How to Write a Winning CV

Graduate Applications
How to market yourself successfully
Carol Macdonald
Careers Adviser
What employers look for
 Good match to requirements
 Relevant skills/competencies,
attributes and experience
 Evidence of achievement/success
 What you can bring to their
What employers look for
Grad Software Engineer
 Strong academic record - BSc /MSc / PhD a plus
 Experience:
 UNIX/Linux or Windows and/or Mac environments,
distributed systems, machine learning, information
retrieval and TCP/IP
 programming in C, C++, Java and/or Python
 network programming and/or
developing/designing software systems
Software Engineer
What else is wanted?
Problem solving ability
Team players
Analytical thinkers
Trouble shooting ability
Technology whizzes
Aptitude to ‘zoom in’ on detail
Agility to ‘zoom out’ & see bigger picture
Personal drive
Competency Frameworks
IBM Foundational competences
Client focus
Creative problem
Drive to achieve
Passion for business
Taking ownership
Teamwork and
Before you start any application!
Research the job!
 What’s involved?
 What’s required?
 qualifications
 personal attributes
 experience
 skills/competencies
Analyse how you measure up!
 Relevant aspects of degree?
 Relevant skills/interests/personal
 Appropriate experience?
- paid/unpaid work?
- societies/clubs/life roles?
 Evidence to demonstrate
essential/ desirable/ preferred?
 Scope to develop?
Explore organisation & sector
Written Applications
What do you need to stand out?
 Easy to read
- good presentation
- clear layout
- well written (inc.spelling/grammar)
 Clear motivation
 Relevance
 Evidence that you have the skills/experience
required for the job/course
 Sufficient detail
“the best predictor of future success is past performance”
What should a CV contain?
 Personal details
 Education
 Other qualifications
- technical skills /personal skills
 Work experience
 Interests/positions of responsibility
 Referees
 Choose a layout to fit your information
NOT information to fit a set layout
 Different types of CV
 chronological (conventional)
 skills based
 thematic (e.g.relevant experience, research experience)
 technical (incl. academic)
 creative
 international (see,
or ‘working abroad’ section of careers centre)
Skills Profiles
Communication/ Interpersonal Skills
- Dealt confidently with staff, colleagues & customers in retail management.
- Built effective working relationships with colleagues of all levels and backgrounds.
- Report writing experience gained in business and academic environments, including ….
- Presentations made throughout degree course to staff, students and visiting industrialists.
Team Working/ Leadership
- Group work projects undertaken during 2nd and 3rd year at university
- Collaborated closely with others routinely in both my admin job and committee roles.
- Team building and staff development was an essential aspect of my supervisory role with
ABC Foodstores, and one which I greatly enjoyed.
Planning & Organising
- Effective time management, self discipline, and the ability to work under pressure has
enabled good academic achievements while juggling part-time work, committee roles & study
- Thorough forward planning, good data management and ensuring access to labs and
equipment, has been critical to the success of my third year project.
- Checking and tracking data in my part-time administrative role requires accuracy and close
attention to detail.
Covering Letters – what to include?
 What you are applying for and where advertised
 Why you are applying for this job/course at this
particular firm/institution?
 Emphasize your suitability/strengths (inc relevant
courses, skills, experience)
 Other relevant information omitted from CV
 Confident conclusion
Email letters – are they different?
Begin simply with ‘Dear……..’
Keep the tone formal - don’t use slang/text speak
Keep your sentences short
Try not to exceed one screen length
Make sure you attach your CV (& covering letter?)
Use a ‘signature’ at the foot
Application forms – Some tips!
Allow sufficient time
Answer all the questions
Try & make the form work for you
Crucial part is usually ‘essay’ questions
Need to adhere to space/word restrictions
Draft answers in ‘word’ first
May need to use ‘key’ words (screening)
Example of key words
“As well as planning the routes for our expedition, I had
responsibility for arranging publicity and securing
business sponsorship to the tune of £5K. I achieved this
by contacting local companies, employer associations
and the regional press; by phone and email to
negotiate sponsorship and publicity.”
What skills was this job requiring?
Communications - written & verbal
Example Competency Questions
Frame answers using ‘STAR’ Situation, Task, Action, Result
 Describe a situation where you have used your influencing skills
to achieve a goal. Include issues you were faced with and how
you overcame them.
 Describe a challenging project, activity or event which you have
planned and taken through to a conclusion. Include your
objective, what you did, any changes you made to your plan and
state how you measured your success.
