CV stands for curriculum vitae, a Latin phrase which roughly translates as “the story of your life”.
Before you wail “What career?”, it’s important to remember that recruiters aren’t expecting you to have heaps of experience, a stunning CV and a dizzying array of skills.
They will, however, be impressed if you can put together a solidly presented CV that shows off the qualities you have.
The secret of a good CV is tailoring it to every job application. For each school leaver opportunity you apply for, you should check the competencies they list in the job advert and make sure your CV reflects these qualities.
Most people create a basic CV, which they adapt every time they apply for a different role.
How to structure your school leaver CV
Your CV shouldn’t be a stream of consciousness or a hodgepodge of random facts; it should follow a clear structure. It might be easier to follow the more traditional CV format and present it chronologically. Pay close attention to formatting, and be aware of rookie mistakes!
You want your CV to be clear and easy to read. Use headings to make it easier for recruiters to find what they’re looking for. You can use bold to highlight the important parts of your CV and bullet points to break up blocks of text.
Above all, don’t try to pad your CV out with irrelevant information in an effort to make it look longer. It shouldn’t be longer than two pages in any case, and realistically, it probably won’t be longer than a page.
Remember, wording is key - make sure you're concise. Unnecesarily long, complicated words isn't going to engage your potential employer, and slang is likely to put them right off too.
Ok, so let’s crack on with writing that school leaver CV. Here’s a basic structure you can follow, but feel free to play around with it…
You don’t have to include this bit, but some people like to have a personal statement at the start of their CV which outlines their career aims and why they want to work in a particular sector.
It can also highlight a few of your key qualities and skills. This should be no longer than two or three sentences.
Here you can list your education in reverse chronological order with your most recent qualifications first. You don’t need to mention your primary school. Simply give some details about your secondary school education. For example:
2006-present: All About Careers High School, London
A-levels:Predicted As in Maths, English and Economics.
AS-levels:English Literature (A*), Maths (A), Economics (A), French (B).
GSCEs: History (A*), French (A*), English Literature and Language (A* A), Maths (A), Dual Science Award (B B), Geography (B).
You don’t have to present it exactly like we have done, just remember to include the name of the institution where you took your qualification, the actual qualification you took (e.g. GCSE, BTEC or A-level) and the grade you got.
Don’t include anything you failed (unless it’s a core subject that everyone has to study, such as maths or English at GCSE). What they don’t know can’t hurt them!
Work experience & positions of responsibility...
Underneath your education, you can include a little section on any work experience you’ve completed (e.g. weekend work or your Year 10 work experience), volunteering work, or positions of responsibility, such as captain of the football team or senior prefect.
Essentially, this is the place to include anything that you can use to demonstrate qualities like leadership, teamwork skills or organisational skills.
Like your education section, you can put it in reverse chronological order. Include the dates you worked there/held the position of responsibility, where it was, and what your role was.
Underneath, you should detail what your duties were and the skills you developed. For example:
2011 Jan-Nov: Saturday Sales Assistant at The Odd Chimp Shop
My duties involved:
- assisting customers;
- cleaning the shop;
- answering the telephone;
- working behind the till.
Dealing with particularly tricky customers allowed me to develop my customer service skills. I also learnt to work efficiently under pressure during busy Saturdays and developed an exemplary telephone manner.
The main thing, in this section, is to demonstrate the kind of skills the employer is looking for. For instance, the list of duties above would be great for a customer-facing school leaver programme, or for a retail school leaver programme.
The trick is to adapt your CV to reflect the kind of skills they are looking for.
Interests & extracurricular activities...
Here you can include your extracurricular activities and anything you’re involved with at school aside from school work, such as Young Enterprise project or helping out in school productions.
Put down your achievements and relevant scholarships or awards that you have won. For example, the Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award, reaching Grade 7 on an instrument you play, becoming a black belt in karate, or winning an essay competition.
This will have some crossover with the interests section, where you can put down things you like to do in your spare time, such as whether you’re a fitness junkie or enjoy frequenting vintage clothes fairs.
This section shouldn’t be too long. The aim is to show the employer that you are a well-rounded individual with interests outside of school.
Just pick a couple of interests, achievements or extracurricular activities to mention that will reflect your personality and demonstrate skills that are relevant to the school leaver opportunity.
Skills. We’ve all got them. Depending on what school leaver programme you are applying for, you will probably want to mention any relevant computing and language skills. Tell them if you’re fluent in any languages.
If you aren’t, but you can hold a conversation in a foreign language, then say that you’re an intermediate or conversational speaker.
If you’re applying for an IT school leaver programme, you might want to mention relevant programmes that you are proficient in. For an office-based apprenticeship, you might want to outline your general computing skills, as well as any specialist ones.
Companies might require you to provide references. Don’t use family members or friends! Your referee needs to be someone who has known you in a professional capacity, such as a teacher, employer or someone you’ve done work experience with.
The norm is to provide three references and their contact details (make sure you check they are happy to be your referee first).
Please, please, pretty please proofread your school leaver CV. Comb it through for typos, spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. You should also get someone else to check it. It’s really that important!