Although no-one really enjoys the process of writing a CV, the experience can be particularly trying for people who are either on the point of or have recently left education. It’s not hard to understand why, and the reasons for it aren’t just limited to the fact that at present young people face more difficult odds of finding a job than they have for several generations.
One of the key problems for young people when it comes to writing a CV is that due to their young age they often lack significant relevant work experience in their chosen profession–or indeed any sector, beyond the odd work-experience placement and part-time or temp jobs to earn a bit of spending money–and as such find themselves in a position of breaking into a new field. Convincing an employer that you’d be the best candidate for their position is difficult enough for people who do have relevant work experience; convincing them to take a chance on you when you have none is at least doubly so.
Although this situation doesn’t apply to the same extent for graduate and school-leaver schemes–though even these often like to see at least some relevant form of internship or work-placement within their sector–there is still a lot at stake when it comes to writing your CV in this situation owing to the sheer number of people who apply for these sorts of positions.
In fact, you could argue that not only are young people the group who find writing a CV most daunting, but they’re also the group who are under most pressure to get their CV right due to the intensity of competition for work openings aimed at graduates and school-leavers.
Under these circumstances, taking the time to carefully plan how to get your CV right is essential. However, if you spend some time thinking about what skills, experiences and achievements you have that you should highlight, and also give careful consideration to the most effective way to present these, you will be giving yourself a great head-start against other applicants.
Skills Versus Chronology
Our first piece of advice is for you to think carefully about whether you will use a skills-based or chronological CV (if you’re not familiar with these terms, then have a look at our article on different types of CVs), or even a combination of these two styles.
In fact, in the majority of cases we’d strongly recommend that graduates and school-leavers at least include elements of a skills-based CV when designing their curriculum vitae. We make this recommendation because the nature of a chronological CV doesn’t especially work in favour of young people. After all, a chronological CV is based around listing your qualifications and previous jobs in chronological order, and therefore if you don’t have many of these due to your age your CV is going to look very thin.
Instead, it’s generally a good idea for school-leavers and graduates to kick off their CVs with a skills-based first sections, or even a skills-based first page. The great advantage of using this approach is that it gives you the chance to show relevant skills and achievements that you’ve developed from places other than the world of work. So, in addition to starting your CV off with a short Professional Summary, in which you outline in a couple of sentence who you are and what your career objectives are, it is certainly worth considering following this summary with some skills-based headings, under which you provide examples of you having developed and used those skills during your studies, previous jobs, extracurricular activities and other places.
The idea of creating some skills-based headings to start off your CV brings us to the question of exactly what sections you should include in your CV. Whether you’re going for a fundamentally skills-based or chronological CV, coming up with a good selection of sections is one of the most important aspects of creating your CV.
Leaving aside the self-evident headings that almost all CVs will have–education and employment history in particular–one of the best places to look for inspiration for appropriate headings is the job advertisements that you are responding to. Along with your own knowledge of the job role you are applying for, these advertisements will help you to get a grasp of what things the employers are looking for. And if when they look at your CV they discover that it is designed and structured around these things, you’ll have a much better chance of coming across as suitable for the position.
Don’t be afraid to innovate when deciding on what headings to use for your CV. Any headings that will show your suitability for the position are suitable, even if they are ones that would only really work for the role you are applying for.
Let’s look at an example. A modern-languages graduate wants to apply for a graduate-level position as a translator. Points in this individual’s favour are their languages degree, their experience of translating documents they acquired through it being one of duties during an internship with an international firm, and their student membership of a translators’ association.
Now, if this person sticks to conventional CV headings, then they will be able to mention all these things, but their collective impact will be seriously diluted by the fact that they will be spread across three different headings. However, if this person creates a heading entitled ‘Translation-related Qualifications, Skills and Experience’ that they put at the start of the CV, they will be able to group all of these things under one heading for maximum effect.
Thinking of what achievements and experiences to include
One mistake that some young people make in writing a CV is that they restrict themselves to just a few areas of their lives–typically their work and their studies–when trying to think about what information to include on their CV. This is a real shame, as very often there are things from other parts of our lives that demonstrate important qualities that employers want in their workers, such as initiative, motivation and leadership.
Being aware of this and drawing on these experiences is especially important for recent graduates and school-leavers, as much more so than more experienced workers they lack the pool of years of working life to draw on.
So get creative and start looking at other experiences in your life from the perspective of a potential employer, picking out ones that you feel you could link to the attributes the companies whose vacancies you are applying to are looking for. Participating in events such as a sponsored walk or race, for example, is a good way to demonstrate perseverance and initiative. It might seem like a small thing, but if you were to place it under either a ‘Voluntary Work’ heading on a chronological CV or a heading related to one of the attributes you know the employer is looking for–this could be meeting targets, initiative, teamwork, or a whole host of other things–on a skills-based CV, then you’re well on the way to filling your CV with things that present you in a very positive light.
Strategies for Presenting Your Prior Education and Work Experience
The secret of successfully incorporating extracurricular activities into a CV–and indeed more generally the secret of creating a great CV–is knowing how to present experiences and achievements in the right way. As we’ve just discussed with the example of the sponsored run/walk, it’s the process of linking it to a frequently-used heading from a chronological CV or a relevant skill for a skills-based one that makes this achievement work. By contrast, simply including on your CV at some point that you did a sponsored run and not attaching it to any attributes is for the most part a wasted opportunity.
Putting achievements under the right headings is just half the battle, however. It’s also important to refer to the most salient aspects of them. So, our sponsored runner will probably want to mention how much money they raised, highlighting how this fee exceeded expectations. And our language graduate needs to both pinpoint specific translation-related elements from her degree course and emphasise that when they were translating documents on their internship they produced translations that were used by top-level management of the company and succeeded in consistently meeting very tight and strict deadlines for completing the translations.
To put it another way, you need to go beyond the basic information of your experiences and achievements. Don’t assume that the person who reads the CV will use the basic information as a cue to imagine all your attributes and accomplishments that stemmed from that experience–tell them exactly what they were!