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You hear it all the time; “you’ve got to tailor your CV for every graduate job application you submit”. And it makes sense – the more tailored your CV is, the more relevant it will seem and the more attention it will get. The problem is, there is very little advice on how to actually do it.
That’s where we come in. With up to 15,000 graduate CVs dropping onto the Give A Grad A Go radar every month, we’ve come to understand which CVs make it onto the 'yes' pile...and which don't. So we decided to give you a handy step by step guide to tailoring your graduate CV to every graduate job application you make.
The best tailored CVs always match up to exactly what the job description is asking. So picking apart some of the Give A Grad A Go job descriptions as examples should help with how to go about tailoring your graduate CV.
When reading the company description, you want to tailor to two key things; their size and their sector (including the sectors they work in). The company’s size will tell you a lot about the working environment and the level of responsibility they will most likely expect you to take on. Small businesses and start-ups, for example, are often looking to expand rapidly, so they want people who will be ready to face new situations without handholding, and have an eagerness to get stuck into their work and help the business succeed. Bigger businesses will also be looking to see you can hold your own and not get lost in the crowd.
In your graduate CV, you can showcase this through examples such as:
‘Promoting personal ownership and accountability of tasks whilst thriving in new, challenging, fast-paced and deadline-oriented environments.’
‘Possessing a strong commitment to team environment dynamics with the ability to contribute expertise with the aim of working towards company objectives.'
This will show you are keen to work in new situations are also an advocate of taking responsibilities for your actions with a focus on meeting team targets. But remember to be specific – ‘assisted with’ or ‘contributed to’ says very little about what you specifically did. If you drop in the size of the company or team you worked with, always follow it up with how it will be useful to the job you’re applying to.
As well as the company’s sector, does the job description mention any clients the company works with? – which sectors do they belong to? Employers are always on the lookout for commercially aware graduate hires, so highlighting any relevant sector experience you have could be your chance to show an employer how much useful knowledge you’ll bring with you to the job.
The ‘interests’ section of your CV is a great place to highlight your commercial awareness. You might be after a graduate job in finance, but if the company has clients within the sporting industry, you want to drop in your recent and relevant sporting achievements, knowledge, and interests.
Under the description of the role, take note of who you’ll be working alongside or reporting to, and the situation in which you’ll be working with people.
In a start-up or SME, you might find yourself working alongside many of the senior management team, including the Founder or Managing Director. You might also find you’re left to work independently either out of office or if your boss is out on business. As a graduate, you need to show you have the right professional attitude for the job, so if you see ‘integral role’ or ‘pivotal role’ slotted in, you’ll be able to get an idea of how hands-on the role will be and then decide if you’re ready to dive into the deep end.
‘Keeping all senior managers and relevant parties appraised of performance whilst providing regular and structured reports on performance to the board of directors.’
From this, the person reading your CV will then be able to make the connection that you understand how to work alongside a busy senior person – managing their priorities, working to high expectations and acting as a trusted professional; the below example presents this further.
“Able to quickly establish credibility with senior decision makers in a wide range of business contexts, all with the aim of helping to grow the company brand and market share.”
Next, notice the situations in which the job description says you’ll be communicating with people e.g. keeping internal staff updated across lots of different teams, educating the general public or helping confused customers.
“An effective communicator with the ability to discuss strategies with external stakeholders, board members and senior management and provide a hands on approach with employees.”
The key to tailoring your CV here is to be specific, which the above example illustrates. If the job involves coordinating lots of people, talk about where you have experience building rapport, if the role involves helping customers, give examples of where you were commended for your customer service or you worked to make a process easier.
As a graduate, even if your experience up to this point had been mostly as a Sales Assistant or Bar work, you’ll find you actually have lots of experience in this area, just remember to be clear.
When scanning through the key responsibilities, make a note of what you will be doing as well as how you will you be doing it. In the examples below, both sets of responsibilities discuss communicating product knowledge, but there’s a difference in motivation.
The first example requires someone to ‘speak credibly’, ‘enticingly highlight’, and ‘bring deals from demo to a close’, indicating you will need to persuade and sell to customers and clients. The second includes ‘providing a clear understanding’ and ‘handling queries users may have’, which implies you will be advising and informing, and selling will not be the core part of the role.
Think about how your experience, both past and present match up with the tasks of the role you’re applying for. Have you worked in the sector before? How did you deal with customers or clients? If there are new aspects to the role, what attracted you to it, and what have you done that’s similar? These are all worth noting down, especially when attempting to prevent any concerns regarding experience.
Making sure the role will meet your expectations is also something to look out for when reading through the job responsibilities. Whether you’re looking for a step-up or step across industry, these are all aspects to consider when ensuring this is in fact the right role for you.
Many requirements found on job descriptions are generic – the key is to know the context in which you will be expected to use the skills. e.g. anyone can ‘communicate’ but negotiating, presenting and explaining, while all forms of communication are different. Think about what you don’t have – some skills listed for the role will be essential, weigh up whether it’s really worth applying for the role if you have a lot of applications on.
If at this point you’re still not sure you’ve quite got the knack for tailoring your CV, there’s always the option to try a CV writing specialist like Purple CV.
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