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Creating a professional CV for school and college leavers

A hand hovering over a cv

When applying for an apprenticeship or full-time job you need to be presenting yourself to the employer or training provider as a professional. The language, layout and format you use all impact how you come across.

If you are a school or college leaver, writing your first CV can feel overwhelming. We have some helpful insights to help you showcase the very best of yourself. We have even prepared a template to help you get started that you can download for free at the bottom of this post.

Firstly, what is a CV and when should I create one?

A Curriculum Vita (CV) is a reflection of you and your first chance to make a good impression. It will show off your skills and experience, persuading any hiring manager that you are the right person for the job.

You should think of your CV as a living document.

It can expand, develop and specialise as you move through your career. It is good practice to keep updating your CV on a regular basis, regardless of whether you are happily in full-time education or employment.

By regularly updating your CV, you will be able to capture your new experience, responsibilities and skills in the moment while they are fresh in your mind. It will also mean that you are ready to accept new opportunities as soon as they arise.

Your experience and skills

If you do not have any relevant work experience yet, don't worry! Just ensure that your enthusiasm for the role comes across on the page.

You may like to consider adding a ‘skills’ section in your CV and linking any events you have attended or hobbies you have. If you can link it to skills you know are needed for the role then - even better! This will show how much you have thought about the role you are applying for.

Make sure to include your IT skills as well as your personal skills as these will be relevant to all jobs. You could consider mentioning any significant awards or achievements from school or college which will demonstrate a strong work ethic.

What you should and shouldn’t include in your CV can be subjective but it still can be helpful to have someone read it and give feedback based on what they think it says about you.

Tailoring your CV

When the hiring manager looks at your CV they should be able to see that you have all the skills and behaviours needed for the apprenticeship or role you are applying for. This is where tailoring your CV before you send it off can make a big difference.

Before you start writing your CV try a mind map looking at:

  • Why you want to work in the sector (Such as the Financial Services or Accounting sector).
  • What do you know about the qualifications or the professional bodies you will be studying with (such as AAT, CIMA etc.).
  • What do you know about the employer you are hoping to work for?
  • What are your short and long-term career goals?
  • What relevant skills or experience do you have that make you a good fit for this specific role?

Is there a way for you to include any of your understanding and enthusiasm from your mind map into your CV?

Layout and formatting

Don’t underestimate the importance of a strong and clear layout. Here are some things you can be thinking about.

  • Easy to read language.
  • A consistent font type.
  • Present information in a logical order - use sufficient spacing, clear section headings in bold (e.g. work experience, education) always make sure you highlight your most recent achievements.
  • Maybe use bullet points when listing your skills or duties for any work experience - they are a great way to draw attention to any key facts or relevant information.
  • Personal details at the top of your CV i.e. name, address, contact number, and email.
  • Start with a personal statement / personal profile.
  • List any core skills you have and feel are suitable for the position.
  • Education - clearly list the school/college you attended along with the date, as well as subjects studied and grades achieved or predicted.
  • List any work experience, starting with the most recent.
  • State your hobbies and interests at the bottom of your CV.
  • Lastly, state the names of two references or advise these will be available on request.

What not to do on your CV

  • Inconsistent formatting - pick a font and stick to it.
  • Boxes, tables or images - make sure you are just using text on your CV, there is no need to put the text into boxes. You do not need to upload a picture of yourself on your CV, or use any images or tables.
  • Age - do not state your age on your CV, this will remove any unconscious bias.
  • Too much text and long paragraphs - stick to the facts and the points you want to make. Long paragraphs will put the reader off and won’t get through your whole CV. Try limiting your CV to two pages if possible.
  • Spelling - always check your spelling and grammar. With apprenticeships, one of the main skills an employer is looking for is attention to detail. You do not want this to be a factor as to why you did not get invited to an interview. Always make sure you proofread your CV, or ask a family member or friend to take a look.

We hope this gives you some good food for thought when it comes to the task of writing your first CV. 

Free CV template

We've created a blank CV template to help you get started on writing your CV. Feel free to download it and edit to suit your needs, keeping in mind our pointers above.

CV template (Microsoft Word document) ›

CV template (PDF) ›