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How To Craft The Perfect Graduate CV

The ultimate guide to CV-writing for students and graduates!

1.   Why do CVs matter?

In most cases, your CV will be the ‘first impression’ that a potential employer has of you and your talents. As such, it can set the tone for the rest of your recruitment process. This makes it your single most important document for getting your career started...

Unfortunately, your CV is probably also one of the most difficult and time-consuming documents to get right. But fear not: we’ve compiled the ultimate guide to help you put together the perfect graduate CV!

In a digital world where software is seemingly replacing everything, why do recruiters still insist on old-fashioned CVs? The answer is simple: recruiters can tell a lot from the way someone compiles their CV. Beyond just listing your experience and achievements, a CV can be seen as a snapshot of how you think. What does a messy, poorly-structured CV riddled with irrelevant information and grammatical errors say about you? It wouldn’t bode well. On the other hand, if you represent your own personal brand with a well-structured, concise and aesthetically-pleasing CV, it’s an important signal to the employer that you can represent their brand well too (in the work you can do for them).

2.   How long should my CV be?

Before you put pen to paper, keep in mind your that CV should ideally fit onto one A4 page, or two pages at the absolute max. Unless you’re Elon Musk, it’s unnecessary and self- indulgent to wax lyrical about your career milestones and achievements over a multi-page essay. Anything more than two pages is likely just to frustrate the recruiter. Keep in mind that they are probably reviewing your CV alongside hundreds of others that day!

3.  How should I structure my CV? What information should I include?

     Most graduate CVs can be organised into the following sections:
     i.  Heading & contact details
     ii.  Summary (optional)
     iii.  Education
     iv.  Experience
     v.   Additional optional sections, which can include:
          Interests / Extracurricular activities
          Awards & accomplishments
          Skills & attributes

Let’s jump in and take a closer look at each section!

i.    Heading & contact details

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The main heading should simply be your name. You don’t need to include “CV” or “Resume”
-   it’s safe to assume that the recruiter knows what they are reading!

Immediately under (or next to) your name, you should include the following essential contact details:

  • Your phone number
  • Your email address

Remember to avoid ‘humorous’ email addresses, and make sure any phone voice messages on the number you provide are professional.

You may or may not wish to provide these optional details:

  • Your current job title. Note that this is not necessary on graduate CVs unless you hold a role that is relevant to the job you’re applying for. If you really want to include something, you could opt to indicate your career goals. For example, you could identify yourself as an ‘Aspiring chartered accountant’.
     
  • Links to your professional online profiles (assuming they are suitable for prospective employers!), such as
    o LinkedIn
    o Twitter
    o Personal website
     
  • Your location. This need only specify your city or region (e.g. Sydney, Australia). You do not need to include your full residential address (though you could note that you’re at St Mark’s College, Adelaide).

You do not need to include:

  • Your age
  • Your gender
  • Your date of birth
  • Your full residential address

ii.    Summary (optional)

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Sometimes called the ‘Profile’ or ‘Personal Profile’, ‘Overview’, ‘Career Objective’ or even ‘About me’ section, summary statements are either utterly essential or a waste of space, depending on who you ask!

Summary statements are typically used by experienced candidates to tie together years of (often disparate) professional experience into a common theme. Obviously, this means that it’s not something most graduates need to worry about.

As a graduate, it’s important to avoid relying on overused buzzwords in your summary statement. Vague, subjective terms like “detail-oriented”, “effective communicator” and “team player” usually come across as bland or generic, rarely adding value to your CV.

If you’re struggling to write a statement with substance, you’re probably better off giving it a miss and saving the space for additional bullet points later in your CV.

On the other hand, a well-crafted summary statement can be a useful way to introduce yourself as a graduate, particularly if you won’t be submitting your CV alongside a cover letter or application form.

If you do choose to include a summary at the start of your CV, keep it concise and try to make it relevant to the employer. For example:

  • “As a penultimate-year student of Commerce and Economics at the University of Sydney, I am looking to join BCG Digital Ventures as a Business Analyst Intern and use my analytical business skills and passion for entrepreneurship to help build the next generation of industry-disrupting businesses.”
  • Aspiring CPA currently in her penultimate year of an Accounting and Corporate Finance degree, who is seeking an internship opportunity with a leading accounting and advisory firm.

iii.    Education

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In addition to your university degree, the ‘Education’ section can include other relevant training, licenses, or accreditations (for example, micro-credentials or industry certifications).

