Your CV will be your introduction to many prospective employers, so it needs to catch recruiters’ eyes, show off your work experience, detail your technical and soft skills and include other important information (such as your contact details, education history and wider interests). To give yourself the best chance at impressing recruiters and proving that you’re the right candidate for the job, make sure you follow these key CV tips.
Have a clear structure for your CV
IT and technology graduate jobs can be very competitive to secure and each opportunity will likely receive a large number of applications. The harsh truth is that recruiters might only be able to look at your CV for as little as thirty seconds before making a decision. So, you need to make sure your CV has a clear structure so that recruiters will be able to see everything they are looking for at a glance.
Things that you need to include in your CV are (click on the below links to jump to each section):
- Your name and contact details
- Relevant technical skills and experience with technologies
- Educational background and academic details
- Work experience, relevant projects and general skills
- Any extracurricular achievements and interests that don’t fit into the above categories.
As long as these components are clearly visible, there are no hard-and-fast rules for how you should structure your CV. The usual options are to broadly follow a chronological CV format (which focuses on providing evidence of your education, work experience in reverse chronological order) or a skills-based CV (which focuses more on the skills you’ve gained from different areas of your life), or a combination of the two. For our template and in the below examples, we’ve gone for a combination structure that puts maximum emphasis on key technical skills and work experience; if you're a graduate starting on your job hunt, we’d advise that you follow a similar structure.
Your CV should be either one or two full pages long. You are free to choose the order in which you put your sections (and what headings you give each section). They do not have to appear in the order we have listed above (with the exception of ‘contact information’, which should go first). Place the sections that best show you have the capability to perform the role you are applying for in an eye-catching position and allocate the most space to these sections. For example, if the role you are applying for requires excellent customer service/client management skills, don’t hide away your experience of being a barista on the second page and give it more than a line on your CV.
You’ll see when looking at our template that we have stuck to a generic title such as ‘Work experience and projects’ but you could present your experiences differently. For example, if you have at least three pieces of technology-based work experience and lots of experience in retail/hospitality you could have separate sections called ‘Technical work experience’ and ‘Non-technical work experience’.
What to include in the contact information section
This section should be very near the top of your CV and needs to include any and all information the recruiter may require in order to contact you: your email address, telephone number, and your address are musts. Make sure this information is up-to-date and that the email address you use is professional sounding. You can choose to include a link to your LinkedIn profile and/or a link to an online portfolio, such as your own website or a GitHub profile (we’ve included a GitHub link in the example below). If you include a link to a portfolio, make sure it includes up-to-date examples of your work.
You shouldn’t include a photo of yourself or information such as your date of birth, gender or ethnicity.
Should I include a personal statement?
You’ll likely have an opportunity to discuss your motivations for applying for a role and to a specific employer as part of a covering letter or in your answers on an online application form. As such, a personal statement on your CV will likely be repeating yourself and will take up space that could be used elsewhere. If you’re not asked to submit a covering letter or asked a ‘motivation’ question in an application form, include a one- or two-line statement explaining why you’re applying. Read our advice on personal statements here.
How best to showcase your technical skills
Your CV is your opportunity to show off your range of technical skills; we’ve placed this section right below the contact information at the top of our CV, so it’s impossible to miss. Keep in mind, this does not need to be an exhaustive list of all of your skills; focus on the skills that the employer and the role requires and don't feel obliged to include anything that isn’t relevant or might be outdated.
We’ve organised our tech skills into three categories (programming, databases and Office) to save space and make it easier for recruiters to see at a glance the range of skills our candidate has. Feel free to arrange your skills in the way that you feel will best showcases them. You can then expand on these skills in the work experience section of your CV, giving some detail as to your level of aptitude and how you used it. You don’t have to do this for every single skill you list, but recruiters will want to see evidence of how you’ve developed the key skills they ask for in the job description.
How to structure the education and academics section
Here’s where you list your major education and academic qualifications in reverse chronological order (with the most recent first). List the individual subjects and grades of your A levels (or equivalent), but you don’t need to go into as much detail for GCSEs (or equivalent) – usually just the number of each grade will suffice (eg. 3 A/7s, 5 B/6s, 2 C/5s).
