Create a confident CV: top tips to write yours!

Career Development Consultant John Dorado shares some key tips for writing a CV for international students.

International Career Development Consultant, John Dorado, checking student CVs at a careers expo.

Writing your CV is something that fills many students with dread, acknowledges John Dorado, Career Development Consultant for International students, at the University of Auckland’s CDES (Career Development and Employability Services). But, with some preparation put in, it doesn’t need to be scary! John shares his top five tips for international students, when it’s time to write your CV.

1. Research the company! Then customise your CV

“A CV is a marketing tool. Think of it as your own personal statement which encapsulates your skills. This means considering questions like:

  • What do you want your reader to know about you so that they would be interested to call you for a quick chat, or even better, invite you in for an interview?
  • What you can contribute to the organisation or your industry? And how?

“Sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming wondering where to begin when writing your CV. You can start by understanding what the job requirements are. Take the time to read through the job ad again, slowly, and understand each point it is describing. Then ensure you address each!

“Step inside your future employer’s shoes: research the company and read the job description, so you can make clear links between your experience and their job. Consider what they are looking for. For example, ask yourself where and how were you able to develop the capabilities required in this position description, and how could you effectively perform the job?

“Don’t forget to highlight your success stories, big or small! People love hearing real life stories. Put yourself in your future employer’s place: if you were in their situation, what would you want to read on a CV? What do you think would be of particular value for this role?

“You’ll hear and read so many different opinions on the ‘right’ way to write your CV, but rest assured, there’s no one best way. It really does vary from industry to industry and even from one employer to the next.

2. Clarity is key: keep your CV short and relevant!

“Remember that you are not the only one applying for the job: there may be tens or even hundreds of others. Studies show that employers on average spend about 5 to 7 seconds looking over each CV when they are screening job applicants. Rather than letting this stat get you down, think about how to stand out from the crowd! Do this by keeping your CV concise, and to the point. Ideally, between 1-2 pages in length is great. Again, this may vary for each industry or employer.

“Ensure that everything in your CV is clear and relevant. You only have a few seconds to make that positive first impression, and work your magic! The key to doing this is unlocking what the employers want to know about you. Spending time working this out is not wasted! Write what is relevant, then stop.

“Once you have decided what to showcase on your CV, don’t forget to:

  • Consider presentation: keep headings the same, with the same font and size.
  • Include key contact information on the first page.
  • Highlight your achievements - don’t be shy, be confident!
  • Use action words (e.g. achieved, supervised, managed, led) when describing your past jobs.
  • Talk about all of your relevant experience. This doesn’t just need to be paid work. It could include your academic and personal projects, research, volunteer work, club involvement - the list goes on. Any practical work experience is valid work experience! The crucial bit is how you describe these work experiences so that they are relevant to the job that you are applying for. For example, employers may be looking for applicants who can effectively manage stress and juggle multiple priorities, so you can say whilst completing a full-time university course-load, you are also working part-time and leading a student club. How awesome is that?
  • Add links to your LinkedIn profile and online portfolio.
  • Use relevant job titles. If you have worked overseas, it may help to check whether Kiwis use the same job title, or if they call it something different. Careers NZ is a good place to start when checking this. Job websites such as Seek and TradeMe can also be helpful.
  • Ensure you mention if you’re on a post-study work visa, and explain what that means for your employer. Check out Immigration NZ’s website for more info about what to include.

3. Know how Kiwis write their CVs

“Every country has its own style of writing a CV, and New Zealand is no different. It will help your application if you know what the preferred style of NZ employers is. Then, you can play around with the format once you have learnt the fundamentals. Check with your University’s careers team to get specific information about this.

“For example, in New Zealand it is illegal for employers to discriminate against you based on your age, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or marital status. You are not required to include these on your CV.

“Apart from having good grades, New Zealand employers also want to know what you do outside your university life. Ensure you include your volunteer work, personal projects, student/community club involvement, and all your other interests!

4. Double check your CV, then check again

“Check your spelling, grammar, punctuation, and formatting. Yes, I know it sounds a bit dull, but a thoroughly checked CV with no typos will go far. It really helps to read your CV out loud. Sounds crazy, but it’s true!

“Sometimes it can be hard to proofread your own work, after spending time working on it. Ask a friend, family member or your University’s careers team to proofread it for you. Don’t worry if they aren’t an expert in the particular job area: it’s more about a fresh eye cast over the CV to pick up any errors and omissions.

5. Create a cover letter

“If the employer asks for a CV and a cover letter, then submit a CV and cover letter. The last thing you need is getting declined for not following instructions correctly!

“A cover letter is a good way to describe your motivation for the role. Keep it brief: one page is ideal. If your work experience isn’t clearly related to the job opportunity, or if your experience is a mixture of many things, then writing a cover letter will help you clearly articulate how your experience aligns with the job that you are going for.”

CDES: helping you create the career future you love

Here at CDES, we’re passionate about helping and empowering you to plan and prepare your future work life with the help of our wide range of workshops, events and services. Contact us today!