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Jobs & Careers

How to make your CV stand out at university

Hoping to boost your employability while still at uni? There are so many things you can be doing right now to improve your CV. Try these tips and you might just land that dream job!

Student with idea in a library

Credit: Roman Samborskyi (foreground), Suti Stock Photo (background) – Shutterstock

With so many students and graduates on the job hunt at this very moment (yep, even as you read this), you need to do whatever you can to wow future employers.

Thinking ahead and laying the groundwork for your career while you're still studying is a pretty solid way to go about it.

There are a lot of fairly straightforward things you can do while at university that will catch employers' eyes later in the game – all things that look good on a CV. Luckily for you, we've put all of the main ones together so you can get cracking.

Still unsure which direction you'd like your career to take? Have a look at the highest paid jobs in the UK. It might help you decide...

How to improve your CV

These are the best ways to improve your CV as a student:

  1. Join university societies

    Joining uni societies and getting involved with events – be it your student newspaper, the university football team or the Quidditch society – is always a good idea.

    What really tots up the brownie points, though, is when you take a leadership role in any of these groups. This shows an added level of commitment, leadership skills and it gives you a lot to talk about during job interviews (but we suggest not going too far with this as you don't want to seem overly dominant).

    Getting involved with a society or group that's related to your chosen career path is helpful but not crucial – it's all about those transferable skills after all.

  2. Get a part-time job that fits around your degree

    What looks good on a CV? Other jobs!

    Okay, so we recognise the irony in suggesting you improve your chances of getting a job by getting a job? But part-time jobs give you great experience in the working world. Plus, they'll look impressive to future employers as you're showing that you know how to balance work and study simultaneously.

    Whether it's helping show prospective students around uni or working in a local coffee shop, you're instantly a step above the thousands of graduates who've never had a job before.

    Having previous employment – even if it's in a completely unrelated field – shows you know how things work outside of the university bubble. It also suggests you've got a grip on essential skills like punctuality and teamwork.

    If you're interested in looking for work during uni, we've got some top tips on getting a part-time job as well as a part-time student job search tool for you to check out.

  3. Volunteer in your spare time

    Group of volunteers packing food

    Credit: LightField Studios – Shutterstock

    Volunteering is always a great way to make your CV stand out from the rest (no matter how creative they are) and help you muscle your way into your first graduate job.

    Like holding down a part-time job, volunteering while you study shows that you have great time-management skills – with the added bonus that you're devoting your time to a good cause.

    You'll also get a lot more out of volunteering than you might at first realise. For example, many organisations will offer you training and qualifications for your roles with them. Check out our guide to volunteering to find out more.

  4. Get to know your university tutors

    It's never too early to start making industry contacts, and your professors are a great resource in terms of helping you get in touch with the movers and shakers in your area. After all, they are experts in their field...

    If you ask lots of questions and take an interest in your tutors' work, they could be more likely to write you glowing references when you do apply for jobs.

    And, what's more, they can also put you in touch with people before you graduate to give you advice on your chosen career, or even recommend you for a vacancy.

    Connecting with your tutors on LinkedIn is always a great move, too.

  5. Use the careers advice service at university

    You may not be intending to enter the world of work for another few years, but that's not to say you can't start prepping now for what you need to do to snag the best job.

    Every university has a careers service, and they'll be more than happy to chat with you for half an hour about how to achieve your long-term goals. Make use of the service while you still can!

    They'll also be able to give you some advice on how you can use recruitment agencies to get the job you want... oh, looks like we just did that bit for them.

    Many universities also run schemes to help you become more employable too. For example, the University of Kent runs an Employability Points scheme to reward students for doing things that help boost their job-hunting odds by giving them more experience.

  6. Research your chosen career

    Quite simply – if you know where you want to be, then find out what's expected of you in order to get there and start working towards your goal.

    Get in contact with recent graduates in the sector who can tell you how they landed their gig, and take a look at current entry-level positions to see exactly what's required.

    Even if you're not entirely sure what you want to end up doing yet, do some research into a couple of fields you're interested in and you should get an idea of some of the transferrable skills and experience you could start building on.

  7. Complete student internships and work experience

    people examining graphs and charts

    Credit: dokurose – Shutterstock

    It's always tempting to sit back over summer and use the break as an excuse to drink beer during the day, or sit around in your jammies watching tv.

    But, if you can tear yourself away from the house for just a little while, a couple of weeks of work experience or a short internship will do wonders for your career.

