20 things every graduate should know before writing a CV

Charlie Benson
Content Marketing Executive

CV-writing can be a minefield. 

Luckily, we're on-hand to help you fix up your CV and make sure you stand out. We've spoken to loads of recruiters, hiring managers and employers to get you the best CV-writing advice.


Here are the 20 most important lessons we learned. 





1. Recruiters may spend as little as 5-7 seconds reading your CV.

We spoke to several recruiters who told us, due to the number of applications they receive, they don't have the time to thoroughly read every graduate's CV. Generally, you have less than one minute to impress. 

2. So, always make things as easy as possible for a prospective employer.  

Make sure the most important information: your university grade, dates of previous employment, contact details and transferable skills are clearly stated and readily available to the reader. Don't make them have to sift for the information they need to progress you to the next stage. 

For example, if you got a 2:1, write "2:1", not "upper second class honours". 

3. The best CVs are one page, or a maximum of two pages, long.

One Recruitment expert we spoke to said: "As a recent graduate, nothing could justify your CV spanning three pages." 

4. And formatting is absolutely crucial.

It's likely hiring managers will only have time to skim-read your CV, so optimise it for that. Don't centre any text. Use headings and bold text where relevant to make it easily-digestible - with all the key headings on the left and dates on the right, like a timeline of your experiences. 

5. Every recent graduate’s CV should list the Education section before the Experience section.

It's likely a certain grade or area of study will be on a hiring manager's list of expected criteria. Make sure you tick that box right away. 

6. But the longer you’re out of uni and the more work experience you get, the less important your education is.

Once you've had a job or two after uni, you can lose the list of subjects you studied at GCSE and just put your grades. If you're not mega pleased with your GCSEs and it's been a while, you can drop them altogether. One Recruitment expert we spoke to said you should always have your A-Levels on there, though, so be wary of cutting them.  

7. You should absolutely never leave out your degree grade, even if you aren’t happy with it, though.

According to one recruiter we spoke to, leaving out your grades suggests you have "an excuse manner"; that you won't take accountability in the workplace. We found, also, that as your degree grade is essential information - many recruiters will just disregard your CV altogether if that information isn't readily available. 

8. Don’t be afraid to include a brief summary statement or About Me section at the top of your CV, below your contact information.

It's your chance to show some personality and to tailor your CV specifically to the role you're going for, especially if the company hasn't asked for a cover letter. 

9. It’s really important to highlight both hard and soft skills on your CV.

You can find out which skills are most in-demand at the moment here

10. Though there are some clichés and buzzwords that should be avoided.

When writing your CV, ask yourself why you're including each thing you put on there to make it as strong as possible.

For example, there's no need to describe yourself with words like "punctual", as that is a very basic requirement of an employee: that you'll turn up on time. Similarly, describing yourself as someone who "works well independently and as part of a team" is now so overused it doesn't really mean anything.

Focus on the skills and experiences that make you a unique and desirable employee. 

11. If you want your CV to really stand out, include stats and examples.

Numbers jump off the page. Plus, it's always best to give an example of a time you used leadership skills or worked well within a team, rather than just saying "I'm a natural leader and I'm a great team player". Prove you have the skills the employer is looking for using anecdotes and stats that demonstrate them. 

12. Hiring managers are divided as to whether you should include a photo of yourself on your CV.

Some say it doesn't matter either way, others say you should never, ever include a picture as it's just not relevant. Our advice would be to just use your judgement on a case-by-case basis, but, generally, we wouldn't put a photo on there. 

13. LinkedIn and social media are becoming increasingly important on the job search.

You should expect companies to look you up across various social media platforms as soon as they receive your CV - so Google yourself and make sure you're happy with everything that comes up. Plus, get on LinkedIn and use it to your advantage - it's your chance to include any extras you couldn't fit on your CV.

You can also have a photo of yourself on your LinkedIn profile, meaning it's really not necessary to have one on your CV. 

14. Don’t overlook your voluntary experience, unpaid work experience or the societies you were a part of at uni.

Employers love hearing about volunteer work and experiences that set you apart as a candidate, from everyone else who has a degree similar to yours. If it's relevant to the job you're applying for, especially, include it in your Experience section. You can then talk about any skills and achievements you can bring from leading a society, for example, into the workplace. 

15. And no CV is complete without a well-crafted Hobbies and Interests section.

We spoke to the Managing Director of a Recruitment company who told us you should always talk about your hobbies and interests in your CV - not doing so is a missed opportunity to show character and transferable skills.

16. Many employers look favourably on travelling after uni – so make sure you include it on your CV.

Back from or planning a post-uni gap year and worrying it'll damage your chances of landing a grad job? Well, we spoke to several Recruitment experts who told us they often like to see travelling on a CV, as it means you've got the travel bug out of your system and will be fully committed to the job you're applying for. Here's how to use long-term travelling to your advantage on your CV. 

17. If you don’t want your CV to be put on the ‘no’ pile, be wary of employment gaps.

CV gaps can be a massive red flag to employers - anything over 3 months spent unemployed after uni will likely demand explanation. All is not lost, though. If you're in an employment gap right now, get volunteering or take on casual work while you search for that dream grad job opportunity. As long as you can list something on your CV that isn't "sitting on the sofa looking for a job", you'll be fine. 

Plus, recruiters are generally understanding that it's tough out there for recent grads, so just focus on making your CV as strong as possible and be prepared to chat about any employment gaps at interview. 

18. There’s no need to include references, you’ll be asked for them if they’re needed later.

You can put "References available on request" if you like, but doing so is likely to just take up valuable space unnecessarily. 

19. If you're applying for a creative role, don't be afraid to show off your creativity when designing your CV. 

Sometimes a Word document just won't cut it. 

20. And, remember – your CV should be a reflection of who you are as an employee. Everyone’s is different. 

We got graduates to look at the first CV they used to apply for jobs as graduates and all of them approached the CV-writing process in their own, unique way. They reflected on what went well, what they would change, and the things they look back on and are a bit embarrassed by now. 


Watch the full video by clicking below.