If you’ve recently graduated or are about to graduate, it’s a great time to start thinking about your graduate Curriculum Vitae (CV.) Your CV is a document that lays out your skills, education, experience, and achievements, and is often the first thing a prospective employer sees when they’re deciding whether or not to hire you.
But what should go on a graduate CV and how do you write one that will help you get the job?
What Goes on a CV?
Each CV is different and there are different ways you can lay yours out. In general, though, all CVs should have most or all of the following sections:
Personal and contact information
Put your full name at the top of your CV. If you go by a different name day to day, put that in brackets after your full, legal name. You should also include a professional-sounding email address (email@example.com is the ideal format) and your phone number. You don’t generally need to include your address unless your geographical location is a particular selling point for some reason.
This is a short statement where you introduce yourself and explain why you want to work for that particular employer and what you can bring to the table. Keep this very brief (2-4 sentences is enough) and weed out any annoying CV cliches and buzzwords!
Work experience and history
This is the most important section of most CVs. This is where you outline any jobs you’ve held in the past, including your current job if you have one. Part-time, temporary, and student positions can go here, too – especially if you don’t have much professional experience.
Remember that the point of your CV is to emphasise why you’re ideal for the job you’re applying for. So include a brief summary of relevant duties and achievements that demonstrate the skills required for the position.
List your employment history in reverse-chronological order with your current or most recent job first.
Your education should also be included in reverse chronological order. In general, this means highlighting Degree-level or Postgraduate qualifications first. Include the degree type (e.g. Bachelor of Science,) the subject, your grade or predicted grade, the institution, and the date you obtained the qualification. Here’s an example:
BSc (Hons) Physics
Upper Second Class Honours (2:1)
University of Cambridge, June 2021
In most circumstances, once you’ve got a degree you do not need to include earlier qualifications on your CV unless they’re highly relevant. If you do choose to do so, include your A Levels (or equivalent) but nothing prior to that.
Did you coach an amateur sports club, volunteer on a charity project, or act as a committee member for a student society while you were studying? Any of these sorts of voluntary experience can go on your CV.
Voluntary positions help to show off your skills just as much as paid jobs do. They also show that you’re actively engaged with the world around you and able to follow through on a commitment.
If the job asks for any other relevant skills that are not covered by your education and experience, or you have any that you believe might be useful, then list them here. This might include skills like proficiency in a particular software package, language skills, or even driving qualifications if relevant.
Resist the temptation to list vague or unquantifiable skills such as “teamwork” or “attention to detail” here. Keep it relevant and specific. If you don’t have anything to list, it’s fine to leave this section out.
Professional qualifications and memberships
If you have taken any relevant non-academic qualifications, list them here. For example, if you’re applying for a marketing job and you have taken a professional certificate in marketing, include that.
You can also include membership of any relevant professional bodies, such as the British Medical Association, Law Society, or Chartered Institute for IT.
What Not to Include
Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to include a picture with your CV. You also do not need to specify any information related to protected characteristics (such as your age, gender, marital or family circumstances, or race.)
There are different schools of thought regarding whether you should include your hobbies and interests on a CV. In general, it won’t hurt your candidacy but it probably won’t strengthen it, either. If you have an extremely unusual or relevant hobby, you might include it to make yourself stand out, but in most cases you’re better off leaving this space for more relevant information.
Finally, do not include the line “references available on request.” Either include the names and details of two referees, or leave this off entirely and wait for the employer to ask for it. If you’re applying online, there is likely to be a separate section for referee information anyway, so there is little point wasting space on it.
Keep It Simple
Some people like to use quirky layouts, fun colour schemes, and fancy paper for their CV. Don’t fall into this trap. With very occasional exceptions (such as showing off your design skills if you’re applying for a graphic design job,) this trick puts style over substance and is more likely to hurt than help your application.
Instead, use a clean and simple layout for your CV. Use a plain white background, black text in a readable font like Times New Roman or Arial, and ensure you leave plenty of white space. Check and double-check for typos and spelling or grammatical errors before you send your CV.
Tailor Your CV for Each Job
Your CV is a working document and should be tweaked and tailored for every job you apply for. Because each job is different, you can’t expect to use the same CV for every application and be successful.
Each time you’re applying for a job, refer to the job description and person specification to inform your decisions about what to include. For example, if you’re going for a customer-facing job, you might emphasise experience that highlights your interpersonal skills. If you’re applying for an administrative job, you might focus on experience that proves how organised you are. And so on.
Always Be Honest
It should go without saying that you should never lie (or embellish the truth) on your CV. You’re likely to get found out, either in the interview or after you’re hired, and it will destroy any trust the employer has in you. In extreme situations, it can even lead to you losing your job and forfeiting a reference.
Honesty is always the best policy.
CV Templates and Professional Writing Services: Yay or Nay?
You can find an array of CV templates online, some better than others. You can use one if you wish, but it’s really not necessary. You can use a basic knowledge of Microsoft Word or similar software to create a functional CV. If you do choose to use a template, use one with a clean and simple layout and colour scheme.
Never pay for a CV-writing service. These are unethical as well as a waste of money! If you need help, ask a friend, family member, teacher or lecturer, or careers guidance counsellor for assistance.