If you are leaving University (or formal education at another level) for the first time, you should order your CV as follows:
  1. Name
  2. Education (most recent first and briefly include results/thesis)
  3. Work Experience (in reverse chronological order)
  4. Relevant skills
  5. Extra-curricular Activities
  6. Referees (usually just “available upon request”)
  7. Contact details

In many ways, the first CV you produce is the hardest. It is when you have the least experience, history and self knowledge at your disposal to distinguish yourself from your peer group. It is for that reason that I counsel that you avoid ANY sort of templated approach like the plague. If you are sending the CV to any of the ‘big’ companies, they will have seen any template you can find a zillion times before. Take some time, crawl to any of your friends who have design skills and make the look-and-feel of your document original.

What distinguishes one say, Electrical Engineering, graduate from another in the eyes of the reader? You may have completed a minor thesis or project on some aspect of electronics that is relevant to the reader’s business or possibly you took some elective classes that clearly demonstrate your interest in the area to which you are applying. Otherwise, your Education section is not much of a differentiator. Sorry.

The exception to this is if you are someone with a brain the size of a planet, who won every scholarship and came first in your class every year since you turned five; then most readers will sit up and take notice. Otherwise the beautifully produced page of educational accomplishments on your CV can be reduced to three words in the eyes of the reader: Electrical Engineering Graduate. Sorry.

Do try and discover what level of detail individual employers want when it comes to your education section – some will want details of scores of every major exam since the age of 15, some will just want a one- or two-liner about your degree. My overall advice is to pare it back because with the exception of jobs in the groves of academe, no-one is interested in the detail of your education.

A summer job that you took on to give you more beer money is now going to be scrutinised under a microscope! The focus of your writing in this section must be on what you learnt from the jobs that you have done and, more importantly, what you contributed to those employers. Were you in any way special?

  • Rank yourself against your peers under every heading you can think of.
  • What did your customers, suppliers, colleagues and bosses really think of you?
  • Were you placed in positions of trust – key holder, valuable inventory, cash-handling, security)?
  • Were any criticisms levelled at you?
  • What about praise and compliments? Again, think about colleagues, customers, suppliers and bosses.
  • Did you make any suggestions that were taken on board?
  • Were you assigned extra responsibilities?
  • Did you solve any problems or (again!) at least make valuable suggestions?
  • What about contributions in a team setting?
  • Did you complete tasks/projects working to your own initiative?

Once again, it’s best to look for feedback here – you may have demonstrated a skill that you think is no big deal and which you therefore wouldn’t think to include on your CV but which someone observing you thought was pretty special.

  • Maturity/sense of responsibility beyond your years.
  • Customers just loved you.
  • Computer literacy – sorting out problems for colleagues/management.
  • Clean driving license.
  • A real facility with a foreign language.
  • A real ability to impart information/knowledge to people.
  • Public speaking or presentation skills which may have been honed in a debating society or class representative role.

You will also have to drill down on your personal traits/style and your extra-curricular activities and what they indicate about you. You really need to be able to distinguish yourself from your peers in the eyes of the reader; that means you have to really know what makes your peers tick and what makes you tick.

Remember the massive job that your CV is doing here – it is taking the reader from an, “Oh no, not another damn CV” mindset to curious, to genuinely interested, to making a decision to set aside time from a busy schedule to meet the writer. If you have ever been in the hiring seat, how many times have you ever done that out of all the applications that have crossed your desk? So when you are applying at this level, distinguish, reassure, and then persuade – that is your order of business. Positioning, positioning, positioning. Get into the reader’s headspace and give him/her a reason to want to take a get-to-know-ya meeting with you.