How to write a graduate CV: your FAQs answered
We’ve compiled a list of frequently asked questions about CVs, covering basic details such as font size, length, use of colour and file format. Use this alongside our detailed advice on how to structure and write your CV (and adapt our template to suit you) and our advanced guide to perfecting your CV to get the job and career you want.
What font should you use for your CV?
Aim for clarity. Choose a font that is easy to read. Consider Times New Roman, Arial and Verdana. Once you've decided on a layout and style, it is important to be consistent with fonts and formatting, using the same style for headings throughout, for example.
Read our explanation of the difference between chronological and skills-based CVs to help you decide on your approach.
Should you use colour on your CV?
You can, especially if it makes it look more attractive. Bear in mind that it may be printed off in black and white, so check how it will appear then.
Should your CV be a pdf?
Follow the instructions that you are given by the recruiter. A pdf retains its formatting, but if you are sending your CV to a big employer or a recruitment agency they might prefer a Microsoft Word document or similar, as they may be using software to scan it. If this is likely to be the case, consider whether your CV includes the keywords that might be checked by a CV screening programme (these are likely to be based around the competencies or attributes detailed on the job description or advert).
How long should your CV be?
The maximum standard length for a graduate CV is two pages of A4. Check any guidance the employer has provided very carefully. If the employer has asked for a one-page CV, that's what you need to provide.
If your CV is two pages long, make the most of them. A recruiter might take the view that one and a half pages is neither here nor there, and could prefer a full second page to one that peters out halfway.
What’s the best layout for your CV?
Our CV template is a good starting point. You can download the template CV here, and our CV format advice article provides tips and advice on how to tackle each section .
What if you want to get creative? Think about the industry and employer you’re applying to before you attempt a novelty CV. Some sectors, such as law, are more traditional than others and will not be impressed by anything that looks gimmicky. If you're applying for creative or design-oriented roles, a fresh approach might not be held against you, but some recruiters will be put off by any attempt to make your CV look obviously different.
You are unlikely to be penalised for keeping your CV simple, and all employers need to be able to see easily if you have the skills and experience for the job.
Think about how to make headings and subheadings stand out, but don’t go overboard. Be consistent in the format you use for dates, and where you place them. In our CV template, all dates are on the left-hand side.
Your university careers service will be able to provide you with other CV templates. Find out if it offers a CV clinic or one-to-one advice sessions; these are likely to be popular so you may have to book well in advance.
What's the best structure for your CV?
There is no one right answer to this. The section headings you use are up to you. Present the information in the order you feel best reflects your strengths, and that clearly shows how you match the employer's requirements. For example, you might choose to list your employment history and work experience before your education and qualifications. At a later stage in your career, you could create a separate section for professional qualifications. Aim to group pieces of information together in a way that highlights what you have achieved in general and that draws particular attention to any achievements that are relevant to the job.
What information do you have to include on your CV?
These are the only details you must always include:
- Contact details
- Work experience
Everything else is up to you.
What filename should you give your CV?
Don’t just call it CV.doc. Include your first name and surname in the filename: JohnSmithCV.doc. As ever, follow any specific instructions you have been given.
Should you use bullet points on your CV?
The key to CV writing is to be succinct, while also conveying some selective details that flesh out the picture you are giving the recruiter of your skills, strengths and suitability for the role.
Bullet points can help you to say what you want to say in the limited space available. Keep them short and sweet – ideally not longer than one and a half lines. Alternatively, you could use short, punchy paragraphs.
How do you deal with gaps in your CV?
Does your CV have an unusual chronology – for example, does it show you took longer than the standard length of time to complete your A levels or degree? The key tip here is not to make anything up. You don’t need to give explanations for this kind of gap on the CV itself, and there may well be a way of presenting your experience in a positive light in an accompanying covering letter or at interview. Read our advice on handling gaps in CVs for more tips.
Depending on the reasons for the gap on your CV, it could be that there are mitigating or extenuating circumstances that you might want to tell the employer about.
Should you disclose mitigating circumstances on your CV?
You need to double-check with the employer to find out how they prefer candidates to notify them of mitigating or extenuating circumstances. For example, there may be a section on an online application form for you to fill in with the relevant information. You would not normally need to tackle this on your CV. Use our advice on mitigating circumstances and how to disclose them to help you.
Can you get feedback on your CV?
Yes. Having another pair of eyes glance over your CV is helpful. They can tell you what kind of first impression your CV makes and whether they think you should put greater emphasis on something or delete something from it. A good first port of call is a careers adviser or a placement tutor at your university; many careers services provide CV reviews even after you’ve graduated. If you register with TARGETjobs, you can upload your CV and have it reviewed by one of our commercial partner organisations.
If you have applied for a job and been rejected, you can email the recruiter if they had any advice on how you could improve your applications in the future. Recruiters will usually state on their website if they have a policy of not providing feedback to candidates; if they don’t, it is always worth asking.