 Describe a difficult problem you have solved. What was the
problem, what alternatives did you consider and how did you
determine the solution?
Answering those difficult questions!
 Prepare – Plan your best example for every
question - using different situations for each!
 Answer questions fully – may be several parts
 Focus on what YOU did/learnt/achieved NOT the
team/other people (‘I’ not ‘we’)
 Be specific, quantify answers & don’t waffle
 Present answers clearly
 Make it RELEVANT to job/ firm/ course
 Don’t repeat yourself
Strong/good answers…….
Use short sentences
Use active words/verbs
Be concise and succinct
Answer ALL parts of the question
Concentrate on ‘how’ not just ‘what’
Good and not so good answers!
What do you think?
Example 1 – Managing Relationships
“I am open, friendly, and polite and keen to see
that everyone in the team is working well. I
am always sensitive when dealing with
someone in the team who is upset or under
pressure and always try to help them.”
“ I noticed that one of my team seemed to be under pressure,
although he hadn’t said anything specifically, and his work was
I arranged a chat with him and tentatively asked him how things
were. It transpired that he had personal problems at home and
that made it difficult for him to focus on work issues. Over the
next few weeks I made time to listen regularly to how things
were developing and to discuss options with him.
Although the problems were not resolved for some time, the fact
that I knew what was happening helped him cope with the
pressure he was under and deal with his work competently.”
Example 2 - Problem solving
“Staff shortages at my language school in Spain meant I had to
teach larger classes than usual. Students had widely different
levels of proficiency. They also had high expectations of the
school having already paid their tuition fees.
I divided each class into 3 groups according to their language
skills and prepared appropriate lessons and teaching materials. A
lesson lasted 60 minutes so I rotated 20 minutes of teaching, 20
minutes of set written work and 20 minutes of paired
conversation with each group. I considered teaching lessons to
the whole class but judged that this would lead to frustration
rather than progress.”
Example 3 - Achieving a goal by influencing
the action or opinion of others
“Whilst serving on the Social Committee of the
Students Union I recognised that reception and bar
duties were allocated randomly. Some tasks were
more popular than others and this often led to
disgruntled committee members and helpers.
I proposed setting up a monthly duty rota and
suggested a system of back-up support for
exceptionally busy evenings. This brought about a
fairer distribution of work and a more harmonious
team, evidenced by people willing to remain on the
Why are you applying to us?
because (IBM) is a large, international company with
great opportunities and training
“To answer this reasonably requires some
research into what we do, how we work,
our culture, and shows whether someone
has a passion for IT”
(IBM Graduate Recruitment Manager)
Common Mistakes - Employers’ views
CVs & Application Forms
CVs & letters too long
Poor copy & paste
Poor spelling & grammar
Generic applications - not targeted
CV & letter not covering same information
Lack of honesty - exaggerating achievements
Not maximising value of non-work experience
Not enough information
Not answering questions asked
Use of jargon
Poor formatting
Spot the errors!!
 “I am a rabid typist”
 “In my spare time I enjoy hiding my horse’”
 "Proven ability to track down and correct erors."
 “Reason for leaving last job: maturity leave”
 “Finished tenth in my class of eight”
…and on a covering letter:
 "Thank you for your consideration. Hope to hear
from you shorty”!
Golden Rules!
NEVER lie or exaggerate
Don’t leave gaps in your life history
Follow instructions eg 150 words, give an example of
Good visual presentation - think impact!
Good quality (coloured?) paper
Accurate spelling & grammar
Keep copies of everything you send
Quality counts
Further resources
 > Quick links>CVs, applications
and interviews… & also practice aptitude tests & in-tray exercises
 Careers Service seminars & workshops
 Careers Service appointments (CV / form
checks / mock interviews)
 Booklets/reference books eg Effective
Applications, The Perfect CV or Readymade CVs, Great Answers
to Tough Interview Questions/DVDs eg Selection Success in
 SAGE - Interview feedback
 Informatics interview session - Tues 25 Oct 2pm,
Quality of Applications
AGR Summer Survey 2010 (215 companies)
Scale: 1 = strongly disagree to 6 = strongly agree
Meet minimum entry requirements
Tend to be well presented
Indicate sufficient knowledge of our sector
Indicate sufficient knowledge of our company
Sufficiently tailored to specificities of the post
4.39 (73%)
3.82 (64%)
3.62 (60%)
3.55 (59%)
3.49 (58%)