How to Write an Effective Graduate CV

Writing your CV as a fresh graduate can seem a daunting prospect, particularly if your work experience is limited. Do not despair though: even if you have little or no direct work experience, you can still produce a strong CV that will grab employers’ interest. How?

First off, remember that your CV is supposed to be a concise synopsis of you as a candidate. Above all, it should be well written, properly formatted and interesting to read. It is perfectly acceptable for a graduate CV to be a page in length; even CVs for the most experienced professionals should be no longer than two pages.

Although it’s a lot of effort if you are making numerous applications, you should always tailor your CV for every job that you apply for, rather than sending a generic one. A better-than-average graduate CV will typically include:

  • A strong introduction that communicates your key skills and what you can bring to the role
  • A summary of your main achievements
  • An outline of your main work history (where applicable)
  • Your academic studies

Common mistakes to avoid are mentioning every job, achievement or activity in your entire work or academic history; providing extensive information about each course that you have studied; or including information just to make your CV longer.

Let’s now look at each section of the CV in greater detail.

how to write a graduate cv

White space and bullet points are your friends when you come to write your CV.

Presenting your CV

Remember, a CV is a professional document. As such, elaborate fonts, colours and layouts only serve to distract from the content. Tips for formatting your CV include:

  • Use a normal business font such as Calibri, Arial or Verdana and be consistent with your fonts. Make sure that all category headings are consistent and well set out.
  • Use bold text to define the structure of your CV, remembering to be consistent.
  • The content should be set out in succinct sentences. A list of bullet points is usually best.
  • Incorporate clear sections into your CV such as Professional Summary, Career History, Education, and Achievements, etc. Make sure that these sections are in a logical order. In graduate CVs we recommend that you begin with a Professional Summary, perhaps followed by an Objective, and then your Education and Career History.

Now that you have an idea of best format, let’s move on to the actual content of your CV.

Section 1 – Personal Information

This should be displayed at the top of your CV and include your name, address, email and contact telephone number. There is no need to add your date of birth, marital status or a photograph.

Golden rule: if something doesn’t add value to your CV, leave it out.

Professional Summary

This is a short statement that summarises your main skills and experience. It is also an opportunity to explain to the recruiter your strengths and capabilities for the role you have applied for. A very generic personal statement could be something like:

“A diligent and detail-orientated marketing graduate with a strong academic background and extensive theoretical knowledge of marketing initiatives and strategies. Demonstrates an excellent understanding of managing online and offline campaigns with a key focus on building brands and increasing sales. A confident communicator, able to establish excellent relationships with peers.”

Don’t make unsubstantiated claims in your CV. If you make a claim, evidence it with relevant evidence from voluntary work, your studies or work experience. The professional summary should be no longer than four sentences, and must be specifically tailored for the role applied for.

Directly underneath the Professional Summary, you may wish to add in an Objective. This is a very brief statement that outlines your intentions for your career such as “Currently looking for a new graduate opportunity to develop my marketing skills while acquiring workplace expertise.”

Tip: Write your CV in the third person; it looks more professional than writing it in the first person.

Section 2 – Education

There is much debate about how much of your education you should include in your CV, but if space is an issue, stick to your degree and A-Levels, and vocational qualifications if you have them. GCSEs aren’t going to add much value to your CV.

In the education section you should include the name of the institution, plus the level and title of your qualification. Only include the classification of your degree if you received an outstanding classification such as a First.

Section 3 – Work Experience/Career History

For graduates, this is the section that will present the most difficulty, as your work experience is likely to be limited. If you have completed any internships or periods of work experience, this is the place where it needs to go. You can also include voluntary work or summer placements.

Be sure to include the start and end dates of your employment, your job title and the company. You don’t need to include information such as your reason for leaving or salary.

For each company, try to write three or four bullet points (in the third person) about your duties and responsibilities, but try to make them as achievements-focused as possible. So rather than saying something like:

‘Demonstrated excellent communication skills when speaking with customers’

Say something like:

‘Entered into successful negotiations with customers to secure new business’

Start with your most recent employer or work experience and work backwards.

Section 4 – Interests and Activities

Although business professionals sometimes omit this section, it can be used to great effect on a graduate CV. Here you can add a little more information about you as a person, such as gap year experiences, your memberships of clubs or societies, or hobbies relevant to the role. This is also a great section to include any awards that you have received.

Section 5 – References

Whether to include this section is an area of contention for many. Generally it is advised that you do not list your references on your CV. This will avoid past employers or teachers from being contacted multiple times by recruiters. 

Some CVs include a brief statement such as ‘References Available on Request’, but employers know this so it’s stating the obvious. If in doubt, leave this section out.

Final Steps

Once you have drafted your CV, cross-reference it with the job description and person specification so you know that you have covered everything and go through the following checklist:

  1. Have you included all of your relevant achievements, relevant work experience and relevant extra-curricular activities
  2. Have you met all of the employer’s minimum requirements and demonstrated you possess their core competencies?
  3. Is there anything obvious that you have missed?
  4. Have you included your contact information?
  5. Have you accounted for any gaps in the chronology of your CV?

The final stage before you start sending your CV and applying for jobs is to proofread it thoroughly. An error in your contact details or work history could prove a costly mistake.

Tips for CV Proofing

The following tips are worth remembering:

  • Write your CV one day and then set it aside. Leave it for a day or two and then return to proofread. This way it will be easier to identify any mistakes.
  • Don’t rely on your computer’s spell-check software to identify errors. Sometimes mis-typed words, or words written out of context, won’t be identified by a spell checker on the computer.
  • Ask for a second opinion – get your careers advisor, a tutor, a friend or family member to read through your CV. If you know anyone working in the industry where you would like to work, such as a manager or HR professional, ask for their opinion. They may be able to give you some valuable industry tips on writing a successful graduate CV.
  • One of the most important things to remember is not to stretch the truth on your CV or even worse, lie. If you say that you have a skill that you don’t, or a qualification that you haven’t achieved, you will be found out further along in the recruitment process - either through a psychometric test or an interview question. Honesty is always the best policy.
  • When sending your CV digitally, give it a file name that includes your name and the job role.

Further Reading

You may also find these articles helpful:

How To Write A CV

How To Write A Cover Letter

10 Killer Tips To Make Your Graduate Cover Letter Stand Out

How to Write a Resume Objective

Achievement Focused CVs

What Is A Job Description?