If you are about to start you professional life and write your first CV, the first advice we have for you is: Don’t panic! We all have started our career at some point, even your future boss and hiring manager. If you think that you don’t have any career-relevant experience and skills that employers are looking for, think again after you’ve finished reading this article.
Before you get started
Here are four very important rules to keep in mind at all times when writing your CV or resume:
1. If you are a student or a recent graduate writing your first job application, one page is usually sufficient to present all relevant information. Even if you have already gathered some work experience, participated in many extracurricular activities and have numerous skills, try not to go over one page if you are applying in the US and two pages if you are applying in Europe and Australia.
2. Keep your content concise and relevant for the employer. This means, your CV should be targeted to the position you want. Don’t list your interests and extracurricular activities if they are completely irrelevant for your chosen field.
3. Make sure that the information is well-organized, easy to read and to scan through. Use clear layout and bullet points when possible. Don’t try to cram too much information onto one page. Whatever you do, keep your style and structure consistent throughout the document.
4. Don’t underestimate the importance of proofreading. Review your document thoroughly and ask others to proofread and give you their honest feedback. Print out your CV and take a second look, it’s often easier to catch some obvious mistakes and inconsistencies on a printed piece of paper. If necessary, get professional assistance.
Reversed-chronological CV is the most commonly used format. In this format, your jobs and studies are listed in chronological order starting with the most recent. This format makes it very easy for recruiters to scan through your CV and find information quickly. In such layout format, skills, awards & honors and other information are usually presented under the employment history and education.
As a student or a recent graduate with very little work experience, you might consider using a functional CV format. This style will help you present skills you have gained through unrelated jobs, volunteer activities, projects and courses. In this case, the emphasis is placed on your skills, not your employment history. In the functional format, you can list all your skills and group them into several categories. For example:
- Performed secretarial support functions and interacted with customers working part-time at an architect’s office
- Gave presentations in a psychology course
- Announced news for college radio station
You can combine both styles to fit your situation and previous experience. For example, you can first describe your skill sets placing emphasis on them and then list your previous positions in reverse-chronological order. The most important goal is to structure your CV so that it presents your skills and qualifications in the best possible way and helps you convince employers that you are the best fit for that particular job.
Sections and Headings
Information in the CV is usually divided into several sections: Education, Work Experience and Skills are the most common. Some level of flexibility is allowed here, you can change the order, headings and number of sections and subsections. Your CV obviously doesn’t have to include all possible CV sections – include only those sections that will help you portray you at your best and choose the names that best suit your content. Several options common for students’ and graduates’ CV are Projects, Activities and Awards, Qualifications Summary, Languages, Experience Highlights, College Activities, Relevant Work Experience and Related Employment.
Objective is not a mandatory part of your CV. Often it is obvious for which position you are applying, so don’t waste the valuable space. Only if you are sending an unsolicited application, going to hand out your CV during a job fair, post it online or send to a recruiting agency, consider writing an objective statement. Your objective might look something like this:
A part-time position as a marketing team assistant providing opportunities to use my communication and project management skills.
To obtain a summer internship that would utilize my experience and knowledge in human resource management and expand my skills in employee selection and training.
Start your CV with an objective only when it is absolutely necessary and makes sense. In all other cases, start with a qualifications summary and list three to five of your most important assets. Tell employers who you are and what your most outstanding skills, accomplishments and achievements are. Use either bullet points or full sentences. Make this summary powerful and interesting to read.
The main difference between an objective and a qualifications summary is that an objective tells what you want, while a qualifications summary tells employers what you can do for them and why you are the perfect match for the job.
This is a very important and required section of your CV. If you are a student or a recent graduate, you probably want to put this section on top of your CV.
What to list:
- The name and location of your college or university
- Your degree and graduation dates (if you are still enrolled, list your expected graduation date)
- Your majors and minors
- GPA if it is good
If you are still a student, you might list already completed major-related courses. If you are a recent graduate, list only pertinent high-level courses. There is no need to list all required basic courses – it’s obvious you’ve taken them because of your major. Some students also include topic of their thesis – list this information only if it is job-relevant.
