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Andrew Arkley|January 28, 2014

How To Write A Stand-Out Graduate CV And Cover Letter

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Wondering how to make a stand-out graduate CV and cover letter?

So you’ve come out of the other side of university with some blurry memories from nights out and a better appreciation of home-cooked food, but now you need to think about getting a job.

The prospect of applying for jobs may seem daunting, especially in this tough job market.

But don’t worry, PurpleCV professional CV writers are here to help. We’ve put together our top tips for making your graduate CV and cover letter stand out from the crowd.

How to Write a Graduate Cover Letter

Your cover letter – also known as a personal statement – is the first thing an employer will read about you and it’s important you make a good first impression. 

If you don’t want your application to fall at the first hurdle, then follow these dos and don’ts for writing a graduate cover letter. We’ve even crafted a top graduate cover letter example to help you get started.

1. Don’t be too formal

We’re not suggesting you start your cover letter with ‘Hey’ or sign off with a nickname, but graduates often make the mistake of going ultra-formal in their personal statements. 

They often do this with the good intention of trying to sound professional and businesslike. But phrases like ‘my qualifications appear to be consistent with the requirements of the position’ sound unnatural and robotic and can be alienating to recruiters.

2. Do write in your own voice

You should write in your own authentic voice as it will be a lot more relatable for the employer and will also give them a sense of who you are. 

A good way to make sure your voice is authentic is to use clear and simple language. In other words, step away from the thesaurus!

Read our graduate cover letter example to see a tone that’s professional, without being pretentious.

3. Do keep it short and sweet

When it comes to personal statements longer is not better. Recruiters are busy, and they won’t want to trawl through pages and pages. 

One page maximum is the rule of thumb. 

The best graduate cover letter examples are a direct and concise introduction to who you are. Your one page should also draw attention to the qualities and experience that make you perfect for the job – your CV should do the rest. 

4. Don’t focus on how the job will benefit you

This is a common mistake when writing a graduate personal statement. Graduates often include phrases like ‘this job would be a brilliant way to start my career’, but this sounds selfish and says nothing about what you would contribute to the company.

Instead of focusing on why the job is perfect for you, you should be focusing on why you’re perfect for the job. Employers want to know how you will be an asset to the company. So the kind of phrases you should be including are: ‘I would relish the opportunity to use my skills and experience to contribute to such a highly-regarded organisation’.

5. Don’t waffle

Sentences like ‘I am hard-working, dedicated and highly reliable’ are essentially just lists of positive words and are a waste of space. In fact, they’re used so often that they’ve pretty much ceased to mean anything to recruiters.

Instead, stick to skills that are relevant to the job, and only make claims that you can back up with concrete examples. If the job description calls for ‘a great team player’, highlight something from your experience that demonstrates how well you work in a team.

The experience you use so prove your skills can come from anywhere. Read our graduate cover letter example below to see how university projects or roles can back up your ability.

6. Do sell yourself

Sure, you don’t want to come across as arrogant in your personal statement – but you don’t want to sell yourself short either. As a recent graduate, you may not have relevant -or any- work experience. But this doesn’t mean you should include phrases like ‘I may not meet all the requirements of the job, but…’ as they may negatively influence an employer’s opinion of you. 

Not having work experience doesn’t mean you won’t be able to do the job. Employers care less about relevant work experience and more about transferrable skills. 

So, whatever you’ve done, whether it be a temp job or a juggling class, focus on the skills they taught you and how those skills relate to the role you’re applying for. 

It might be true that you don’t meet all the requirements of the job – but instead of pointing it out- focus on the skills and experience you have that do match the job description.

Essentially, focus on the positives, not the negatives.

7. Do your research 

Knowing as much as possible about a potential employer is key as a graduate job seeker. Familiarise yourself with a company’s mission statement and values as this could shape your application and how you sell yourself.

Want to see how you put all these pieces together? We’ve created a graduate cover letter example that shows our top tips in practice.

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How to Write a Good Graduate CV

After introducing yourself with a stellar personal statement you need to follow it up with an equally impressive graduate CV. With that in mind, here are some of our graduate CV tips: 

1. Tailor your applications

A common mistake among graduate job seekers is to submit the same CV for different jobs. This is often pretty transparent to employers and is not very impressive. 

That’s why you should tailor your graduate CV for each role. It makes your CV directly relevant to the job and shows how you’d be the perfect fit for the exact role you’re applying for.

We also recommend putting the most job-relevant skills and information first. This way employers can discern why you’re suitable for the role with just a quick glance at your CV.

This will depend on what industry you’re applying to. If you’re applying for a creative role, then a more visual CV could be the way to go. If you’re applying to a job in the financial sector, then a traditional CV may be more appropriate.

2. Make The Most Of Your Work Experience

What was true for the personal statement remains true for the CV. Employers don’t expect you to have tonnes of work experience for a graduate role. 

It’s all about making the most of the experiences and skills that you do have. 

Luckily for you graduates, you will always have your academic skills and achievements to fall back on – if nothing else. 

If you feel the need to gain more experience, then try finding an internship, volunteer work, or something along those lines. They are a great way to get into the industry you want, the perfect way to fill a career gap and are also a good opportunity to network. 

3. A couple of things to keep in mind when writing your CV

Your graduate CV should not be a repetition of your personal statement. They should be two separate and distinct things. After all, no one wants to read the same thing twice and simply copying and pasting is not very impressive either. 

Secondly, when setting out your graduate CV you need to make sure that all the different elements of a CV, like contact details and the personal statement, are in the correct place. An employer should not be scavenging through your CV trying to find your phone number. 

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Graduate CV and Cover Letter: Final Checks

Here are some important final checks you should do before sending off your graduate CV and cover letter:

  • Print it off and read it over carefully, look for obvious spelling mistakes and sentences that don’t quite make sense.
  • See if your CV has targeted the industry/employers you’re interested in.
  • Look for evidence to show that you meet the minimum requirements for the job.

Even with all these tips, writing a graduate CV can be difficult. Especially if you’re a fresh graduate with a questionable careers office.

Here at Purple CV, we want to give you the best chance of landing that first job. That’s why we get professionals with experience of your industry to write every CV for as little as £50.

You’ve worked hard for the last three years, so take a break and let us do the hard work of writing your graduate CV.

If you’re currently on your job hunt, Find Graduate Jobs in the UK with Give A Grad A Go, the UK’s leading specialist Graduate Recruitment Agency.

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