6 sanity-saving cv writing tips for graduates

Saffron Wildbore

~ 5min read

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~ 5min read

How are you supposed to talk about your career when you don’t have one yet? The struggle is real. Writing your first graduate resume / CV feels like asking for the moon on a stick, but with these 6 tried and tested tips, you’ll be scribbling away in no time.

> 1.

 Remember, the purpose of your resume is to start a conversation

Worrying about how to write a resume for your first job? The worst thing about putting together a curriculum vitae is feeling under pressure to condense your entire life into a handful of bullet points.

The good news? You don’t actually need to do that.

Your resume is just the opener when you’re applying for jobs. It doesn’t need to answer every question a potential employer could ever have about you, it only needs to spark their interest enough to want to find out more.

> 2.

Tailoring your resume for each role is boring and difficult… but it’s worth the effort

We’re not saying you should rewrite your resume from scratch for every job (feel free to though, some people do!). You will however want to change some words and phrases and swap out a couple of points to highlight different elements of your skills and experience.

Begin by asking yourself:

  • In the job description, are there any phrases that you could borrow to help you describe your background?

  • What’s the job title of the role you’re applying for? Keep it in mind as you’re drafting every section of your resume. You’ll find that this helps you set the direction. (If the job description is confusing, for instance because it uses a lot of jargon – so you’re not clear on the meaning of the job title – search the internet for other job adverts with the same title to get a better idea.)

  • Are some of your skills more relevant than others? Don’t be afraid to leave out information that isn’t relevant. 9 times out of 10, saying nothing is the better option.

Save a separate copy of every tailored resume so you have them on hand in future. Keep track of all the versions by including the job title and company name in your file name for each version.

> 3.

Think creatively about how you talk about your skills, your education and your previous work experience

Yes. Believe it or not, you have plenty to talk about. We all know the catch 22… you need to show experience to get experience. The requirements in many “entry level” graduate job descriptions sound, well, bananas.

But most activities in life involve transferable skills.

Working in a restaurant in the summer holidays might seem like it has nothing to do with an office job at a bank, but there’s a lot of crossover.

Evaluate the soft skills that you have learned in the role and think about how you can apply these to the job you are going for.

You have to collaborate with others. You have to communicate with people. You have to maintain a relationship with your manager. You have to discuss your tasks and your performance.

The list goes on, and these are skills that will serve you wherever you work.

As for your studies, did you have to do any research and present your findings? Did you have to write reports or essays? Did you do any group projects? Again, transferable skills.

> 4.

Struggling to get started? Try a resume template or a resume builder

Using a resume template or resume builder could help you in two ways. Firstly because you’re guided through which information to include. Secondly because you’re steered away from worrying too much about the format (what you say matters more than what the document looks like).

If you’re looking for a resume template for your first job, we like the simplicity of Reed’s CV builder tool, or the range of designs for CV templates on CVMaker that you can look through before you get started. (Don’t overthink it, just grab the first one that jumps out at you and dive in).

Rather write a resume from scratch? Keep it to two sides of A4 maximum. Ideally one side. And resist the temptation to pad it out by repeating yourself or listing every piece of coursework you’ve ever completed.

This approach will backfire because it makes life harder for the hiring manager who has to make sense of your resume, and nobody likes having life made harder for them.

These are the areas your resume needs to cover:

  • Contact details. Your email address and phone number. Possibly also your social media details if you use those platforms to talk about your studies or professional interests.

  • A sentence or two to introduce yourself. Aim to link your background to your suitability for the role, e.g. “Engineering graduate with a love of object-oriented programming. Collaborative team player with experience in group projects and seasonal employment.”

  • Work history. For each role: the name of the company, the job title, the dates you worked there, your main responsibilities, and the skills you learned.

  • Education history. Ensure you’ve listed your education. University: degree name, classification, clubs or societies, awards. Secondary school: AS-level subjects and grades, A-level subjects and grades, GCSE subjects and grades.

  • A reference. Name and contact details for a previous manager or university professor (be sure to check with them first!).

> 5.

Don’t confuse your resume with a cover letter

Some job descriptions will ask you for a cover letter to go along with your resume. Argh, another blank page that exists to torment us!

The key point to bear in mind is that a cover letter should *not* just rehash the information in your resume. Unlike a resume, which boils down the facts, your cover letter is a chance for you to share your reasons for why you’re sold on this specific job opportunity, and how you believe you can contribute towards the organization’s goals.

Want some inspiration to get the ball rolling? You may have written a personal statement when you applied to university. A cover letter is a bit like a personal statement, so if you can dig yours out, it might give you a boost.

Or take a look at Indeed’s collection of sample cover letters. Read a few, close the page, take a break, then start writing. Copying an existing cover letter won’t do you any favors (people can always tell…).

> 6.

Importantly: read through your resume (at least twice) before you send it out!

If the voice inside your head is going “well obviously”, you’d be stunned to hear how many resumes get submitted without being checked over. When you’re in a rush to launch your career, it’s easy to forget this last step. Typos, unfinished sentences, notes to self to finish this bullet point later… we’ve seen it all.

Even better, get someone else to check it for you. They’re more likely to spot the gotchas!

Now you’ve got your resume sorted, begin your career with Wiley Edge. And once you’re through to the next stage, check out our 7 interview tips for your first graduate job.

Saffron Wildbore is a Senior Marketing Executive at mthree. She has worked in marketing, specialising in creating content for over 4 years. Saffron focuses on writing tips for graduates, Alumni interviews and more!


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