The first step to a successful job application is creating a tailored CV. This will give the hiring manager all the information they require so you stand out in the application process.
Here are 5 top tips to help write a successful CV.
1. Get the format right
Hiring managers typically give a CV between 5 and 30 seconds of their time when they first read it. So, make it easy for them to find what they need to see. Adopting a standard and proven format typically increases your chances of a hiring manager reading your CV to the end. Here are some key pointers to help you achieve a professional result:
- Avoid fancy borders, columns, tables and distracting colours and graphics. Use one simple and consistent font. Use bold or underlining to emphasise headings and key information.
- The first page is prime real estate – minimise space taken up by your name and contact details and don’t include your date of birth or full street address.
- Information about your education should appear immediately after your name and contact details, before you provide details of work experience and other information. List PLT/GDLP at Leo Cussen under your Education heading. Your professional placement can be listed under Legal Experience as long as you make it clear it was a placement.
- Always list qualifications and work experience in reverse chronological order, starting with the most recent or current.
- Consider separating any ‘Legal Experience’ you have gained, including voluntary work and placements, from ‘Other experience’, in two separate headings/sections.
- Save your photo for the LinkedIn profile. Employers frequently tell us they don’t want to see photos on CVs or job applications.
- If you provide a mobile phone number (and you should), make sure that potential employers are greeted with a professional voicemail message and that they are able to easily leave you a message. And check your voicemails regularly.
- Include extra curriculars and hobbies/interests – the more interesting the better.
- Make sure you include any languages you speak other than English and your proficiency level.
2. Tailor your CV
Ensure that it’s clear how you fulfill the requirements of the position by describing the duties you had in previous roles using language that matches the job advertisement or job description. This will increase the chances that your application gets attention, because the compelling evidence of your suitability is clear and appears early. Ensure that you do the following:
- Provide examples of how your experience and skills align closely with what the employer is seeking. Do you have experience performing duties that are similar to those listed in the job ad? Then list those examples first when you outline the responsibilities of each job or activity that is in your CV. These are also the experiences and skills you should provide the most detail about, as they speak directly to what the employer is hoping you can do for them.
- Don’t just list the tasks you carried out in a role, also talk about your achievements. Were you ever given additional responsibilities as a result of your great work? Then talk about how that came about. Did you resolve a particularly complex or tricky challenge for a customer or for your colleagues? Then provide some detail about how you directly contributed to an improvement. Achievements that are quantifiable are great, such as meeting performance targets or a budget or deadline. But achievements can also be expressed in the form of positive feedback from a supervisor or from a satisfied customer. Provide examples of the quality of the work you have done and the positive attributes you have demonstrated, as well as the kinds of tasks that you know how to carry out.
- Non-legal experience matters. Employers want to know about your work experience outside of the legal sector. Customer service, administration, hospitality or any other work can demonstrate to an employer that you are bringing transferable skills and valuable experience to your next role. For example, a long-term casual role shows that you are reliable and dependable. Working alone in a retail outlet and closing or opening the store shows that you are trustworthy. Call centre experience tells an employer you have been trained to solve customers’ problems and to use database systems. Many jobs provide experience working as part of a team. These kinds of skills and attributes (and many more) are highly valued so don’t downplay or minimise any of your experience.
- You should minimise irrelevant information. You may be proud of your early high school achievements, but unless this information speaks to the requirements of the role you are applying for. This is not a priority for your CV. As a rule, a graduate CV should aim to be two to three pages in length.
3. Check and Re-Check Spelling and Grammar
This may sound obvious, but it’s often the difference between a CV being shortlisted or being marked ‘no’. Use your spell checker AND your eyes to proofread, proofread, proofread! And if possible, ask someone else to check your CV as well.
- Don’t just rely on spell checkers. Be careful with words that, when spelt incorrectly form a different, but correctly spelt word – often your keen eyes are the best tool for picking up typos.
- It’s helpful to read your CV aloud for one final check of the grammar and to hear how it flows. Look out for clunky and repetitive sentences and be ruthless with your editing.
- Use dot points that start with strong action verbs to describe your responsibilities but watch your tenses and be consistent. When describing your current job responsibilities, use the present tense (e.g., Responding to,.., Providing advice… ) but when describing responsibilities from a past role, use the past tense (e.g., Responded, Provided). But most importantly, be consistent. As a legal graduate, you are expected to have great attention to detail and strong written skills.
4. Avoid ‘Fluff’ – describe concrete experiences and achievements
Every centimetre of your CV is a scarce resource so filling it with “fluff” is a waste and is guaranteed to lose the hiring manager’s attention. This means no broad statements or skills lists that simply describe your attributes or talents without evidence of how you have demonstrated them. A CV displays your qualifications and experience – what you have done and the skills you have learnt while doing it.
- Don’t use up valuable space on the first page with a summary paragraph that states information already provided elsewhere.
- Avoid including a ‘Career Objective’ – save this information for your cover letter or application form and tailor it to reflect the opportunity on offer.
- Don’t just make claims about your skills, show the evidence! For example, instead of stating that you’re a team player, show the recruiter you have worked successfully in teams by including details about teams you were part of, what you were responsible for and what was achieved within your work experience or extra-curricular information. Remember, a mere assertion doesn’t make it true – anyone can say they are great at something (and so many people do)!
5. Emphasise the positive but be accurate
Don’t lie or exaggerate in your CV, even unintentionally. Always include accurate dates and put the right type and amount of details under your work experience. Remember, if you get an interview, you’ll be asked to elaborate on your CV, you don’t want to have misrepresented your level of experience.
- Always provide specific dates for your work or voluntary experience. For example, if you worked a summer job at McDonalds, provide specific dates like this ‘December 2018 – January 2019’. Don’t be tempted to put ‘2018 – 2019’ as this gives the impression that you held the role for two years.
- Use language appropriate for your level of skill and experience. While you may have thrived during MOOTs and had great feedback on your mock bail application at Leo Cussen, describing yourself as having “extensive advocacy experience” or “exceptional advocacy skills” is best left until you have a few years of post-admission experience behind you.
Ready to nail your CV? Leo Cussen graduates can access templates here in the Placement, Admissions and Careers module on our online learning platform. These templates, along with our repository of careers and job search tools and resources, will ensure your CV is easy to read and contains all the information an employer wants to see.