How to write a great CV
Applying for a job? Follow our complete guide to writing the perfect CV and hugely increase your chances of getting hired.
Putting together your ideal CV might seem like a daunting task. But, with our student CV template and tips on what to include, you'll be able to write one that stands out.
Once you've read this guide, you'll be looking at a prime example of a student CV, with your name at the top.
Trivia: What is the average time an employer spends reviewing a CV? Answer at the end...
What's in this guide?
How to write a CV for students
Writing your CV is much easier if you prepare beforehand. We'd suggest starting by writing down your past jobs and notable achievements. Doing so will help you identify the points that are worth mentioning, and what's not quite impressive enough to include.
As a general rule, your CV shouldn't be longer than two pages. It will need to be well-structured, concise and different enough to grab the recruiter's attention.
But you also need to be careful about over-embellishing certain things and going overboard in an attempt to stand out from other candidates. There's a balance, and it's just a matter of finding it. You can always look at some student CV examples for inspiration.
Download our CV template
Want to practice writing your CV as we go along? Download our free, clean and professional CV template designed for students and graduates.
There are many free CV examples out there, but this template gets some of the best results.
Get a free CV review
To maximise your chances of success, register for free with the Graduate Recruitment Bureau.
What do employers look for in a CV?
You should never send the same generic CV to multiple recruiters. Each time you apply for a job, think about what the employer is specifically looking for and write your CV with them in mind.
Tailor your CV to the job
Most people think that once you've written a CV, you can use it for every job application. While this is true to an extent, you should also try to adapt your CV and experience to demonstrate that you're right for that particular job.
You don't have to write a brand new CV for every single job application. However, you should think about what specific experience or skills would impress that employer and make sure these are prominent in your application.
Also, do your homework on every company you apply for. Each business is unique, so take time to research their website, social media accounts and job ad. You could even look up current employees to see how the company's structured.
Best skills to include on your student CV
Here are the top skills to include in a student CV:
- Self-management (including time-keeping)
- Teamwork and leadership
- Communication skills
- Commercial awareness
- Customer care
- Academic and extra-curricular achievements
- IT skills
- Commitment and enthusiasm.
Have a look at the skills most wanted by employers. These are all great skills for your student CV.
What makes you the ideal candidate for the job?
Now you've considered what the employer's looking for, it's time to model yourself towards this.
Never make anything up on your CV or pretend to be someone you're not. Instead, emphasise and tailor aspects of your education, work experience and interests towards the job on offer.
What is the best CV format?
Before writing your CV, think about how to arrange your experiences. The employer should be able to easily understand and follow what you have to say. The two most popular formats are reverse chronological and skills-based.
Both have their advantages, and the choice is yours.
Skills-based CVs are usually best when applying for roles you don't have a lot of previous work experience with. These types of CVs let you emphasise how the skills you've gained are transferable to this role.
A chronological CV is best if you've got a lot of work experience and/or education in the field that you want to show off.
Whichever you choose, make sure everything fits onto two A4 pages.
Reverse chronological CV
This is the most common type of student CV. Here are the best ways to write a reverse chronological CV:
- List your previous work experience/qualifications in chronological order, with the most recent at the top.
- Explain what you learned and achieved in those roles. Be as specific as possible and focus on results.
- Highlight skills as you go along or summarise them at the end. However, if you find yourself repeating the same skills, you might be better off with a skills-based layout.
The format is quick and easy to put together. But, please note that it can look generic and draw attention to any gaps that you have taken out of work.
These tips will help you write the perfect skills-based CV:
- Emphasise your skills first.
- Pick the top five skills for the job you'll be applying for. Then, choose two or three examples for each skill from a range of situations including education, work and other activities
- After that, list your work experience and qualifications. Make sure to add the years and a summary of key duties or achievements.
This type of CV can help you target the job description directly. But, try and keep your examples as specific as possible so it doesn't become vague.
What to include in your CV
Follow these five key steps to best demonstrate your skills and ability throughout your CV:
- After giving your contact details, we'd recommend following it up with a brief personal statement to explain yourself in a nutshell. One or two sentences will be enough.
- Under the headings of education and employment history, including any relevant experience from the past few years.
- For each, include one or two key examples to show what skills you learned or what you achieved. Don't just say that you developed skills, but explain how. For example, saying "I managed the social media accounts for the student newspaper and, by developing more engaging content, increased our followers by X%" is better than saying "I developed skills in social media management".
- Go back to the job description and try to directly link your examples to this. Look at the key skills employers are seeking and think about how you can demonstrate that you have those.
- Add any wider personal interests at the end to help convey your character and personality.
With these in mind, let's go through your CV from top to bottom in a bit more detail.
In the steps below, we'll be using the reverse-chronological layout. This is more popular with university students and recent graduates applying for roles in a specific sector.
How to structure your CV
To write the best possible student CV, we recommend structuring it in this order:
Start with your full name in a large font at the top of the page. Below this, include your current address (remember to keep it up-to-date if you're moving soon), email address and contact phone number.
You can also state your nationality and any languages you speak in this section. If you're an international student, you may need to clarify your work status. For some jobs, you could also state if you have a driving licence.
Stand out with a personal domain name
To make a great first impression, register your own domain name. You can use it as your personal email and redirect it to your normal inbox for free (Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, etc.).
[email protected] looks much better than [email protected]. With 123-Reg.co.uk, you can buy your domain name and set up your email address in less than 10 minutes for around £2.50 per month. Check out our guide to creating a website for more info.
Personal statement (optional)
This is not the place for your life story. If you can sum yourself up as a candidate in less than two sentences, do it here. Your personal statement should simply state who you are and what type of work you are looking for.
