As part of my degree at The University of Bath I was offered the choice of undertaking an official placement year, often known as a 'Sandwich Degree' (not quite as tasty as it sounds). The idea behind such an arrangement is that students can gain invaluable 'real world' experience, taking onboard levels of professional responsibility seldom experienced by undergrads.
Writing Your Placement CV
I must admit to having been at rather an advantage in this process; unlike many of my classmates, I had come to university as a 22 year old 'mature student' with previous workplace experience in retail and administration. Although the positions I previously held didn't actually relate directly to what I wanted to do, they did offer a wealth of skills to draw upon for my CV and covering letters.
Anything you have done - be it a paper round, volunteer work, babysitting, waitressing, keeping a blog etc - will have taught you genuinely transferrable skills which can be used on your CV.
For example, a shop assistant may have accumulated such skills as: sales efficiency, customer service orientated, cash handling, ability to work independently or as part of a team, communication, calculation skills, stock management and inventory taking etc - and that's just off the top of my head.
Remember that your CV should be clear, concise and ideally no longer than two sides of A4. Don't overcomplicate it with fancy fonts, colours or pictures of lolcats. True, infographics have their place in the CV world, but usually for the likes of graphic designers, illustrators and artists. You may, however, wish to use titles and minimal bolding to emphasise separate sections, but please don't go OTT as it just looks rather tacky.
Advice on what information to include in your CV differs from website to website, but for me the key information is:
- Personal details: Name, address, telephone number. You don't need to mention your age or to include a photo; it shouldn't matter what you look like (as long as you're presentable and professional) and if it does you shouldn't want to work for that company.
- Education: School/College, A Level subjects and results, University, degree title and results (including a breakdown of which modules you took, and your result for each year). Don't forget any professional qualifications you have; these could include any work-based qualifications such as National Vocational Qualifications. If you've got it, flaunt it.
- Employment History: List these in reverse order with your current or most recent job first. Beyond a brief description of your responsibilities and skills, they will want to know what you achieved to give them an idea of what you could do for them; provide a brief case study of a time you have been involved in furthering the success of a previous employer. Remember that you are likely to be marketing yourself to someone who has yet to meet you and so this will be their first (and hopefully not last) impression of you.
- Other Skills and Experiences: It is incredibly worth including this section, as it gives you the chance to showcase any skills gained in unpaid positions. For example, on my CV this section includes my previous role as News and Comment Editor for my university newspaper, volunteer work for various charities and experience of a multi-university business competition. These add a bucketload of extra skills to my CV, and show an interest beyond the working world and earning money.
- Hobbies: Believe it or not, employers like to know that you're human. Although this section is optional, I would advise at least touching upon it. It provides a way for interviewers to break the ice at an interview, and allows them an insight into the person behind the CV. Don't make any of these up to impress employers - if you list Vipassana meditation, Sod's law dictates that a Buddhist monk will be on your interview panel.
- Referees: Some people choose to provide referees 'on request', but I like to include mine at the end of my CV. As a student, ideally you would list two referees; one related to your academic career (such as your tutor) and one related to your work experience. Include their full names, positions, telephone numbers and email addresses. Be sure to get permission before listing someone as a referee.
Armed with the knowledge of what should be on your placement CV, you should also be aware of some common mistakes, and how to avoid them.
Firstly, try to avoid gaps in your CV by ensuring all of your dates tie up neatly. If you have a gap where you went on a gap-yah, make sure to list this in your CV, along with the skills you gained. If you spent a significant time job hunting, be upfront about it and how it helped develop your time management, communication and project management skills. Admittedly, vegetating on the sofa watching Jeremy Kyle doesn't really bring much to your CV, except maybe the ability to successfully endure torture.
Secondly, tailor your CV to the position you're applying for. So many people (whether through laziness, ignorance or lack of time) end up sending out blanket a CV with all of their applications, when actually you should be tweaking your CV every time you apply for a new job. Go through the job description with a fine toothed comb, identify key words and see how they relate to your experience and skills. If a job is worth applying for, it's worth tailoring your CV for.
Finally, and I cannot stress this enough, get someone to double and triple proofread your CV for mistakes. Spelling and grammatical errors are like nails down a blackboard to most employers, and no one is infallible. In my time I've seen CVs submitted with horrendous spelling mistakes, including within email addresses, job titles and even a surname. GET IT CHECKED. GET IT CHECKED. GET IT CHECKED.
Had it checked? Okay then.
Once you're confident with your finished CV, save a dated copy (e.g. Jane Doe CV July 2012) on to your computer for future tweaking.
If you're sending it via email or online application, be sure to include a cover letter (more on that later) if so required. If printing, invest in some high quality paper as it will subliminally have an effect. As well as this, be sure to staple your CV and covering letter together as these things have a habit of going walkabouts in a busy working environment.
Good luck, and if you have any questions relating to this article, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org