How to big up your leadership experience on your graduate management CV

21 Jun 2023, 15:38

How do you persuade the graduate recruiter reading your CV that you are ready for a graduate management role? It’s all in the way you sell your story.

paper to represent a cv

Stress that you are a ‘doer’ as well as a ‘leader’.

If you are applying for a leadership graduate programme or a trainee manager role, recruiters will scour your CV for evidence that you are able to deliver excellent results to budget and deadline, implement decisions and support others. Essentially, what you need to do is to create a compelling narrative that you have management and leadership potential. And you do this by including and emphasising on your CV any positions of responsibility you’ve had and any times when you’ve used skills that would be useful in a leadership role.

If you want to go straight to our graduate CV template, you can access it here. Note that it isn’t tailored for a management role, so come back to read our advice on how to make your CV fit for leadership.

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Start by breaking down the concept of leadership

Take a look at our analysis of the different attributes that add up to leadership and management skills and our article on the top skills trainee managers need . Then think of how you’ve developed these skills in your part-time jobs, work experience, volunteering experience, gap year, involvement with student societies and/or in any other extracurricular activities.

You can still use part-time jobs and extracurricular activities where you weren’t in a position of responsibility to highlight your leadership skills. Your commitment to athletics, for example, could testify to your drive.

Then use confident language to assert your management capabilities

With every CV entry, write down what your responsibilities were and explain what you brought to the project, role or task. Don’t talk about ‘we’ or ‘us’ – make sure you highlight what you achieved in each case. On a CV for a management role, it is best to use concise bullet points outlining your achievements rather than paragraphs.

Use assertive, strong language to convey your achievements. Avoid verbs such as ‘did’ and ‘carried out’ and use ‘managed’, ‘facilitated’ or ‘achieved’ instead. Tailor your CV to the vacancy you’re applying for by mirroring the language in the job advert or job description. For example, if the employer wants a target-driven individual, you should say how you met (or exceeded targets); if they want ‘strong relationship builders’ you should talk about how you ‘built strong relationships’ rather than ‘worked in a team’.

Here is an example of how a leadership candidate could write up their part-time retail job:

Education and qualifications CV example

You can see that they have stressed their supervisory achievements: spot the words ‘deputised’, ‘trained and supported’ and ‘trusted’, along with the name-check of business competencies, such as ‘client-facing skills’ and ‘commercial awareness’. But note also that this synopsis also stresses that the candidate is as much of a ‘doer’ as a ‘leader’: they have experience of dealing with customers.

Here is an example of how a leadership candidate could write up their role as secretary of a student society:

Voluntary experience CV example

This person wasn’t a president, but the use of verbs such as ‘arranged’ and ‘organised’ emphasises the managerial responsibilities the candidate took on. However, they also stress how they have worked in a team. Observe, too, how the candidate has quantified and scaled their achievements.

Emphasise the activities in which you made the most impact

Imagine you were on two society committees at university. One was a film society with over 100 active members and you were the president. The other was a small, declining book club with an apathetic committee and you were the secretary. Which one do you devote more space to?

It may seem like an easy question – the film club, obviously? Not necessarily. It’s not very impressive that you ran a large film society if you oversaw no new successful initiatives (such as talks, work events or socials) and, in fact, did little more than fill in the Student Union forms and start the film. But what if you made a big impact at your book club? Perhaps your enthusiasm re-energised the team and boosted morale. Perhaps you spearheaded a publicity campaign and managed to reverse the fall in membership. Which piece of experience seems more interesting now?

As a general rule, devote more space to those activities where you had the strongest results or made the largest difference. Employers don’t want managers who are content to sit back and oversee an already successful team or department – they want people who will try their hardest to improve standards and who will be resourceful when the going gets tough.

Pull everything together into a strong story

Most university students suit a chronological CV format, with a few adjustments to tailor it to their experience, rather than a skills-based CV – but if you are unsure about what would work best for you check out the targetjobs guide to different CV formats .

If you do choose a variation on the chronological CV, you don’t have to stick to set headings, such as ‘Work experience’. As long as the recruiter can quickly and clearly identify your contact details, your education background and your work history, you can use whatever headings put you in the best light.

For example, if you have a lot of volunteering or fundraising experience and have been involved in student societies you might want to group them under a heading such as ‘Volunteering achievements’ instead of something generic like ‘Interests’. Alternatively, you might want to group any supervisory roles, course rep responsibilities or committee positions on student societies under a section called ‘Positions of responsibility’.

Using subheadings that include the words ‘achievements’, ‘responsibilities' or ‘management’ will help to convey that you are ready for management. You can gain more advice on which headings to use in our commentary on how to make our template your own .

Get more advice on how to convey a strong story with your CV in our advice feature that offers an advanced master class on CV storytelling .

targetjobs editorial advice

This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the targetjobs content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

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