Autumn is the season for new starts and many school-leavers, who are contemplating a gap year or have chosen not to go down the further education route, are putting together a CV for the first time as they prepare to launch themselves into the job market.
For many of them, this will be the first time they’ve applied for a proper job and the first time they have prepared a CV. This presents particular challenges: clearly, school-leavers do not have years of employment experience to draw on and are reliant instead on exam results, and extra-curricular activities.
Research from the National Citizen Service show that your CV has, on average, just 8.8 seconds to make an impact, so it’s important to get it right. We’ve put together some recommendations on maximising the impact of your CV. Whether you’re a freshly minted job-hunter or an anxious parent, who is trying to help a teenager launch themselves into the world of work, note the following:
Research your potential employer
It’s easy to look them up online. Review their mission statement and try and apply it to the job you’re applying for.
Read the job description carefully and copy the language they use. This will show that you not only read their brief fully, but you can also speak their language.
Stand out from the crowd
Demonstrate that you something more to offer than just academic performance. Highlight the work you have done outside school to show you’re not afraid to put in the extra work for something you believe in.
List any youth programmes you’ve participated in, any volunteering experiences, passion projects or sport and social activities that you actively pursue.
Ask yourself what you want this employer to know about you – what personal skills you are most proud of and how you could be an asset to their business. List specific skills that you have, such as confidence and resilience, presenting skills, the ability to work effectively in teams or examples of leading one.
Presentation is everything
Your CV needs to read well, but it must also look good. The top three things that turn off employers are bad grammar, spelling mistakes and poor formatting. Take advantage of simple online templates or even use your own creativity – just remember to have a fresh pair of eyes look at it before you send it out.
No job experience?
If you haven’t got any work history, you can use other experiences to demonstrate your potential. Any responsibilities you have undertaken at school or any voluntary work you have done (such as fundraising) will have given you skills that can be applied in a professional environment. Examples could include: handling cash, working with children, or speaking on behalf of classroom peers.
Think carefully about any skills you’ll bring to a job. You might be highly organised, numerate, a good communicator, a diligent researcher. Think about the sort of skills your potential employer will be seeking, and try to present yourself in a positive light, as hard-working, positive, enthusiastic and eager to learn.
It is important to keep your CV short and attention grabbing, so use bullet points wherever possible, as they are much more likely to jump off the page. Most hard-pressed employers will find long, wordy paragraphs off-putting.
Arrange your CV as follows:
•Name and Contact Details
This should be a brief statement (two or three sentences), which summarises who you are (eg a school-leaver with two ‘A’ levels), what interests you (eg communication, working with children, administration etc), and an indication of where you aspire to be (eg highlight the industry that attracts you).
It is vital that this section is carefully tailored to the specific job requirements, as it is probably the first place a recruiter will look. Here you can highlight competencies such as IT (it’s good to indicate experience in specific software programs), languages etc but also mention soft skills, such as public speaking, classroom advocacy, team-leading (eg in sports), and so on.
Arrange this section in reverse chronological order (ie with your most recent qualifications) first. List qualifications, grades and date attained – and go as far back as GCSEs.
•Work and Volunteer Experience
Like your education section, this should be arranged in reverse chronological order, with your most recent employer/activity first. List all your experience, no matter how brief, including internships and work experience schemes. For each entry include the following details: company name/organisation you were volunteering for; job title/role description; dates of employment/engagement; a brief description of your main duties and your key achievements.
Don’t be afraid to include details of relevant social media accounts (e.g. X, LinkedIn, blogs) but only do this if you think it is a positive reflection of you. It’s becoming more common for employers to search for potential employees online, so by including this information you are making it easier for them to find you. Review all your privacy settings and ensure that nothing is accessible online that is going to compromise your reputation: photographs of riotous nights out and associated gossip will be seen as deeply off-putting. You are now entering the professional world of work, and it is vital that you curate your own image.
You don’t want to be judged on your image alone and it is not a requirement in the UK.
Under the Equality Act of 2010 you do not have to include sensitive information, for example, your age, race, religion, sex or gender reassignment, or disabilities.
•Your entire life story
Edit the information so it’s appropriate for the job you’re applying for, and no more. Keep it short, concise and relevant even if it means changing your CV every time you apply for a new job.
•Long lists of hobbies
Hobbies such as ‘socialising with friends’, ‘going to the cinema’ and ‘going to the gym’ will sell you short. They don’t demonstrate what value you’re bringing to the company. Only include hobbies that will have a positive spin, eg running marathons (striving to push yourself to the limits), a player in the local football league (team player), amateur theatricals (creative people person etc), playing in the youth orchestra (creative, committed).
Think carefully about the attributes that the job requires and include hobbies and interests that appear to be relevant. The exception to this rule is if you have a real passion (eg running, tennis, cooking, playing in a band, yoga etc). If it reflects well on you, include it in your CV as it will add a little touch of personality to your profile and make you stand out.
•“References on request”
This is a given, and employers will ask for them if they want to take your application further.
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