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Writing Your First Professional CV

Young graduates face one of the hardest tasks in all CV writing,
which is how to differentiate themselves from everyone else and not come across
as a wannabe with overblown intentions but little to offer.

Contrary to
popular belief, naked ambition is not highly regarded by recruiters, who are
actually looking for evidence of maturity and judgement, at least an appearance
of originality and creativity and the definite hint of potential commitment.

Your challenge is to imply all of these things without being so crass as
to actually say them. This is where intelligent candidates can score highly by
making the most of their NON WORK activities and interests.

graduates rarely have a great deal of work experience, and if they do it tends
to be irrelevant to their future career. I often see long CVs that ramble on
about the communication skills the person learned selling burgers and the
numeracy skills they acquired at an all night petrol station.

This sort
of information cuts no ice with anyone. Important things about work experience
might be whether or not you did it to fund some amazing trip around Europe or
whether you did it to pay for your university tuition fees and then managed on
sheer talent to convert it into degree….

Years ago, milk round
employers started introducing trick questions on their graduate trainee
recruitment applications. They asked things like: What is your worst mistake and
how did you recover from it?

Think about that question and what it
implies about the people they are searching for: people who can first of all
recognise an error, then come up with a strategy to deal with it, then manage a
project that gets the result.

What this means in CV terms is that it is
that you need to be reflecting on where you are now, not pretending to be
Richard Branson.

Avoid using the word ‘I’ at all costs but describe the
experience you do have in such a way that brings out all its value.


You chose your
study path

Tell them why, what was in your mind, what evolution there
has been in the light of experience, what skills you believe it has given you,
appropriate to what kind of roles in real work. Do this in a concise and
intelligent way that tries to imagine what they want to know about you (see
above). Make sure it is not merely blind ambition but also shows judgement,
knowledge outside the syllabus, awareness of modern developments in culture and

You have non work

Don’t just list them in a dull way; if you practice martial
arts mention the resolve and inner calm they help you achieve; if you have
participated in voluntary work say why you did it and what you got from giving
your time; if you have rebuilt a VW Beetle from scratch and supercharged the
engine, you can describe your engineering achievement; if you have travelled and
worked abroad, make the most of it by laying down at least one interesting piece
of bait for people to connect with at the interview.

The heart of your proposed CV
The focus is bound to be
your studies, and for some professional starts it is essential to achieve high
grades, which can justifiably be mentioned in detail.

I often advise
people to say why they chose specific courses, who their tutors were (if famous)
and what they learned, specifically, from that branch of study. If you fancy
investment banking, for example, and have experience in using the same appraisal
system that top trading organisations actually use, then mention it and say what
you did with it. If you haven’t, and you expect to break into a golden career,
find out quick!

Your knowledge
people without maturity, and who are unlikely to be of any use to an employer,
expose themselves at once by expecting everything to be done for them. I get
enquiries from History graduates who vaguely fancy a career in e-commerce
because it pays well (they imagine). Forget it – unless you are a History
graduate who has spent hours on the Internet, read the e-business gurus and can
talk convincingly at the interview about the future. If this is you, say so in
your CV; if it is not you, then you aren’t much use at the moment and you need
to use your initiative to acquire information that wasn’t handed to you on a

That rule applies to every field of activity. People with 1st
Class Honours degrees can almost ignore it, but everyone else can benefit from
having gone beyond the narrow confines of academia and well beyond what the
university careers service has ever dreamed of.

If you have knowledge,
flaunt it and get it out there. Locate your employment targets on the Internet,
research the company in detail and contact them direct. Don’t expect to follow
all the other sheep through an easy gate marked “A graduate career”. It isn’t
like that any more. People with training who left school at 16 can be just as
highly regarded as Computer Science graduates who have no idea what they want,
what is possible and how to move themselves forward.

It’s a tough world out there
It is entirely
commercial. All careers in the future will be sales related in some sense. Wise
up to that fact immediately and be prepared to develop your career from whatever
angle you can gain entry into the world of your choice. Many of the most
successful people I write CVs for started life by leaving school at 16 and
showing initiative at every step of the way. Bear in mind that as a young
graduate you are untried and unproven and that the world does not owe you
anything. You have to prove yourself and make yourself valuable enough to

The way to start is by showing that you can actually sell
yourself, getting the message right, positioning appropriately, not producing a
bombastic imitation of a mature career CV.

letters work wonders

Spend time on your application letters and throw
the first 25 you write away. Until you have one that sings, that is less than a
page long, that excites interest, that does not repeat your CV and is not soured
by blind ambition, you have not yet written the letter. When you have written
the right letter it will open doors and you can adapt it for application form

I cannot tell you how to write a letter. It’s a creative
process, par excellence. You need to throw away your constraints and start by
just saying what you want to say in plain English. Then tidy it up and add a few
choice buzzwords. Then cut the ones that go too far. Then write it again, and
again and again and again until it feels just right. Then try it out and revise
it if no results come back.

Like your proposed glittering career, your
very first application requires some hard work, commitment, maturity,
willingness to get your hands dirty, admission of ignorance, capture of new
knowledge and all the creative flair you can muster.

Good luck.

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