When it comes to including information about your degree, don’t miss out on the chance to show you’ve got the academic background needed for the job. As well as including where and when you studied your degree and your (predicted) degree grade, include information about projects and modules that are relevant to the employer you are applying for. Not all technology degree courses will cover the same topics (even if they have the same name), so it may be helpful for recruiters to see exactly what you’ve covered. For example, from the above example a recruiter can learn that our applicant has a particularly strong knowledge of databases and an interest in machine learning.
You can also use this section to list any additional technical qualifications that you may have gained outside of your degree. These might be online courses or classes that you have taken in your free time in order to develop your knowledge of a particular technology.
How to list your work experience
In this section you should detail the work experience that you have undertaken; these might be internships, work placements, part-time jobs or other positions of responsibility. For each piece of experience you list, include a brief overview of your responsibilities and achievements, focusing specifically on your own actions (as opposed to talking in general terms about what a team did). In the above example, we’ve detailed what aspects of a software update our graduate was involved in, and specified the programming languages that were used. Remember: the work experience section is an opportunity for you to put your technical skills into context and add any additional details.
While technical skills and aptitude are obviously essential for a technical role, employers view behavioural competencies and ‘soft’ skills with equal importance. When detailing your responsibilities and achievements, be sure to show that you have the skills that the job advert asks for. Don’t miss out part-time jobs and work experience outside of the sector, as these can be excellent showcases of ‘soft’ skills. In the above example we’ve specifically highlighted how our graduate demonstrates their teamworking and communication skills during their development placement: these are two key skills for developers, who will often work in large teams.
Your work experience doesn’t have to be from formal work experience programmes. Recruiters have told TARGETjobs that they really want to see practical examples of candidates’ skills and demonstrations of candidates’ ‘passion for technology’: hackathons, events and personal projects can provide just that. We’ve included a project from a hackathon and a volunteering role on our CV, as well as including a link through to a GitHub page where recruiters can see the specific project discussed. Volunteering roles can show that you’re passionate about technology and willing to share this interest with others – a key quality that recruiters look for.
When detailing your achievements, including specific numbers can be helpful. You can see above that we’ve included download numbers for the application that our graduate worked on.
Don’t be tempted to exaggerate
While you’re fleshing out your examples of your work experience and skills, make sure you don’t stretch the truth and overstate your abilities and experience. It is fine to say that you assisted with something or that you observed or gained exposure to such and such a process if that’s what you did. At some point in the recruitment process, your CV will be read by people with significant technical knowledge and you need to be prepared to speak about anything on your CV at interview. Any inconsistencies or errors will likely be quickly picked up.
What do recruiters look for in the ‘hobbies’ section?
Any projects or experiences that don’t fit into the above categories can fit in this section; we’ve called it ‘Interests’ but you can give it whatever title would best fit. Use it as a further opportunity to sell your tech skills and to prove your passion for technology. What you do in your free time can tell recruiters a lot about your motivations, so don’t be afraid to include any clubs, groups or events that show how you’ve developed your skills and demonstrated a genuine interest in tech. Mentioning non-tech activities (such as positions of responsibility in university societies) is also a strong way to highlight more of your soft skills.
- Find out more about the extracurricular activities that can help to develop your technical skills.
- What do recruiters mean when they say ‘passion for technology’? Learn more here.
- Read more advice about what to include in the 'further interests' section of your CV.
Tailor your CV for each job
It’s key that your CV is tailored to each graduate job, and each employer, you apply to. Along with your covering letter and/or application form, your CV needs to tell a story that explains why you’re the right person for the job. We’d advise putting together a ‘master CV’ that has all the information you could include on your CV and then, for each application, adapting and ‘tailoring’ it to the specific role.
Pay careful attention to the skills and qualities mentioned in the job description and advert and, when writing up your work experience, make sure examples of these skills are at the top of the section and that you elaborate on them in detail. Echo the wording that the employer uses and make sure these essential and desired skills stand out (in our example CV, we’ve highlighted these skills by putting them in bold).
Lastly: assess your accuracy
Details matter. Before sending out your CV and covering letter you should always check through the text with the same rigour that you check your code. Check:
- your spelling and grammar carefully
- that you’ve included the information the employer wants – evidence of skills, etc.
It’s easy to let glitches slip through. Like with pair programming, a second pair of eyes can make all the difference. Have a friend or relative who has an eye for detail check your CV for any mistakes. IT employers look for smart, professional people who can develop high-quality technical solutions, and you don’t want a typo to distract from your skills.
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