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A winning CV and online applications: Your graduate career toolkit

Watch. The. Details.

Mark Mitchell Director at gradireland

IN THE LAST in our series of articles on graduate employment, we look at what you can do to put yourself ahead of the competition when it comes to job applications.

While many organisations are increasingly using online application forms, the old CV is still a crucial document that you must build, cherish and lovingly restore when necessary. So here is a simple checklist of CV must-haves…

Top tips for a winning CV

The full package: before you start putting together your CV, write out your academic achievements; work experience; and life experiences. Translate each into your unique selling points, referring back to our previous articles (here and here) on what employers want. It’s a bit like dating – what makes you different? What makes you attractive to them?

Recruiters might not quite ‘swipe right’ but they will, on average, scan your CV for 20 seconds max before making an initial decision. You need to make them want to meet you and your CV needs to tell a story they’ll be interested in.

Research: do you know the company you’re applying for? Have you Googled them? Do they have a YouTube channel? There is no excuse for not doing detailed research about who you are applying to. It’s the least an employer will expect.

One size does not fit all: you should tailor your CV for each job you apply for. A good way to do this is to have a ‘summary box’ before you list your qualifications, experience and achievements. This could contain ‘key skills’ or ‘personal profile’ statements. Tailor what’s in that to the role and company you are applying to.

Mind the gap: so you spent a year travelling? You dropped a year to look after a relative? Gaps happen on CVs and recruiters don’t mind them, but you must be able to explain them.

Language: as you are writing to someone who has no idea who you are, the language you use should be broadly formal. Don’t be colloquial or, worse-still, over-familiar – it’ll just come across as cocky instead of confident.

The last shall be first: make sure you list your experience/study/courses etc in reverse chronology. So your most recent job/experience/qualification should be first.

Read, reread and proofread: a great amount of good work can be completely torpedoed by sloppy spelling and grammar. Remember, recruiters have highlighted written communication skills as being an area in which many new recruits are lacking, so they will be on the lookout for mistakes and inconsistencies.

Get someone else to read your application for you; it’s hard to spot your own mistakes. Don’t give a recruiter the easiest reason in the world to bin your CV, not when you’ve worked so hard for so long to build the qualifications and experience that it contains.

The nitty-gritty: make sure you get your own contact details (mobile phone and email) correct! If a recruiter gets a wrong mobile number or a bounceback from an incorrect email address, they will not try to find you again.

List your education and work experience, follow that with your interests and achievements (tie these into employability skills that employers are looking for) and list any particular technical skills you might have. For references, just state ‘Referees available upon request.’

And cover letters are a great way of getting across the sort of person you are, your passion for the role being advertised and why you are the ideal candidate, so always write one if you can.

Online application forms

Companies increasingly use these, so if you are applying online, make sure you…

Take your time: these forms can be long and, in places tricky, so take your time and concentrate. Some online forms allow you to ‘save and return’ but some have to be completed in one sitting.

Use a word processing file to write the long answers first so you can edit and reread them before pasting them into the application form.

Read the instructions carefully: online forms often use automated filters to screen out unsuitable candidates before a human has even clapped eyes on your application. Make sure you give exactly the details they ask for. If you make mistakes on your online form, your application may not be received at all.

Be prepared: employers value hard evidence to back up your achievements, so make sure you have some examples you can use. An achievement can be any task you were assigned and which you completed.

Keep a copy: an easy mistake to make, make sure you print it or even cut and paste the raw data, before you hit send.

Mark Mitchell is Director of gradireland.

The gradireland Summer Fair takes place on Wednesday 10 June in the RDS Dublin and features a free CV Clinic run by professionals from the Association of Higher Education Careers Services (AHECS). You can get personal CV advice as well as visit a range of career seminars. Entry is free and you can register here

So you’ve graduated… now, where to get a job? (And how much will you get paid?)>

What makes a graduate employable? We ask 100 top recruiters in Ireland>

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About the author:

Mark Mitchell  / Director at gradireland

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