in finding informative, relevant and substantial information to fill each section.
Once you get this right, you can tweak and adapt your CV to each role you apply for, which is much easier than starting from scratch. So, how do you get started on building a strong graduate CV?
First things first, place the essential information at the top. This includes your full name, contact number, your location and a professional-sounding email address (for instance, if your email address is still email@example.com, I would advise changing this ASAP).
Make sure that the email address is one you will check regularly and that your mobile number digits are correct as it is likely either of these two contact details will be the first way a potential employer will contact you, rather than by post.
Beneath this essential information, link to any online professional profiles, such as LinkedIn. Make sure they are up to date and ensure you stay active on these channels, demonstrating your interest in the field of work you are searching for a job in.
A strong personal statement is particularly important for someone without much experience, as this is the part where you can explain why you are applying for this role and why you would be suitable. This information may not be immediately clear if you have no experience within a certain area.
For instance, it would be clear to a recruiter why a sales coordinator with years of experience would be applying for another sales role. However, if you are a history graduate, it may be harder for a recruiter to see why you are applying for a job in sales.
As such, use your personal statement to introduce yourself and explain how your interests, academic and employment background, or your key skills, relate to the role you are applying for. For example:
“I am a history graduate with a keen interest in pursuing a sales career. During my degree, I was largely graded on my presentation skills and this was an area in which I scored highly. I also held a part-time role as a retail assistant and, during this time, I enjoyed developing my interpersonal and customer service skills. I would like to apply my communicative and interpersonal skills to a more challenging sales role where I would have room to grow and develop as a professional.”
Next, create a bulleted list of skills. This part may seem tricky given your lack of professional experience, but I’m willing to bet there are hidden skills that you didn’t even know you had.
- Self-taught skills: Have you taken it upon yourself to upskill in any way while you have been unemployed? If not, it’s never too late to start.
- Transferable skills: So, you may not have had a professional job before, but what about any transferable skills learned during work experience, part-time jobs or education? For instance, using the same example as above, a history degree may require you to write a lot of essays and present to your lecturer. During this time, you will have developed some strong writing and presentation skills.
- Soft skills: Discover your soft skills, ie the skills that reflect your personality traits and can’t really be taught, such as being naturally well organised and a problem-solver. Reflect upon which traits people have always praised you for, whether it’s your teachers, friends or family, and take some (often free of charge) online aptitude tests to discover more about your core strengths.
If you are struggling, don’t worry. It may be easier for you to think of these skills once you have completed the career history and education part of your CV, so you can come back to this later.
This is often the part where many first-time jobseekers get stuck. If this area of your graduate CV is looking particularly bare, then I would advise that you include everything, even if it’s not relevant to the role you are applying for – for instance, volunteer work or a part-time job you had while studying.
Including these roles will demonstrate your work ethic, maturity and employability. List your experience in chronological order, always starting with your most recent role, and include the company name, your job title and your employment dates, ensuring these are correct.
Underneath, write a couple of lines detailing your role and, beneath that, a bulleted list of your responsibilities and which key skills you developed as a result, plus any career highlights and achievements. If you can link to online examples of your work, even better, but be careful not to over-complicate it.
Avoid using too many CV clichés when talking about your career history. These clichés tend to be overused phrases that don’t really provide any evidence of the skills you claim to have – for example, stating that you ‘provided great customer service’ without giving any other information to support this statement.
Instead, use action verbs to explain how you provided great customer service, and give examples. For instance, rather than saying ‘provided’, you could use the action verb ‘improved’. Action verbs sound much stronger on a CV and prompt you to provide evidence of your strengths.
Lastly, do not, under any circumstances, make anything up or overexaggerate about your experience. Sure, there is information you could omit, and you can read more about just how transparent you should be with your graduate CV here, but by no means create fiction for the hiring manager.
This can be very easily uncovered during an interview, or, thanks to the thoroughness of most professional recruiters, beforehand. Needless to say, you will quickly be dismissed from the hiring process.
Next, add your recent education, starting with the last place you studied. List the educational institution, the dates you studied there, your course title and qualification type, and which grade you received.
You can also use this space to include which different projects you worked on at university, linking to any online examples and mentioning the skills you developed as a result. There are occasions, where your career history is very limited or you have no work experience at all, that you might put the education section above the career history and this is fine, and often something I recommend.
This section is not to be underestimated and can give your hiring manager an insight into your personality. List your hobbies/interests and remember to include any extracurricular activities you were involved with during your time in education.
Don’t be afraid to go into more detail in this section, talking about any individual team achievements or personal awards, plus the core strengths and skills you developed during this time.
For instance, you might mention how you played for your university women’s football team, and how this team reached the semi-finals of the national university championships.
At the end of your CV, remember to add a final subheading titled ‘Additional information’. This should include any other qualifications, licences or certificates that don’t clearly belong in any other sections of your CV or add much value to the role you are applying for, but are still worth mentioning – for instance, being trained in first aid or having a clean driving licence.
Put ‘References available upon request’ at the very end of your CV.
A final note-check before you send
Lastly, don’t forget to proofread your CV multiple times, looking out for these common errors. I would advise asking somebody with more professional experience than you to check and provide feedback on your graduate CV as well.
So, you may not have much professional experience, but that’s really no reason to panic. By following my guidance, you can create an impressive graduate CV by optimising the skills you didn’t even know you had, without embellishing the truth or providing irrelevant information.
Your graduate CV is your ticket to getting you on the path to job-search success, so take the time to carefully follow these steps, and no doubt you will get that phone call (or email) inviting you to an interview in no time.
By Karen Young
Karen Young is a director at Hays and is responsible for the UK finance recruitment business.
A version of this article originally appeared on Hays’ Viewpoint blog.