Emphasize information that you think is more beneficial or more important and will help you stand out from other applicants. For example, some student choose to highlight the name of their university, others highlight their type of degree:
University of London
Bachelor of Science, September 2007 - July 2010
Major: Biology, GPA 3.8/4.0
M.A. in Corporate Communication and Public Relations
Minor in Marketing
Graduated Cum Laude
Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ. Sep. 2005 – Aug. 2007
Selected coursework: Business Writing, Writing for the Computer Industry, Advanced Professional Writing, Journalism 101
In the Education section, you can also mention special projects you’ve participated in if you think they make you more qualified for the position. Include, for example, writing, computer and research projects, but keep their description brief. If you want to elaborate on some points, do it in your cover letter.
If you have received scholarships and academic awards, you can either integrate them in the Education section or create a new section for your academic awards, scholarships and honors (for example, group together your awards and honors or activities and awards). Be sure to list your study-abroad and other international programs if you want to draw attention to them. If you list them in Activities section, they can be easily overlooked.
This is probably the most important section of every CV and resume. Here, you can list all your internships and jobs, both paid and unpaid. Your experience can also include relevant student activities and volunteer work, but only if they are related to and support your career objective and make you more qualified for the position. When listing positions on your CV, you can highlight either your position or the name of the company, whatever is more impressive. For example:
L’Arielle, Paris, France, 05.2011 – 09.2011
L’Arielle, Paris, France
Marketing Intern, May - September 2011
If you already have some work experience both related and unrelated to your career objective, you can split your previous jobs into two categories "Related experience" and "Other experience." In this case allocate more page space for your career-related experience and list your less relevant employment not detailed. (See example below) Briefly describe each career-related position –list your responsibilities, results and achievements. Use bullet points and short phrases that start with action verbs.
RELATED EMPLOYMENT AND COLLEGE ACTIVITIES
GPN Architects, Washington, DC, June 2011-September 2011
- Worked on design development for kindergarten and entertainment center
- Created presentations for customers
- Produced colored renderings for 5 projects
OTHER WORK EXPERIENCE
Sales Clerk, Central Department Store, Madrid, Spain, Summer 2009 & 2010
If you have worked as a receptionist or a waitress, don’t hesitate to mention it. Even your unrelated jobs can tell employers a lot about you. If you have worked every summer or had part-time jobs to finance your studies, it shows that you are hardworking, have customer service experience and organizational skills – qualities important for many positions. Time-management, multitasking and communication skills are examples of other skills you might have gained during your part-time or summer jobs.
Skills and Qualifications
For career-starters, having relevant skills can be as important as having previous work experience in the field. This section is not mandatory, however, it can be very useful if you have little previous experience in your chosen field and want to emphasize skills related to the desired position. If you want to draw attention to your skills, consider placing them higher on the page or even on top of your CV.
So, what can you do if you have very little or no work experience related to your desired job? Think of your transferable skills – skills you have accumulated during your studies or extracurricular activities. Think of the courses you’ve taken, jobs you’ve held, clubs you’ve participated in, sports you were engaged in and projects you’ve worked on. During these experiences, you have certainly learnt sets of skills that can be relevant for your future job. Think of examples where you have demonstrated initiative, diligence, leadership, team-work, research and presentation skills.
Be sure to list your computer skills, programs you can use and languages you can speak and how well.
Group your skills into related categories and least them in order of importance. For example, your skills group can be Leadership, Business Communication, Research, Technical and Financial Management. Use several examples for each category to support your claims.
Web design skills
- Completed courses in HTML, Java and Video editing
- Worked with MS Visual Basic and SQL during the summer internship
- Designed websites for college students
- Wrote articles and book reviews for high school and college newspapers
- Conducted interviews with the members of college administration
- Successfully completed Journalistic Writing and Literary Criticism
Activities and Honors
You can either list your academic awards in the “Education” section or create a separate category if you have several items to list and want to draw more attention to them. Here, you can list your college activities and affiliations to demonstrate, for example, your leadership and communication skills. Don’t make this section too long and list only those activities and honors which are relevant to your career goal.
Whatever you do, remember, your CV or resume should make it very clear for employers what you can do for them and show the benefits of hiring you.
Good luck with your first CV and have a great career start!