As any recent graduate will tell you, it is a competitive job market once you leave university or college. That is why it is so important to put a lot effort in building a professional cv. Whether you are looking for a part time job whilst studying or want to land your first job in the industry you have been working towards, making your CV presentable and easy to read is essential. Read on to find out how you can produce the perfect CV to meet your needs.
How is a student CV different from other CVs?
Essentially, a student CV does not differ from a professional one that much. The big difference, generally speaking, is that you won't have as much experience as someone who has been in the labour market for years and years. Little work experience is usually a drawback but employers understand that students are unlikely to have all of the skills they require – unless you are talking about mature students who have gone back to education mid-career, that is. Therefore, a student's CV will need to make more of the positive attributes of the individual concerned rather than highlighting the relevant work experience.
How to begin writing a CV as a student
Look at an example of a student CV and work from that. There are many templates to choose from that will help you to make a start. Using somebody else's template can be a big help and it is certainly better than staring at a blank sheet of paper. Although hand-written CVs are acceptable in some circumstances, by far the majority of employers will expect a student to produce one on a word processor that can be printed on one or two sheets of A4 paper or emailed, depending on the application process concerned.
What should you put in your CV?
Begin with your name and contact details before progressing to your personal profile and educational qualifications including any work experience you may have picked up from part time work or work experience placements. Write in complete sentences although you can use bullet points here and there, for example, to list your exam results. If you are a graduate already and have been studying for a Masters degree, then remember to include your current degree information first, including the higher educational establishment where you earned it. Then work back to A-level results, GCSEs and so on.
A good cv must contain at least the following;
- Personal / contact details
- Full name
- Place of residence
- Phone number
- E-mail address
- LinkedIn profile (if representative and up-to-date)
- Personal profile; a short, but powerful introduction of yourself. In the two to three sentences explain who you are, what you are skilled at and what you are looking for and your ambitions are.
- Work experience; describe the jobs and work experience you've had already. Shortly explain your tasks, responsibilities and achievements. Try and focus on transferable skills that will help you to be successful at other jobs as well.
- Education and qualifications; put your most recently finished study first. If relevant for the job you're applying for, include details of your degree, such as specific skills learnt, projects undertaken and your specific role and achievements.
How to cope with little or no professional working experience?
You cannot magic experience from out of thin air, so use the know how you do have to demonstrate your skills. Activities as a member of clubs and social groups inside and outside of college can be utilised to demonstrate your organisational, person-centred and communication skills, for example. Don't be tempted to invent work experience that you have not had. You are likely to get found out pretty quickly at an interview if you have no experience in an area you claim to. Whatever work you have done, even if it has only been a holiday job, is relevant and demonstrates your ability and willingness to work.
Of course, you don't only want to display information on your cv which is relevant and thus adds value. If you feel you need to give your cv some more 'body', due to lack of professional experience, consider adding the following parts;
- Extra-curricular activities; have you been part of an academic club, student government or have you written for a student news paper? Excellent! These activities can demonstrate both skills and commitment. Not mentioning them on your graduate cv would be a major miss.
- Interests; if your personal interests match with the field of work or industry you are a applying for, this could give you an advantage over other candidates. Try to be specific here; what are you exactly interested in? Are there specific books, authors or experts that inspire you? The more specific you are, the more authentic your interest comes across.
- School projects; did you do a project in which you demonstrated skills required for the job you're applying for? That's a great replacement for working experience! Describe the assignment, your specific role and the outcome/achievements of the project. If the project or research you've done gained any publicity, make sure to include a link.
- Good grades; did you achieve above average grades? That could actually give you an advantage over other graduate/student candidates. Key here is presentation; you might want focus on the courses most relevant to the field of work instead of your entire grade list.
How to make your student CV stand out
Let's face it; your lack of professional working experience can be considered a drawback by your potential employer. Therefore, you will need to excel in other areas, such as your CV. Key here is to tailor-make your CV to seamlessly fit the job description. In the job description, employers give a lot of clues on what they are looking for in a candidate. Use this information to your best advantage! Make sure that, when scanning through your cv, the required skills can easily be found.
If you are applying for a job in a creative industry, then you can go to town with your use of colour, graphics and images. However, most graduate jobs require you to stick with a conventional format which makes it hard to make your CV stand out from competitors. Alternatively, you could use block capitals for your section headings which makes a CV look more dynamic. When you are listing key attributes that make you employable among other more general ones, judicious use of italics or bold text can make a difference, too. The key here is to not overdo the formatting or your student CV can end up looking a little childish.
The following tips will also help to make your cv stand out from others;
- Make sure to harmonise the different parts of your CV and cover letter to make it a coherent, consistent story for recruiters. For instance, if you are applying for a strongly commercially oriented job, it does not really help to mention your ambition of becoming a world-renowned environmentalist.
- Claiming skills is one thing, demonstrating them another. If there are certain skills important for a certain role, don't just claim to have them, but try and specify where you learned them. So if you claim strong organisational skills, try and find examples where you demonstrated this skill. Apart from professional working experience, this could also be organising an event for a sports club or student association, for instance.
- Focus on achievements. No matter whether you got above average grades for certain courses or projects at university or were overachieving at your side job, it's something employers are interested in. Did you run a marathon or climb a mountain? Great way to make up for a lack of working experience!
Why tailor your CV for every application?
All jobs are different. All employers have different brand identities and ways of working, too. If you don't tailor your CV to these requirements, then the truth is that you could land that all important interview. However, by tailoring your CV here and there, you give yourself the best chance possible of being called forward. You don't need to completely rewrite your CV every time you apply for a job, however. Just some subtle alterations can make all the difference. For example, imagine you wanted to get work in the charity sector. When listing your school qualifications, place your biology result first if the employer in question does medical research. Equally, you should list your language results at the top if the charity in question does work overseas which may require such skills. Even if you think these details won't make a difference, you have to bear in mind that some student CVs are very similar to one another. Just a little tweaking can give you the tiniest of edges over your competitors and get you on the short list for an interview. Another helpful tip is to reorder the wording of your personal profile so that any information in it that is more relevant to the employer in question appears higher up.
What Format and Structure Are Best for a Student CV?
Some job applications will specify the format they want to receive CVs in. This is usually because the process is accompanied by an application form and the employers concerned don't want to duplicate information which will slow their selection processes down. In circumstances where there has been no structure laid out for you, then it is best to stick with a tried and tested format. Use a clear and readable font which looks professional. Comic Sans is something to avoid but Times New Roman, Arial and Verdana all work well. Use a slightly larger font size for your name and contact details – the CV is about you, after all. Make use of sub-headings for the different sections of your CV, too. Ensure that you make good use of line breaks so that the information in your CV is arranged in a manner that can be scanned quickly. Remember that employers see hundreds of hopeful student CVs, sometimes every day, so your one will only be read in detail if it has made it past the first scan. Bear in mind that your CV should not be too long. How long a CV should be is not an exact science as it will depend on other information supplied in a covering letter or an application form. That said, if you are tipping over two sides of A4, then your CV is too long and you need to trim it back.
What Are Good Tips and Mistakes to Avoid?
- Avoid casual language or slang terms. CVs are formal documents and should be treated as such, even if the employer in question thinks of themselves as funky.
- Proofread your CV for typos and spelling mistakes. Even brilliant essay writers at university make errors of this type so check and double check before sending it off.
- Don't include information on your CV that has already gone on an application form. Either cut your CV accordingly or include extra information you would otherwise have had to leave out.
- A little work experience goes a long way when applying for your first job after graduating so don't be embarrassed to mention things you have done in the past. Nearly all students have to earn as they learn these days and employers understand that.