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The top 5 graduate CV mistakes and how to avoid them

The top 5 graduate CV mistakes and how to avoid them

Like many of us, graduates who are fresh out of university often struggle to avoid the common pitfalls when it comes to putting together a resume. If you’re applying for your first ‘proper’ job, avoiding the mistakes below could really help to make your CV stand out for all the right reasons.

1. It’s too long. You may be used to writing long essays, but your CV should be concise and to the point. Two pages is the absolute maximum, and if you have limited work experience you might want to restrict it to a single page. Put your communication skills to the test and only include the most relevant details. You don’t need to list every grade you’ve ever achieved; it’s more important to give a complete picture of what equips you to do the job. Cut out unnecessary waffle and focus on what you can do for the employer. Use bullet points and short sentences to break up your CV.

2. It’s too generic. If you’re firing off the same CV for every job application, you may be missing out. It’s important that you tailor each CV to the role you are applying for. Even if the jobs are similar, the focus or desired skills may be different. Show that you have read the job and person description and tick all the boxes. It might be that your generic CV misses a key skill or focuses on an aspect of your experience that isn’t relevant for this particular role. You may only need to make minor tweaks each time, but it’s well worth doing this if you want to get to the interview stage. Then use your cover letter to reinforce your CV, explaining why you want the job and what makes you the right candidate.

3. It’s a bit insipid. Hundreds of graduates may be applying for the role you want, many of whom come from a similar academic background. You need to show how your studies and work experience best equip you for the role. What did your degree teach you? Have you studied a particular module or undertaken practical work experience that sets you apart from the competition? Did you learn transferable skills, for example social media management as part of your marketing degree, or creative writing as part of your language degree?

4. It’s too work-focused. Your CV obviously needs to cover your skills and experience, but you may have taken on other major challenges that could be highlighted in your CV. Perhaps you set up a charity or led the Christian Union. Maybe you climbed Mount Kilimanjaro during your gap year. Perhaps you worked part-time while you studied or volunteered at a local animal shelter. Including these successes and accomplishments shows that you’re not just an academic; you’re a human with interests and ambition. Don’t be afraid to sell yourself!

5. It lacks key words. More and more employers are using automated software to take care of the initial stage of the CV sifting process. Don’t stuff your CV with key words, but use some of the core phrases that appear in the job and person specification to bolster your resume. The software may search for some of the essential criteria, so if you don’t include these your CV might not make the final cut. Make sure that the key phrases sound natural and appear at appropriate points or the person who ends up reading it after the initial screening may lose interest.