Perfecting Your CV: 9 Tips for Students
Your CV is the gateway to your future career. It’s the first point of contact that a potential employer will have with you, so you should embrace every bit of space on the page. There’s a reason why CVs are still as prominent as they were years ago – they’re the most effective way for an employer to assess a candidate’s ability to do the job.
Your CV is a sales pitch that tells the employer why you should be interviewed for the role over another candidate. It has to paint you in the best possible light, especially if you are a recent graduate seeking out your first full-time role.
There are a few ways that you can tweak your CV to portray yourself as dedicated, enthusiastic, and equipped to do the job you’re applying for.
1. Find Your Key Message
Before you even being to write your CV, you need to know the key message of the document. Establishing this beforehand is important because having this in mind will keep your CV consistent in its messaging.
Take time to think about how you want to sell yourself – do you want to be seen as a marketing professional? Or perhaps you are applying for an accountancy role and need to highlight tax as your speciality. Knowing this will help you to clearly explain how your experience supports your application, without any ambiguities.
2. Stay Positive
Maintain a positive tone throughout your CV, even if you don’t mean it. We’re not telling you to lie here, but expressing negative feelings towards past experiences or any other elements of the application has the potential to make the employer doubt your attitude and your commitment to the role.
Put yourself in the employer’s shoes and you’ll quickly realise that potential employees should be positive and enthusiastic about the roles they’re applying for. Any indication that you’ll struggle to engage with the position will prompt the employer to make a snap decision and throw your CV on the “No” pile.
3. Cut and Change
One of the biggest errors that a candidate can make when putting together their application is taking a one-size-fits-all approach to their CV. Taking the time to tailor your CV to each individual role will help you stand out from the crowd. An employer has the ability to spot an untailored CV a mile off, and won’t hesitate to rule you out if an element of your application doesn’t meet their criteria.
The best way to tailor your CV is to research the company, find out how they operate and allow this to dictate your tone of voice. If you’re applying for a big corporate firm, make sure that you mirror this in the way you communicate. If you’re sending your CV to a fun startup-type business, you have scope to speak to them in a more conversational tone.
Take the time to read the job specification carefully, as this will help you to include all of the relevant skills that they are looking for, making space by cutting out any irrelevant information.
4. Keep It Concise
Realistically, a CV should be no longer than two sides of A4. Employers will have plenty of CVs to look through, and any that aren’t concise will more than likely end up on the “No” pile. On average, employers will spend just eight seconds looking at one CV, which means you have an incredibly short amount of time to impress them.
When you write your first CV draft for the application, make a list of which elements are essential to the role and which aren’t. Prioritise the parts of your CV that are key to winning over the employer, and cut the rest. You can then use the remaining space to either elaborate on your achievements and skills, or outline some non-essential attributes that still support you through the process.
5. Mind the Gaps
In the eight seconds that the employer takes to initially review your CV, they look for skills, experience, and any employment gaps. What they won’t do is spend time figuring out why there is a gap in your CV – they just don’t have the time for it. For this reason, any gaps in a CV will generally ring alarm bells for an employer.
The best way to avoid this is to explain the gaps and turn them into positives if possible. If you used that time to take a course, travel, or carry out volunteer work, let the employer know. You can use all of these things to show yourself in a positive light, whereas employers will treat unexplained gaps with suspicion.
6. Keep It Up-to-Date
This one goes without saying, but keeping your CV up-to-date with your latest skills and experience is essential to selling yourself to a potential employer. Not only does neglecting to update your document put you at a disadvantage in the sense that you aren’t selling yourself in full, but it creates the impression that you won’t be a proactive team member.
7. Check Your Grammar and Spelling
Most roles require you to write in some way, shape, or form. In submitting a CV that contains grammar and spelling mistakes, you are telling the employer that you won’t be able to do the job properly. Even if you’re the best writer in the world, it’s possible to make mistakes.
Make sure you check your CV thoroughly for spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, because these could be the difference between securing an interview and your CV being cast aside. If you’ve spent the majority of your day writing your CV, it can be difficult to spot the errors yourself, so always use the spellchecker, ask someone to read over your writing for you, and take a rest before revisiting your writing.
8. Honesty Is the Best Policy
Although it is important to paint the best possible picture of yourself as an employee, avoid lying about your skills and achievements, as this has the potential to cause issues further down the line. Employers are used to seeing job applications, which means any unsubstantiated claims will stand out to them.
The last thing you want is to lose your new job because your employer carried out some background checks and found that you were lying on your application. It’s also possible that if you lie about your ability to do a job, you could end up in over your head when you do eventually begin. Being honest on your application will help you find a job where you can develop your skills rather than get stuck in an unfamiliar role.
9. Make It Look Good
Employers have to look through a serious number of applications when they are hiring, and flicking through CVs that all look the same is a monotonous process. If you make your CV look good, it will stand out from the crowd, grab their attention, and potentially encourage them to spend more time looking at your application.
The same logic applies to poorly designed CVs. Applications with poor formatting and no real appeal will be cast aside almost instantly. Invest in a CV template that makes key elements of your application stand out to the employer, or make your own, incorporating fonts and styles that express your personality (if your industry permits).
Always remember to submit your CV in PDF format, as to avoid any formatting errors when it reaches the employer.
Stay on Top Form
Job-hunting isn’t easy, but there are always a few tricks to help you to stand out from the crowd. Read our blog to stay up-to-date with the latest insights and advice on employability and student life.