How to Write A School Leaver CV

Think of your CV as a billboard.

It advertises all the great things you’ve accomplished, helps someone understand why they should hire you-- and it’s meant to be read quickly.

A famous study showed recruiters and HR professionals spend only 6 seconds reading a CV before determining whether or not someone is a fit for the position.

That means you’ve got to get their attention quickly and show them exactly what they need to know.

If you’re a school leaver, chances are you may not have a wealth of experience just yet-- but don’t give up. There are plenty of great ways to show an employer why you’re the person for the job! Follow these steps and you’ll greatly increase your chances of a job offer.

Understand the job you want

Part of a great CV is creating one that speaks to the person doing the hiring. You want them to see your potential and relevant experience that could be applied to the position they have open.

While you may not know exactly the role you’re looking for, do some research and collect 10-15 job descriptions that interest you. Break them into categories, perhaps by industry, discipline or skillset. For example, you may have some job descriptions that involve business skills, some that involve hospitality work and others that involve tourism.

Spend time analyzing these roles. Do you see patterns? Are there words that are commonly used in most of the tourism job postings? Do you notice certain skills that the hospitality jobs are looking for?

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It may be helpful to put this information into a spreadsheet and list keywords or phrases under each category of job that interests you to stay organized.

Understand how you fit

Now it’s time to get introspective.

Think about your experience so far-- and not just work experience. Consider the classes you’ve taken, the volunteer work you’ve done and the hobbies or interests you have. Try to identify where your skills and experience overlap with the skills and experience needed in each of the job descriptions.

For example, maybe you volunteered at an animal rescue non-profit during high school-- and you love to play guitar in your free time.

If a job you’re applying to is looking for someone who works well with a team, can make decisions and think creatively, tie this back to your volunteer work and guitar playing. At the non-profit you worked with 4 other volunteers and helped decide when an animal should be adopted and, while playing guitar, you’ve written 14 of your own acoustic songs.

See how those experiences relate to what the job description is looking for?

Maybe you don’t have volunteer experience-- or much experience at all. You can still list relevant courses you took that either relate directly to the job-- or helped you grow skills that are related to the job. Showing your ability to participate in group work, achieve good grades and understand how what you’ve learned applies outside of the classroom can really add to your CV.

Time to write

Now that you have a better understanding of the jobs you’re applying to and how to make your experience and skills fit, it’s time to write your CV.

It should be broken into four sections in this order:

    • Contact information: your first and last name, email address and phone number.
    • Education: where you went to school and when, relevant coursework, any outstanding accomplishments
    • Work or volunteer experience: where you worked and when, major roles and responsibilities, major accomplishments
  • Additional information: Languages you speak, hobbies, interests

Contact information should be a no-brainer: it’s how you’ll be contacted when they love what they read on your CV and want to schedule a phone call or interview. Make sure, however, that your email is professional; [email protected] may not make the right impression. Additionally, make sure your voicemail is not full so they can leave a message with details of the interview-- and that your voicemail greeting isn’t a recording you and your mates made on a Friday night.

Later in your career the education section will fall below the work/volunteer section when you have considerable professional experience to list. However, for now, this is your primary experience. This is the place to show good grades, clubs or sports you participated in and courses that are relevant to the job or show some outstanding achievement-- like advanced coursework or study abroad programs. If you’re looking to add more to your education section, there are shorter, comprehensive programs that give you extremely marketable skills.

The work and volunteer experience should show any work or volunteer experience you have so far. If you’re a little light on experience, don’t hesitate to list short volunteer projects or even short jobs-- like the time you and a friend went door to door mowing lawns. If you’ve had one or two, steady jobs throughout high school, you may want to reconsider listing smaller projects, unless they really underline how well you fit with this job. You’ll want to include a section on any major accomplishments-- and use specific examples, especially numbers. If you can show that you volunteered at a soup kitchen to serve 4,000 people over a summer or that your door-to-door lawn mowing service had 15 weekly clients, it provides context for the reader-- and gives them an idea of just how successful you were!

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If you’re like a lot of school leavers and this section is a bit bare or even blank, there’s no time like the present to start filling it in. There are plenty of volunteer opportunities out there to gain experience-- and you’ll feel great while doing it!

Many people leave off any details about their hobbies and what they enjoy-- but it’s a mistake. For one, you may have some common interest with the person reading your CV and that makes your application more interesting. Second, it allows them to see who you are when you’re not at work and how it applies to the role. If you’re applying to a very creative role, mentioning your musical and artistic interests is a good idea. If you’re going for a tourism role, mentioning the dozens of countries you’ve visited will show you enjoy travel and tourism.

This is also the section to list any additional languages you speak, extracurricular education like first aid training or online coding courses and

As you write your CV, keep asking yourself: how does this fit with the job I’m applying to? Don’t create just one CV and send it to every job you apply for; make sure it’s tailored to the each of the job types you’re interested in.

Keep that list of skills and desired experience you created from the job descriptions closeby. Many companies will use applicant tracking software that will look for keywords. Try to incorporate commonly used phrases or words in your CV. Not only will it be more obvious to the person reading your CV that you understand the job description, you’ll also be more likely to be selected by the software as an applicant with the stuff they’re looking for!

When sending your CV, here’s a tip: send over a PDF version saved as your last name, position you’re applying to and the date. HR professionals and recruiters get hundreds of applicant-- and if you can make their job easier by not sending over a document entitled “Resume”, you have a better chance of being seen!

What happens next

Now that you have several versions of your CV, begin applying! Don’t limit yourself only to companies that have open positions-- and don’t limit yourself to only company career pages. Make sure that you’re attending networking events and even emailing or direct messaging those who might be in charge of hiring at companies you want to work at.

Stay positive. Job hunting isn’t always easy, but it’s a useful skill to learn. If you’ve just begun your job hunt and are trying to figure out your career path, speaking with an expert can be an extremely helpful solution.

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