You can also choose to include your school results if you graduated recently (i.e. within the last 10 years), and your final ATAR results (if these are reflective of your academic success).

You should list your qualifications in order of their relevance and importance to the job you’re applying for. When applying for a graduate job, this will usually mean listing your degree at the top.

Where possible, for each qualification you should include information on:

  • the institution
  • start and completion dates (or expected completion dates)
  • your predicted or actual degree grades
  • any relevant academic awards
  • any subjects, research projects, dissertations, etc. that are relevant to the job

The amount of information you include regarding the specifics of each qualification will depend on the role you are applying for. Generally, you should only delve into subject-level detail if it’s relevant to the job. For example, subjects that show numerical ability could be relevant for a range of jobs, including those in finance and engineering. If you have achieved good grades in relevant subjects, you can highlight this to strengthen your application.

If you choose to mention grades, remember that qualification standards vary between countries and institutions. It can be helpful to provide context with either an explanation of the grade or by providing the maximum achievable grade. For example:

  • High Distinction (86 out of 100)
  • 6.7 Grade Point Average (max. 7.00)
  • 73 GAMSAT score (98th percentile)

iv.    Experience

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What to include

As a graduate, your relevant experience may be limited, if you have any at all.

Fortunately, most graduate employers are aware of this and look favourably on achievements that have taken place outside of traditional work settings.

That’s why we recommend calling this section ‘Experience’, instead of just limiting yourself to ‘work experience’!

Examples worth mentioning include:

  • voluntary positions
  • fundraising positions
  • contributions to University clubs, societies or other membership bodies
  • roles in sporting organisations
  • freelance assignments
  • part-time work
  • internships
  • temporary gigs

Again, you don’t need to list every experience you’ve had. Instead, focus on highlighting experience that is relevant to the position you’re applying for.

Generally, you should list your experience or employment in reverse chronological order (most recent first), and include:

  • the organisation name
  • your job title
  • your start and finish dates
  • a short description of what each experience involved

In some instances, you may need to include a sentence or two that describes the organisation you worked for, particularly if the organisation’s name does not clearly indicate the work it does.

How to describe your experiences

You should aim to include enough context that an uninformed reader (someone who doesn’t have prior knowledge of you, your area of study, or your industry) can grasp what you did and why it makes you qualified for the job.

For each experience, include a high-level overview of your role and responsibilities. You can also include a few bullet points that cover specifically what you accomplished, learned or contributed. You may find the “STAR” framework (Situation, Task, Action, Result) helpful for teasing out these details:

  • Describe a situation (i.e. the position you occupied or a challenge that you faced)
  • Explain the task you had to do
  • Clearly outline the specific actions you took to complete the task
  • Finally, describe the results and what you accomplished, learned or contributed

Most graduates find this to be the most challenging part of writing their CV, so here are a few tips to help you along the way:

  1. Make your experience relevant. You may not have 'professional' experience, but this doesn't mean you don’t have relevant experience to show. The trick is in framing the experience you do have to highlight why it is relevant. For example, don’t say you ‘worked in a bar’— describe how working in a 200-person capacity venue required exceptional customer service, dispute resolution skills, and excellent time management!

  2. Show, don’t tell. It’s easy to say you have all the right qualities for a role, but how will a recruiter know you’re legit? Employers love to see evidence. Focus primarily on your actions and results, and back up your claims with concrete examples, quantifying your impact where possible by:

    1. Using direct action words such as ‘designed’, ‘built’ and ‘organised’ to assign credit to you for your achievements.

    2. Including evidence that you can quantify, like how much, how often, and how many. Wherever possible, include data or statistics to prove the success or scale of a project, and help recruiters picture the impact you’ve made.

  3. Keep it simple. It’s tempting to use industry jargon to show off your knowledge, but remember the first person to read your CV may not be an industry specialist. It’s important to make sure your CV is readable and interesting to the average person.

