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The graduate's guide to CVs

What graduates need to know about writing a CV, the information to include and how to choose the right CV format.

A CV is a document that outlines your background and experience so that employers can assess your suitability for a job. (It's short for curriculum vitae, but no-one calls them that any more.) Many employers – including around a third of graduate recruiters in Ireland – ask for job applications in the format of CV and covering letter.

From your point of view, the purpose of the CV is simple: to get you an interview.

How employers use CVs

Employers use CVs to find out whether applicants have the right experience, skills and qualities to fit the job. Initially, recruiters will scan CVs very quickly so the information needs to be presented in a way that allows them to see this at a glance. A CV is not an autobiography, so be selective and focus on what is relevant.

How to write a CV

It helps to think ahead. As a starting point, it's a good idea – early on in your job search – to create a basic CV that you can draw on whenever you have a job application to make. Compile your personal information under standard headings and update your details whenever you gain new experience or a new skill.

Then, when you are applying for a specific job, you will have time to customise the CV to fit that job and employer. Adapt the information to emphasise the skills and experience that are most relevant to the job you're applying for. Make sure you meet all the employer’s criteria, and make it easy for them to see this.

What to include in a CV

There are different ways of presenting the information on your CV, but it should always include certain key elements.

Personal details

Name, address, phone number and email address. Use contact details where correspondence will reach you promptly, and make sure you have a professional-sounding email address. You are not expected to include age or date of birth.

A personal statement or career aim (optional)

This can be helpful when you want to highlight your suitability for a particular job or sector, and is useful when sending a speculative application, but use with care.

Educational qualifications

Presented in reverse chronological order (most recent first). Provide grades (or expected grades) and dates.

Employment or work experience

Also most recent first. Include paid work and unpaid internships. State what you achieved and learned through the work, not just the tasks you carried out. Write with your career goals in mind.

Additional information

This could include skills, interests and achievements: anything that will highlight your employability and make you stand out.

Referees

Names of referees and contact details (check with them first). At graduate level this will usually be one academic and one employer or personal referee.

Cover letter

OK, this is not actually part of your CV but it's important to include one as part of the package with your CV. This gives you a chance to emphasise your suitability for that specific job.

CV formats

There are different formats of CV. Use your university careers service to check out examples of CVs but never copy a CV template exactly: employers can tell. If you're using a sample CV, make sure you adapt it to the job and your own circumstances.

A graduate CV should be fairly short. Try to keep it to one page of A4 – two as an absolute maximum.

There are three main ways to present this information, depending on whether you want to promote your skills, your experiences or a combination of the two. In each case, you should put your name and contact details at the top. (You don't need to include the word 'CV'.)

Chronological CV

This is the traditional, and most common, type of CV. It's most relevant if you have worked previously or have a lot of work experience. This presents information in date order under the headings 'Education' and 'Employment' (or 'Work experience').

  • List your education first (in reverse chronological order).
  • Then add your work experience and employment history. Start with your present or most recent job and work backwards.
  • Include a 'Further information' section at the end.

Skills-based CV

This is useful at graduate level where you may not have a lot of work experience.

  • Arrange your key skills under three to five headings such as ‘Communication skills’ and ‘Teamwork’. Then write about your relevant experience and accomplishments under each skill heading.
  • After the last skill heading, add a brief paragraph listing your work experience (dates, employer and job titles only).
  • Include your education in a separate section at the end of the CV.

Combination CV

This combines elements of the chronological and skills-based CV, and can be useful if you want to highlight employers as well as your personal qualities.

Different types of CV for different situations

There may be occasions where a different type of CV is required. Your careers service can help you with this.

CVs for academic jobs

These tend to be longer, and will include additional sections such as teaching experience and publications.

CVs for the USA

The convention in America is to provide a 'resume' which should be one page long.

CVs for other countries

Conventions vary, so take advice from your careers service. CVs in the UK follow the same format as those you send to Irish employers.

How to write a personal statement for a CV

Many people include a personal statement or career objective at the beginning of their CV. This is a short (usually one-sentence) summary of your experience and aspirations. Used well, it can help you stand out. Unfortunately, it is often not used well and can sound phoney if you're not careful, so only do this if you're sure you can be specific, avoid cliches and add value. Make sure that there is evidence elsewhere in the CV for any claims you are making.

These statements can be useful if you are sending a speculative application, as it allows the recruiter at a glance to see who you are and what you are looking for.

CV checklist

  • Have you included a current phone number and an email address that you check regularly?
  • If including term time and home contact details, have you provided the relevant dates?
  • Is your CV relevant to the career sector or employer you are applying to?
  • If you're emailing your CV, have you saved it with your own name? If it's just 'CV.doc' it could get lost in a pile of others.
  • Have you included a cover letter?

CV tips

  • Provide clearly written content presented in a clean and efficient style.
  • Make it easy for recruiters to find the information they need. Assume your CV will be scanned in 30 seconds. This means that clear presentation will put you ahead.
  • Tailor your CV for the job you are applying for.
  • Always include a covering letter with your CV.
  • Make sure you can account for any chronological gaps in your CV – you may get asked about this at interview.
  • Most university careers services run CV workshops that will help you to get started. They may also give you one-to-one advice on your own CV.