    A lot of graduate positions will ask for some kind of experience in the industry, and at least a sign of some level of commitment to your chosen career path. Demonstrating that you're serious enough about your career to devote your spare time to it will look great to future employers.

    Even if you're not sure exactly which path you'd like to go down, dipping your toes in one area will at least teach you a thing or two about the working world – even if it is just the fact you never want to set foot in an administration office ever again!

    We've got everything you need to get started in our ultimate guides to getting work experience and doing student internships, plus how to cope if your internship is unpaid. You can thank us later.

    Have you thought about these seven alternatives to an internship? They'll add bags of value to your CV.
  8. Keep track of your achievements at university

    When you're out drinking jägerbombs or cheap cocktails every other night, it can be a tad tricky to keep track of all the wonderful things you've done during your years at uni.

    Putting together an online portfolio on sites like LinkedIn, or at least making sure you're constantly updating your CV (and not just waiting until you need it to apply for a job) is a great way to showcase everything you've done, and it'll make sure you don't miss anything out.

    This will also keep things fresh in your mind. And that comes in handy when you need to fill out job applications or talk about yourself during a job interview.

    Our guide to using social media to get a job is sure to help.

  9. Network with potential employers

    Networking and building relationships is a key way to get your foot in the proverbial door. While Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are great, it's meeting people in the flesh that gives you the best chance of making a good impression and being remembered.

    We really recommend sending a quick email to people from your chosen field and asking them to meet for a coffee. If you introduce yourself and explain that there's something specific you'd like to chat to them about (related to their work!), they're unlikely to turn you down.

    There are also loads of student organisations out there to help support people trying to get into specific industries, and they tend to run regular conferences with speakers to give you a taste of what to expect.

    The Student Publication Association, for example, is a free organisation for aspiring journalists and the UK Law Students' Association is (unsurprisingly) aimed at law students.

    Even just meeting people in a similar situation to you is a great opportunity for throwing around ideas. Try searching for LinkedIn Groups or even Facebook groups related to your field, and get chatting.

  10. Start a business at university

    Starting a business at university will really improve your job prospects. Regardless of how successful it is, it shows you have an entrepreneurial spirit, and this will make you stand out as someone who's innovative and driven.

    With at least three years at university to play around with, you can take the time to create an awesome business or creative project. Your business could even have the added bonus of making uni life a little bit easier for you and your fellow students.

    It's a massive talking point for interviews (the more original the better) as well, so it'll really give you the chance to shine. If you're looking for a little inspiration, read about the student who owns and runs her own alpaca farm!

  11. Add to your CV

    cv on computer desk

    Credit: everydayplus – Shutterstock

    One of the best ways to show how wonderful you are is to have more on your CV than just your school grades, degree and your paper round.

    Regardless of whether you know what you want to do when you leave, why not consider taking a short course over the summer to top up your skills in a particular area, attend a one-day workshop or try one of these free online courses that you can do from home.

    On that note, always make sure your CV is up to scratch and is a good representation of who you are and all the great things you've done. We've got a fail-proof CV template for you here.

  12. Go travelling during university breaks

    This one might not seem immediately obvious, but there are a number of ways you could add travelling to your CV.

    So if travelling is something you've always wanted to do but you weren't sure when to do it, we'd recommend indulging before you start your career, as it could seriously improve your job prospects.

    If you're thinking about taking a year out to go travelling, we've got loads of tips on how to do a gap year.

    Even a short InterRailing trip around Europe with friends can be a great experience, as can spending the summer working at a summer camp in the US. Get looking into it!

  13. Work hard on your degree

    Last but not least, it's easy to get totally sidetracked by all of your amazing extracurricular activities, but try not to lose sight of why you're there in the first place. There's no point putting in all this work to improve your CV, only to flunk uni!

    Employers will look for a good standard of degree as a benchmark for recruiting candidates, so make sure you put as much time into your studies as you can and do your best.

    If you haven't already, have a look at our top tips on getting a first-class degree – they could come in very handy.

Of course, these aren't the only ways you can increase your chances of finding your dream job – but they're definitely a good start.

Uni's a great time to begin saving and making money and, if you're savvy, you could be a millionaire by 30.

Laura Brown

WRITTEN BY Laura Brown

Laura Brown, Head of Editorial at Save the Student, is an award-winning writer with expertise in student money. She project manages influential national student surveys and has presented findings to MPs in Westminster. As an expert on student issues, Laura has been quoted by the BBC, the Guardian, Metro and more.
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