  4. Avoid empty buzzwords. Vague, subjective terms like “detail-oriented”, “effective communicator”, “team player” are chronically overused, and overreliance on them can result in your CV coming across as a list of meaningless buzzwords. If they’re important to your role, try to demonstrate these attributes in your bullet points by using tangible achievements.

Here are some examples to help put all this into practice:

Instead of this… Try this...
❌ Data entry and analysis in excel. ✅ Modelled 25 years of historical financial data in excel to determine relationship between commodity prices and profitability.
❌ Bar work including waiting tables, working the bar & hosting wine tastings. ✅ Managed 200 person capacity bar, requiring exceptional customer service, dispute resolution, and time management.
❌ Chair of soccer club social committee. ✅ Chaired social committee of 8 and organised events throughout the year attended by 200-300 members.
❌ Tutored Year 12 commerce students. ✅ Developed tutorial content, marketing, pricing, and time management strategies to establish a successful small business tutoring Year 12 commerce students.
❌ Launched internal team productivity reporting dashboard. ✅ Liaised with senior leadership and sought team feedback to develop a productivity reporting dashboard that cut weekly team task allocation time by approximately 50%.
❌ Organized the college’s tutorial program and headed up the academic team. ✅ Planned and led a year-long academic program for 230 students across 8 faculty areas, resulting in a 98% pass rate.
❌ Edited articles submitted by student journalists. ✅ Reviewed 20-25 articles per week to evaluate their suitability for publication, selecting and editing up to 5 per week for publication.
❌ Researched CRM SAS options. ✅ Collaborated on a team of 4 to evaluate alternative software platforms to drive sales team productivity, ultimately saving an estimated $600,000 per year.

v.    Additional (optional) sections

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As a graduate, you’ll often find that your work experience is limited and your education pedigree is similar to other applicants, many of whom will have completed near-identical degrees at equivalent institutions.

As such, it’s often the things other than education and work experience that end up setting you apart and getting you through to that crucial interview stage.

In this section of your CV, we aim to capture what differentiates you from the crowd!

Three common subheadings that you can adopt in this section are:

  1. Awards & accomplishments
  2. Activities & interests
  3. Skills & attributes

It’s worth noting that these sections are completely optional, and it may work better for you to consolidate them under one or, at max, two subheadings (depending on available space and how many items you have to list).

Awards and Accomplishments

In many cases, you may find it easier to list awards under the other relevant sections (for example, by placing academic awards under the education section and so on). However, a standalone section for awards and accomplishments can be helpful if your trophy cabinet is particularly full!

You shouldn’t assume the reader knows anything about the award (no matter how prestigious or well known it may be), so take the time to include a short description of each one (eg, ‘for leadership and service’, or ‘for academic excellence’).

List the awards and accomplishments that are most relevant to the job you are applying for first. Where relevant, include the issuing institution and date of issue.

Skills and Attributes

This section gives you the opportunity to list all of your skills that are related to a position. If you’re lucky enough to have lots of skills, you can break them out under subheadings. For example, you might add separate subheadings below your ‘Skills’ section for “Leadership”, “Foreign Languages” and “Software Skills”. The idea is to group your skills into themes and make it easy to skim them.

Graduates often ask whether or not they should include things like independent overseas travel on their CV. The answer is yes, if you can tie it back to the attributes the employer is looking for. To give an example, large global professional services firms are often looking to hire candidates with a ‘global outlook’. In this case, you may choose to mention your overseas experience, particularly if it’s supported by a broader theme, such as having gone on an exchange, speaking another language, or growing up in a different location.

Oh, and don’t mention skills that everyone is expected to have, like email or Microsoft Word. This is taken as a given these days, and listing them on your CV will actually make you seem less technologically savvy.

Activities & Interests

Similar to Summary or Profile statements, this section is another grey area when it comes to CV writing.

Unique and varied side projects, such as sports, volunteering, travel, hobbies and interests can demonstrate that you have a certain depth of character and are more than just ‘book smart’. Done well, this section can give recruiters the sense that they just have to meet you! On the other hand, if your interests consist of socialising with friends and ‘Netflix’, it’s probably best that you skip this section.

