There is an art to applying for jobs, and success depends on knowing the rules and using them to your advantage. It’s the same process applying for part-time jobs as it is for graduate positions – remember, in the current economic climate, it is vital that you vary your examples of relevant skills and experience. This page will help you tailor a CV that gets you to interview.
Make an appointment
You can get your CV checked by a Careers Consultant in a Quick Query and longer Careers appointment.
Rules of the game
Making a good CV is like playing a game with the employer, and these are the general guidelines:
- Rule 1 - Recruiters judge your CV based on how well it matches their ‘wish list’ of required skills and experience. To spice up the challenge, they don’t always explain exactly what they want; you will need to find out what they are looking for by doing some focused research.
- Rule 2 - You have about 30 seconds to make a good first impression.
- Rule 3 - Employers assume that what they see is what they get. In most cases, they know nothing about you except what’s on your CV. Their initial decisions are based on this information, so make it count.
Matching the job requirements
- Forget a ‘one size fits all’ CV – you are wasting your time.
- Study the job advertisement and read between the lines to figure out what’s really needed. Use the recruitment literature and company website – if there’s none available look at what other employers produce for similar jobs, or look at the job profiles on the Prospects website.
- Break down broad requirements like ‘excellent communication skills’ by thinking how you’d use them in the job. Would you need to do presentations, write reports, be persuasive, present ideas in meetings, and advise the general public?
- Before starting your CV, try a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis on your relevant skills and experience. It will highlight your main ‘selling points’ and identify any gaps/problems.
Getting yourself noticed
- Decide whether you need a one or two page CV. One page is recommended in some sectors and often better for speculative applications. Academic posts may require three sides with details of publications, conference input etc. Give space and prominence to your strongest selling points – you don’t usually have to include every course module or part-time job.
- Select your basic theme – either one which focuses more on your work experiences or on your skills. The latter can help particularly if you lack related work experience but have useful skills from university activities, other jobs, coursework etc. Your choice depends both on the employer (e.g. you might use a traditional CV for law firms and a more creative approach for advertising agencies) and on where your own strengths lie.
- Headings. Normally this will cover: personal details, education, work experience, skills, interests, and references, but you can select or create your own ‘headlines’ to attract attention to your strongest selling points. Examples include:
- Relevant experience, industrial placements, legal profession experience, customer service employment etc. - f you have done several relevant jobs, placements or periods of voluntary work
- Education and awards - if you have won prizes, scholarships, employer sponsorship
- Additional work experience or employment to fund study/part-time work – these distinguish casual work from professional and career-related experience
- Positions of responsibility – these can highlight informal leadership opportunities as well as official roles
- Achievements - an upbeat heading if you have specific outcomes from your interests
- Additional skills - useful for bringing together languages, IT, driving licence and other relevant qualifications
Location location location
- Give prime position and most space to your most relevant strengths. If you have related work experience, put it high up on your CV. If not, your employment might be better after a section on ‘relevant skills’.
- Normally, use reverse chronological order (i.e. most recent experience first) for education and work experience. That usually means one or two lines for older exam results such as GCSEs and including appropriate details about the degree. A Law student, for example, might list modules and grades for law firms, but précis the degree for other applications. If it’s a casual job, be brief and stress practical skills gained such as use of IT.
Look your best
- Your CV must look professional and be easy to read as employers scan information quickly. Clear headings, well-aligned tabs and reasonable font size. Use good quality paper for hard copies
- Avoid extremes of ‘thin’ text or clutter – separate sections with one or two line spaces and add punch with bullet points and short phrases
- Limit use of sentences and use simple direct language and ‘action words’ for impact
- Avoid generalisations and clichéd phrases like ‘excellent communication skills’ – back up everything you say with specific examples
- Proof read your final version and have a reliable friend check for spelling, grammar and punctuation. Don’t rely on the computer spellcheck
Ensuring they like what they see
- Value your achievements – for example, if you have a disability you may have gained additional skills in managing budgets and people
- Let your enthusiasm shine through – avoid clichéd phrases that probably describe 90% of graduating students
- Demonstrate what you have achieved not just what you have done – explain what makes your experience more interesting or challenging and what you’ve learned from it. Make your role in group activities clear.
- Quantify major achievements - If you have raised significant money for a charity or society, presented to a sizeable group, had your ideas widely implemented, won regional or national awards, supervised a team etc. then show the scale of that achievement
- Discuss how you’ve overcome challenges - such as coping with a disability or learning difficulty
I'm too busy for this, can I cut corners?
Once you have a good CV, you can make amendments for different applications. The biggest time waster is sending lots of below average CVs for jobs that are of little interest.
What should I include under personal information?
- Address(es), email, and phone number(s).
- Include the dates when you’ll be at university and when you will be back at your home address
- There’s no need to include marital status or your NI number
Should I include a general profile or career aim?
Not if it’s of the type, ‘Highly motivated graduate with excellent communication skills seeking a management opportunity in a multi-national company’. However, a list of specific and relevant skills at the beginning of your CV can encourage employers to look further. You can discuss your career aim in a cover letter.
My A-level grades aren’t great. Can I leave them out?
Employers often read the worst into omissions. If you have good reasons for poor A-level performance, it can be better to explain this in your cover letter.
Should I disclose my disability on my CV?
There is no right or wrong answer here - it depends on individual circumstances. Your disability might explain aspects of your CV (e.g. gaps in education or employment or lack of experience) that might otherwise count against you. Alternatively you might feel your disability has no relevance to your future performance at work. If you decide to mention a disability in your CV, you have the chance to anticipate and address employers’ possible concerns about recruiting graduates with disabilities.
You may decide to mention this in your cover letter instead. If so, focus on the positives – your skills and experience; your strategies for dealing with disability and achieving academic and other successes, but don’t let the issue of disability dominate the letter. You may want to consider applying to some of the organisations in the Business Disability Forum who are especially committed to equality of opportunity.
Should I include a photo?
Normally you should only include a photograph of yourself if the employer requests one. In this case, provide a good quality original or scanned version.
Should I include all my part time jobs?
A long list of jobs can distract interest from the most relevant ones. Try summarising the least recent or relevant. For example: “2003-2004 – temporary agency jobs including A, B & C which gave me X, Y and Z skills”
I’m applying for jobs overseas. Are CVs the same?
Usually not: Look at the country profiles in GoinGlobal, and on the websites of agencies recruiting for international jobs.
Some of my education was overseas. Should I explain my qualifications?
You shouldn't expect all employers to be familiar with overseas qualifications; saying you achieved a C grade doesn’t help much if they don’t know the range. Try to show where your grades fit in – e.g. ‘Grade point average 3.33 out of maximum 4.0’ or ‘Economics B (Pass grades A-F)’.
Do I include referees?
Employers don’t normally contact references until after interview, but it’s sensible for an applicant to contact possible referees in advance to ask their permission. Do indicate the status of referees – personal tutor, placement manager etc and provide full contact details, including phone number and email address.
The graphic below should not be copied exactly. The layout is most suitable for students who have had their secondary education in the UK. Treat this as a rough template for a first draft CV.