Creating the perfect graduate engineering CV

John Seasman, Director at Reed Engineering, gave a presentation on ‘The Perfect CV’ at the Graduate Engineer Show 2018. John shared advice from his 30+ years in the recruitment industry, including practical writing tips, common errors to avoid and how to make your CV stand out for the right reasons.

Invest your time to reap the rewards

Creating a strong CV starts with investing the right amount of time and effort into the process. Average graduate engineer salaries sit at around £25-30k, giving you the opportunity to earn more than £100k over 4 years in a role. With this in mind, it makes sense to give your CV, the gateway to job opportunities, the attention it deserves.

When you’re ready to create your CV, set aside a good amount of time, concentrate and limit distractions – putting the effort into creating a winning CV will pay off in the long run.

Adapt your CV for the role you’re applying to – every time

If you ask 1,000 people what the purpose of a CV is, you will find consensus around a few key areas. Most will answer that your CV should highlight your educational qualifications, draw attention to skills and experience and demonstrate what makes you stand out. While these are important elements of a CV, they are not its purpose. There is one simple purpose of a CV – and that is to obtain an interview.  

The recruiter or employer will offer an interview if they are convinced that you would do that particular job well – which is why it is so important to adapt your CV to role you’re applying to before you hit send.

To help with this, read the job advert carefully and speak to the recruiter about what the employer is really looking for. You might find some parts of your experience become more relevant than others. Make these the focus of your CV by including them high up on the page and use formatting such as bullet points to highlight key points.  

Focus on achievements, not experience

The focus of your CV should be on achievements, rather than experience. This one surprises many people, but having been involved in recruitment for over thirty years, I find it is the results candidates have achieved that get them the job, not what they have done.

For example, if there are two professional footballers who have been playing for 10 years, on paper their experience is similar. However, if one is Lionel Messi (5 time winner of the Ballon D’or, 4 Champions League Winners medals, 586 goals for Barcelona and 81 for Argentina) and the other is basically anyone else, then it’s obvious one is better at football than the other. Experience doesn’t tell a complete story unless it is backed up by genuine achievements.

Your CV should talk about your duties briefly but focus on what you accomplished. Bear in mind, although it can be tempting to embellish or even lie on your CV, it is important never to do this. This could cause you to be dismissed from your job or leave you facing legal action.

Help your CV to be found with key words

When you have registered with a recruitment agency or on a job board, you will find recruitment consultants contacting you about roles you may be interested in but have not applied for. This is because they have found your CV on a database when searching for suitable candidates. To ensure your CV is found and you don’t miss out on opportunities, it’s important to make sure your CV contains the right key words.

Think about the type of role you are looking for and try to imagine what an employer or recruiter would put in their search to find candidates for that role. There are many different ways to describe particular jobs or skillsets so try and use as many different words as possible in different parts of your CV.

If an employer is looking for a production manager as an example you need to make sure your CV contains words such as production, manufacturing, engineering, assembly, operations and planning. Introduce key phrases where they fit naturally – being careful to avoid keyword stuffing.

Don’t overlook the personal statement

Your personal statement accompanies your CV and is another great opportunity to sell yourself. There are some simple approaches you can take to ensure your statement makes the right first impression.

Example: 'Peter is a hardworking, conscientious, diligent high achiever who is a people person. He is honest as the day is long, good with children and really loves his mum...'

This example may be worse than many of the personal statements I read – but the errors it contains are typical of what I see in many real cases.

  • Always write your personal statement in the first person (like you would naturally talk about yourself) rather than the third person (like someone else is talking about you). E.g. ‘I am a hardworking…’ not ‘Peter is a hardworking…’
  • Make sure the strengths you list are distinct and varied. In the example, Peter has used ‘hardworking, conscientious and diligent’ which are boil down to very similar qualities – suggesting his strengths are limited. A better example would be ‘hardworking with strong analytical and communication skills.’
  • Try to avoid adding in any irrelevant detail. It’s great that Peter is good with children and loves his mum – but as these strengths have no relevance to the job he is applying for it would be better to leave these qualities off his CV

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