4.   What design and layout should I use for my CV?

When it comes to the design and layout of your CV, there's no 'perfect' format—every individual and role is different. You should feel free to experiment and express your personality.

However, regardless of the format you choose, your main consideration should be readability for the recruiter.

Here are some overarching guidelines to consider.

  • Keep it simple & consistent: If you make your CV too difficult to read, recruiters simply won’t read it. Keep your CV’s formatting consistent, as this helps recruiters to skim it. It also helps if the recruiter wants to refer back to something, as they will know where to look.
  • Font: If you’re unsure what typeface to use, a safe default is Calibri, which is very clear and scales beautifully for content and headings. Don’t fall into the trap of using smaller font sizes just to fit everything in—stick to a minimum 10-point size for most fonts and ideally 11- or 12-point to ensure easy readability. You can use bold and italicised text to draw attention to headings and key points.
  • Subheadings and bullet points: Subheadings make it much easier for a recruiter to quickly get a sense of who you are and why you’re a perfect fit. You can couple this with bullet points to add clarity and visual style.
  • White space: Having some white space left over can help with readability, as well as just making the whole document seem less overwhelming.
  • Widows and orphans: Widows and orphans are lines at the beginning or end of a section that dangle at the top or bottom of a page. For the sake of readability and the achievement of an attractive and ‘balanced’ page, you should avoid these wherever possible. This can be difficult to achieve in a CV, but adjusting line spacing and white space between sections can sometimes give you enough wiggle room to avoid widows and orphans.

If you’re still unsure of how to format your CV, check out these 25 free templates for inspiration!

5.   Steps to review and finalise your CV

6.   FAQs

i. Should I include a picture on my CV?

No. It adds no value, and some recruiters will explicitly request that candidates NOT share pictures, so as to avoid any risk of unconscious bias.

ii. What file type should I use?

Unless directed otherwise, always submit your CV in PDF format. Why? The hint is in the name - ‘Portable Document Format’. This format will display your document in the same way regardless of the software, hardware or operating system that recruiters use to view your CV. This effectively ‘freezes’ your desired formatting in place and helps avoid issues when recruiters view your CV on a different device.

iii. Should I include references in my CV?

No. Most reference checks will only be done at the end of the recruitment process (after interviews), and recruiters often complete them using an online workflow, so there’s no benefit to taking up valuable space on your CV with references.

The only exception to this is if you have a particularly influential referee and you feel it will help your case to ’name drop’ them on your CV.

Don’t bother including a line about “references available on request”, since it goes without saying that you would provide references if an employer asked for them.

iv. Should I include certain keywords to pass the automated CV check?

No. The stories of automated CV-scanning programs rejecting strong candidates are a persistent urban legend. While resume-parsing technology exists, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to effectively use keyword-based screening for most graduate roles. We’ve not yet heard of an employer taking this approach.

v. Is there any information I should NOT include?

  • You don’t need to share personal family information like your marital status or number of children.
  • You don’t necessarily need to include all of your work history. For example, you can leave out jobs that occurred more than 20 years ago or that lasted only a few months.
  • Controversial political or religious views that have nothing to do with the job.
  • Demands of your employer (for example, requests for special working hours or days off). It’s best to cover this in your interview.
  • Self scoring infographics (where you rate yourself out of 5 for certain skills) might look great on the page, but they’re totally subjective and rarely helpful for a recruiter.

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vi. Other tips

  • Create a ‘complete’ version of your CV that covers everything. This allows you to select appropriate content from the complete version as a starting point for each position and employer.
  • If you don’t have Microsoft Word (or another word processor that can convert your CV to a PDF), you can use Google Docs to create your CV and download it as a PDF for free.
  • Be honest in your CV. You should expect recruiters to cross-check key points in your CV, and they’ll likely ask you in your interview to elaborate on the items you have listed.
  • When submitting your application, follow the instructions carefully and give employers what they ask for. Answer EVERY application form question (don’t just write ‘see CV attached’), and don’t assume that, because you have attached a CV, recruiters will look at it (instead of your responses to application questions) during the initial screening phases.