CVs for Students or First Time Job Hunters – How to Write a CV That Rocks!

A student CV or a CV for someone who is ‘lite’ on experience can be a big challenge. So here are some basic foundation principles and instructions and examples to help you. And some examples and a template/s for you to use to build your own high-impact student/first time job hunter CV.

CV Principles for Students/First Time Job Hunters

Your CV is critical. It’s your first impression. It lets a potential employer know that although you don’t have all this experience, you do have guts, enthusiasm, energy, and some useful skills and knowledge. Or not.

It says, “I’m average.” Or perhaps, “I’ve got something special”. An if you apply what you learn here – use the principles, use the templates and follow instructions you’ll end up in the “special”.

CV’s I see coming in to my office from Grads or even just Matrics, kinda all look the same. What results can the owners expect? Pretty much nil, really. And deep frustration. For maybe a long time. So let’s dive into some ideas that’ll make a difference to your student CV “bash, boom, bang|” effect.

Student CV Principle #1

Never rely purely on a CV to get you a job. Unless you are the “Michael Jordan” in your field with the right school, university, race, gender, and companies worked for, etc… it’s going to be tough.

The job market subjects you to all sorts of petty prejudices and discrimination. Hey, your CV may be tossed aside just because your name may be the same as the employers ex-husband (with whom she’s just had an acrimonious split!) You’ll never know it. You’ll just get (or not!) some lame generic rejection letter.

But this is the world we live in so we expect it and try various tactics to overcome these obstacles.

Just sending out CV’s randomly and hoping for a good result is dumb.

Meet people, make contacts, contact companies directly – decision makers, not just “HR”.

Be sure of this: your CV absolutely has the power to influence a decision – so make it good – let’s get back to that topic. Okay.

Graduate/First Time Job Hunter CV Principle#2

Is there a magic formula? No. Is there a format which will beguile, seduce, mesmerize an employer into hiring you? No. Will fancy paper, inserted pictures, Roman columns and scrolls do the job? Seldom.

Generally, getting ‘all fancy’ isn’t going to increase your chances. In fact by getting complicated one stands a greater chance of screwing it up in what will be your first real CV.

The closest we can come to a magic formula is getting the two following principles right. And here’s the most important:

“What can you do for me?” - that’s the only thing on the employer’s mind when looking a CV over. Hey, he can’t sleep, man! He’s stressed out. He’s busy. He thinks and worries about his business 24/7. So now you come in and hand him a lame CV! Will he care? Will he take time to read and ponder? Maybe if he’s your kind uncle Jim. He wants benefits, he wants his people to solve problems for him.

And do know what? – employers ARE willing to take chances on people who present themselves like that. Give them a chance. Young job hunters say that all the time. Have you said: “Why won’t anyone give me a chance?” But what are you offering????!!!! Maybe you’re going in saying: “I need, I want”. And the employer hears: “blah, blah”. Rather …

Go in offering something: maybe not deep skills and years of experience. But energy, focus, willingness to do the ‘dog’ work, work no-one else wants to do; be willing to work for a month at no pay; be willing to arrive early, leave late, take on extra work wherever you see it, etc. Get it?

They’re not reading your CV for fun – so what are they thinking? They’re looking for a benefit! They’re looking or a person to help them to solve a problem, to find a solution, to resolve some issue. They’re looking for someone to put their hand up and say –

“I understand you have this problem, here’s how I can help you.”

But what do most job hunters do in their CV? They first show all their personal details, their high school details, details of some jobs they did some years ago – all irrelevant and of very little interest to the reader!

They never tell what BENEFIT they aim to be to a new employer. Rather, it’s left up to the employer to try to figure out whether this person can help them or not – most often they just can’t be bothered, they’re too busy.

Other Questions Employers Have

If you grab attention with the “what can you do for me?” question, then other questions also come into play – here are some examples:

  • Some entail skills you have – ability to communicate, to work with figures, to write reports, to process and distill information, to analyze financial data, to explain complex financial concepts, to produce a set of financial statements, to organize paperwork, to manage, etc.
  • Other answers may involve knowledge you have – the latest Accounting standards, management practices, business or financial analysis methodologies, legal frameworks, etc.
  • Still others may involve something else often ignored – your attitude, work ethic, ability to follow instructions, willingness to do the ‘dirty’ work, ability to work as part of a team, etc. These are critical areas in which you can differentiate yourself.

And most importantly – the above points serve to support your claim that you provide benefits: projects completed on time, a productive team that meets its targets, a “zero findings” audit, astute reporting that can be relied on to identify key issues, financial statements that comply with standards, communication and service which improves customer satisfaction ratings, etc.

Your CV needs to show that you understand these points. They have strong influences on the decision to call you in for an interview.

Now here’s the next thing employers want to know.

Student CV Principle#3

Okay, so you can make promises. Fine. But why should I believe a word you’re saying. That’s our next issue. Your credibility. And the question:

“What why should I believe you?” Yep, you need to show what you’ve got to prove you can do all you say you can do. You need to back it up or show your evidence.

There are a variety of ways to present your ‘hard’ evidence or to establish your credibility:

  • Your qualifications – degrees, courses, formal training.
  • Where you studied – good institutions’ credibility rubs off on you
  • Work experience – anything you did which built in you skills which can be of use in the workplace – time management, communication, work ethic, dealing with conflict, working in a team, etc. Don’t just say “waitering at Joe Soap’s restaurant.” Add, “learned the value of a friendly, service oriented approach – consistently ranked #1 for tips received – and earned regular awards for ‘up-selling’ customers.”
  • Testimonials – use what people say about you – the positive things – in your CV. Use an extract. It shows that you can be trusted.
  • Your leadership roles – did you lead a successful project group at ‘varsity, were you chairperson of a committee, were you a captain of a sports team? But you should also add what you learned from the role. Did you learn the value of teamwork, proper record keeping, following proper legal procedures? Show how the role has made you valuable in the workplace.

Putting Your Student CV Together

Here’s a template/sample or example with my added comments to highlight the key elements:

Student CV Example (PDF) | Student CV Example (MS Word)

And here is the corresponding template that you can use to write your own CV.

Student CV Template (MS Word)

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    Gerard le Roux

    [Updated May 2014]

    Hi, I'm Gerard le Roux, a CV writer and job search coach - published in The Star and Financial Mail and heard on Radio 702 and SAfm. I help people get more interviews and job offers.

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