This September, over 500,000 graduates will enter the UK employment market. It's a staggering figure. And with competition for positions at the country's top firms so fierce, it has never been more important for candidates to think about how they can make their CV stand out from the rest.
Every graduate job advertisement typically results in hundreds of applications. The recruiter's role is to filter all of these applications in order to find the right graduate for the job, in the most efficient way.
This being the case, it makes sense for recruiters to discard quickly any CVs with typos, spelling mistakes, grammatical errors or clichés, or CVs that are too long or not specifically relevant to the role. If the role is one that requires good written communication skills, a poorly written CV is evidence that the graduate does not posses the required skills, even if the actual content of the CV demonstrates that they do.
New research by New College of the Humanities, which published this month, reveals that a UK recruiter spends an average of 3 minutes and 14 seconds looking at a CV, with a fifth of recruiters making a decision on potential employees in less than 60 seconds. This means that there really is no time to waste, and your CV needs to present you as the right person for the job quickly, succinctly and originally.
Don't forget that your CV is part of your personal brand; it is a snapshot of your career history and an insight to who you are as a person. It is the first thing a prospective employer will see, so it is vital that you get it right. If your CV doesn't shine, you give employers an excuse not to shortlist you for interview.
So what can graduate jobseekers do to improve their CVs and to secure the role they want - and deserve?
Don't put everything on your CV!
Each serious application requires a CV that is tailored for the job that is being advertised. Graduates should list only the achievements and experiences that are relevant to that particular job. Graduate recruiters have very little time to review a large volume of CVs, so it's important that they can immediately identify that you have all or most of the relevant qualifications, skills and experiences, rather than having to read pages of information about skills that they do not require. Keep it short, relevant and to the point.
Ask for feedback on your CV from someone in the industry
Get yourself introduced to someone within your network who already works at the company, or within your target industry. Ask for their feedback on your CV before you send your application. They can guide you on buzzwords, tone, and how to frame your skills and experiences, so that your CV demonstrates how well you will fit with the company, its culture and the role. A good careers office can help graduates connect with alumni who are now working in their chosen organisation or industry, and most people are happy to oblige when they are asked for their help and advice.
Participate in extra-curricular activities
Extra-curricular activities are about more than simply showing employers that you're well-rounded and that you made the most of your time at university. Being ready to talk about a range of interesting extra-curricular activities provides an opportunity to engage with a recruiter on a personal level - landing the job is about chemistry and fit, in addition to your skills and experiences. Having a selection of diverse activities or interests that you are able to discuss enthusiastically, helps showcase that there is more to you than just your degree and work experience.
Undertake work placements and internships before you graduate
Work experience shows employers that you've been proactive in searching out career opportunities, and showcases your achievements. Graduates should adapt each CV to demonstrate exactly how their experiences are relevant to the role for which they are applying.
Consider taking a gap year
Travelling, volunteering, learning a language and networking with people of all ages and backgrounds are just some of the ways that you can develop your soft skills and become more self-aware.
Undertake some voluntary work
Voluntary work can be useful to fill gaps between jobs on your CV. It demonstrates that you've used your time constructively, and enables you to get essential experience in a specific sector before making a career move. Doing unpaid work also demonstrates to an employer that you are willing to do more than just a nine-to-five in order to get a pay check.
Don't be afraid to think creatively about presenting your CV
Interestingly, the recent study by NCH shows that nearly half (40%) of all UK employers would be more inclined to interview candidates who show creativity in their CVs either using design or video formats. With this in mind, don't feel that you have to use a prescribed template. It is OK to show some creative flair, but do ensure your CV is appropriate for the industry to which you are applying.
New College of the Humanities took creativity to an extreme in 'The Art of the CV' exhibition this month, which showcased the CVs of a selection of our students in visual form - as photography, drawing and sculpture. Although the College wasn't advocating turning your CV into a sculpture and couriering this to your chosen employer, what the exhibition did do was highlight that CVs can be original and creative, and they don't always have to follow a fixed format or style. A number of graduate employers came to visit the exhibition and invited students whose CVs had been turned into art to set up meetings with them - showing the creative approach can sometimes pay off!