Writing a successful CV for a school leaver

School leaver

Now and again, I get asked to write a CV for a school student or school leaver.  The young person’s main problem is that they don’t know how to present themselves to a potential employer.  In this article I will cover how to select relevant information and present it in a way that will appeal to your future boss.

First, collect together all the information that you need.  This can cover work experience, volunteer activities, hobbies and sports, academic success and other achievements.  Note the word ‘achievements’ there.  A CV will sell you best when framed in terms of achievements. For example, you repaired a broken fence and the farmer praised the quality of your work.  That spells out what you did and what the result was, i.e. the achievement.  This way of wording achievements is much stronger than vague claims like ‘responsible for checking fences’.

Work Experience

Many young people have part-time work outside of their school hours, which is very helpful in demonstrating that you understand what is involved in holding down a job, e.g. turning up on time.

Think about what skills your job demonstrates.  At KFC, for instance, you learned how to prepare menu items quickly, worked in a team, and probably gave efficient customer service.  Break down the components of your job and signpost how they demonstrate your skills.

Volunteer Work

As you have with work experience, write down your volunteer achievements.  If you worked on a community project, what did it involve?  Some suggestions are teamwork, following written or verbal directions, completing a task successfully and reporting back to the manager.  Describe what you did.  If you volunteered in a special school, did you put the child at ease, select books appropriate to the child’s ability, and assist them with guided reading?  Help the reader understand the breadth and depth of the role by telling them what you did and what your successes were.

Academic Strengths

Itemise your academic achievements including any prizes and awards, e.g. top of the class or best performer.  If appropriate, you can even use quotes from a school report, e.g. ‘John enjoys studying science and always hands in high-quality assignments’.   If you are about to leave school, ask for a written reference – you may be able to quote from it if there is a suitable comment highlighting your skills and talents.

Extracurricular Activities

Most schools offer non-academic opportunities, and students can benefit from taking part.  As well as building your skills, you can use these to enhance your CV.  Extracurricular activities can include sports, a drama production, choir participation or a fashion show.  You may be participating in these because you have a strong interest in the field, e.g. fashion, and a potential employer in this industry will be keen to see some extracurricular participation as evidence of your passion.  They may also demonstrate other personal skills, e.g. leadership through team sports as a captain.

Hobbies and Interests

These are usually undertaken outside of the school environment and can include craft, collecting, cycling, tramping or gym work.  These can demonstrate fitness, teamwork and appreciation of nature or other personal attributes that might appeal to a recruiter.

Skills CV or Chronological CV?

Many schools and careers advisers recommend a skills-based CV, where you list your skills and then demonstrate how you achieve them, e.g. communication skills might be demonstrated in your job at McDonald’s by mentioning that you liaise with customers and colleagues.

My approach is to briefly outline the student’s skills at the front and then provide evidence for those under sub-headlines similar to this article, e.g. work experience, volunteering, and extracurricular activities. 

There is no fixed rule on this, but it’s important to make sure the CV is easy to follow and understand.

Art and Images

Don’t include images in a business CV.  If you are an artist or designer, you can include a link to an online portfolio or attach paper examples at the end, but otherwise, leave images out of the CV.

Reviewing Your CV

Look at job advertisements to see what sort of person they are looking for.  Often they will say ‘the person will be…’ or similar.  Make sure that you have listed on your CV the attributes that you have that match the advertisement.  For example, if they say they want someone who communicates with others, ensure that you have that prominently on the front page.

Ask a third person to read over your CV and check for spelling and grammar.

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