With entry-level roles nowadays getting so many applicants, it's never been more important to find a way to make your CV stand out amongst the crowd. Particularly given that, according to eye-tracking research, it takes the average recruiter around seven seconds to evaluate whether or not your profile and experience fit the role they're hiring for. With that in mind, for graduates looking to take their first step on the career ladder, your goal is to not only to make into the “maybe” pile but to convince the recruiter you’re a top candidate.

Unfortunately, there are countless numbers of How To guides scattered across the internet which can often be contradictory or confusing depending on where you're looking. To save you the time and hassle, we've talked to the recruitment teams at some of our partner companies to get their insight into how you can ensure you make use of your seven-second window. And this is what we've found:

Use keywords

While you think seven seconds of screen time might not represent much of an opportunity to make an impression, there is a chance you might not even get that far. Whereas previously companies would have had a person assigned to the role of manually sorting through CVs, nowadays 75% of them are using an ATS (Applicant Tracking System) for the initial screening

The way they work is pretty straightforward. The ATS scans your CV, looking to see whether the language being used is similar to that in the job posting. If it doesn’t match, your application is automatically rejected. Therefore, it’s important for you to use keywords that are also found in the job description itself.

The language that they've chosen has been used for a very specific reason so try to include it throughout your CV. While this does inevitably entail more work as you slightly alter your application for each job, it'll also increase your chances of success. Quality of applications over quantity should always take precedence.

Highlight your relevant skills

One of the best ways to standout in the hiring process is to ensure your skills are aligned with what they've listed on the job description. You can do this in two ways. Beneath your name and title, include a summary that shares what skills you have to offer and where you aspire to be as a professional. Here is an example of what this might look like:

A final year International Business student expecting to graduate in 2021 with a 2:1 degree hoping to pursue a career in sales. Commercially savvy individual with strong communication and analytical skills that have been developed from many years working in the retail industry.

You can also leverage the skills section to specifically illustrate the strengths you have that are most relevant to the job. Take some time to look at those listed on the job description and honestly assess which are applicable to you. As well as that, you should showcase your ability to work with various platforms such as Microsoft Word, Salesforce, Excel as well as specifically remote collaboration tools such as Slack, Google Drive and Zoom.

Tailor your experience

If you've recently graduated and don't have much industry experience, it's time to think outside the box. Don't be afraid include another “Relevant Experience” section to highlight other things you've worked on in the past that could be relevant to this particular role. These can include research papers you've completed, societies you've been involved in or side projects you've been working on during your time in college.

With work like this, you often pick up many transferable skills such as communication, time management, project management, teamwork and research that can easily be applied to a job application. Furthermore, potential employers will be impressed by your ability to highlight how you can bring what you've learned to the real world and communicate value beyond the initial scope of the project or assignment.

Metrics matter

Metrics are absolutely essential to recounting success you've had in previous roles and much like facts — numbers are hard to argue with. Not only do they help the recruiter establish whether you've performed well in previous roles, they help them determine the extent to which you were successful.

Think through your previous experience and whether you had quotas to hit or targets to achieve. If you haven't been already, ensure that you track any quantifiable milestones you’re hitting in your current role with a view to bolstering your job applications in the future as well as building out your case for promotion.

Personalise your cover letter

An often overlooked part of graduate's job applications is the cover letter. While a couple of different schools of thought exist on whether submitting a cover letter as part of your application is worth the hassle, it's hard to make the argument that a well-written cover letter would be less beneficial to your application than not having one at all. Furthermore, it provides you with an additional opportunity to stand out from the crowd.

Every time you send out a CV, the cover letter attached should be tailored to not only the job that you are applying for but the company that you are applying to as well. It not only represents an enormous opportunity to discuss your motivation for applying to that specific the position and in that specific company, it also serves to draw the reader’s attention to the most relevant parts of your CV.

If you're looking for a template, we've actually spoken to recruiters at our partner companies already about advice they'd offer when writing a cover letter which you can read here.


Ian from Gradguide

Gradguide is a career guidance mentorship and graduate recruitment network designed to help bridge the employment gap from college to technology company. We pair graduates with a mentor to help improve their CV & LinkedIn, upskill, find the right roles to apply for, prepare for interviews, and seek referrals to some of the world's leading tech companies.

If you, or someone you know, is a recent or soon-to-be graduate and would be interested in getting involved, you can apply to our next cohort here.