For example, "I'm an undergraduate Economics student on track for a 2:1 degree. I'm currently looking for part-time work in retail to complement the skills and ambitions I can offer your company."
If you think it doesn't sound good, or you need the space elsewhere, you don't have to include it. We'd only recommend including a personal statement in your CV if you're confident that it's a strong opening sentence.
Education and qualifications
In this section, start by listing your most recent education first (i.e. university). After that, list your A Levels (or equivalent), and then finish off with your GCSEs (or equivalent) if you think these are relevant.
If you're struggling for space or have more important things to include, we'd recommend cutting your GCSEs. Employers are unlikely to be too concerned with them at this stage. If you do include them, make sure they're summarised (not listed) to save space. For example, "10 GCSEs (4 As, 5 Bs, 1 C) including English and Maths".
Remember to include the name of each school, university or other institution, as well as the years that you attended.
If you're an undergraduate, you can still include your expected degree classification and share any previous year's grades if you have them.
It can also be a good idea to list some key modules that you've taken, especially if they demonstrate your relevant knowledge, skills or interest in a certain job role. After this, you should include all of your A Level subjects and grades.
If you have foreign qualifications, try to put the grade into a UK context using equivalents.
As with the education section above, you should start your employment history with your most recent job. Make sure to include paid work (full-time and part-time), voluntary work, internship placements and shadowing roles.
It's important to state the months and years that you worked at each place, as well as the company name and your specific job title.
To show your suitability for the job you're applying for, highlight the key skills and responsibilities that you gained under each experience. But, make sure that they're relevant to the role you're currently applying for.
As mentioned previously, don't just list key skills – talk about how you developed them. Mention specific projects you worked on, results you achieved or awards you won.
Main achievements (optional)
This section isn't absolutely necessary, but it can help to give more insight into you as a person. It's a chance to set yourself apart from the competition.
You could include a range of extra-curricular achievements. For example, completing a Duke of Edinburgh award, captaining a sports team, winning a Young Enterprise programme or even starting a website (stick to four or five points max).
Remember to make these achievements relevant to the employer and always demonstrate the key skills you needed to get them.
You wouldn't have this in a skills-based CV. But otherwise, this area allows you to expand on the main skills you've highlighted, and to include a few more. Specific skills such as IT, languages and having a driving licence should be included in this section. And of course, any online courses you've taken.
If it's relevant to the role you're applying for, be even more specific. For example, you could mention computer programmes you're skilled in such as Adobe Photoshop or Premiere Pro (potential Adobe student discount).
This is an area that might be called upon in a job interview, so don't make anything up and have relevant examples ready in case you're asked.
Hobbies and interests (optional)
Be selective about which hobbies to include in a CV. You probably have dozens of personal interests, but think about how many of them will interest the employer.
Keep it short and avoid obvious things such as "reading" or "socialising" – this is another chance to make yourself stand out from the crowd. Things such as playing instruments, going travelling and doing volunteer work are much better options.
This section is your opportunity to show what you do outside of work and give the employer another insight into your character.
To tie your CV up, you should have a reference section. You should include two contacts – one academic and one previous employer. It's acceptable to put "References available upon request" to save space. However, it does work in your favour if you can provide two contacts straight away.
You should always ask the relevant people for their permission before citing them as a reference. This will save you and them any embarrassment if an employer follows up without warning.
10 tips to make your CV stand out
These CV tips will help you to impress recruiters:
- Don't include a photo as it can put the employer in a difficult position with discrimination laws. They may have to reject your CV altogether.
- Don't include your date of birth, marital status or health situation for the same reasons, unless you think it's extremely necessary.
- Keep your CV within two pages of A4. You can be clever with margins, but anything longer and the employer is unlikely to read it.
- There is no required format, so don't worry if your CV looks different from others you've seen. If anything, it will help you to make your CV stand out! New formats such as infographic CVs are becoming more popular in design industries, but keep it simple, and don't go overboard using things such as watermarks and elaborate borders.
- Keep sentences and paragraphs short and snappy, and avoid being vague.
- Highlight key skills and examples throughout, and keep them up-to-date.
- Stay clear of coloured or funky fonts. Keep everything consistent and easy to read.
- Back up skills with relevant experiences and vice-versa.
- Use keywords to emphasise your points and do not use the same words over and over again.
- Always proofread and spell-check the document before sending it off. If possible, get a friend to check it for you too. There is nothing worse than a spelling or grammar mistake on a CV; it demonstrates carelessness and a lack of attention to detail.
Free CV review
Once you've put your CV together using this guide, we recommend registering with the Graduate Recruitment Bureau. They can give you a free CV review.
Where to submit your CV
Once your CV is completed and you're happy with it, the next challenge is to get it on the desks of prospective employers. There are a few ways to effectively distribute your CV:
- Submit your CV to job sites like CV-Library. They do the legwork by encouraging companies to track you down as employers can search for your profile, download your CV and invite you to apply for a position. It's worth checking you've used key phrases on your CV that employers might be searching for.
- Be speculative, but targeted. By this, we mean handing out your CV to companies you'd like to work for and enquiring about any open positions. Even if they don't have any vacancies right now, offer to hand in your CV to keep on their record (this also shows you're keen to work for that particular company).
- Make direct applications for advertised jobs – these ads will most likely ask for your CV. Start looking now by using our guide to finding a job or going straight to our own job search.
Free CV templates
The CV templates mentioned in this guide are free to download and have been designed with students and graduates in mind. Use them as a base to build up and help structure your CV.
Chronological CV: Download our free template »
Skills-based CV: Download our free template »
Next, write a strong cover letter tailored to the job you are applying for.