Alcides Fonseca

40.197958, -8.408312

How to write a CV for students or recent graduates

Over the last couple of years, I have spent a significant amount of time browsing and scoring resumés (Vitae is the common name in Portugal) for different positions, both in academia and industry. The majority of those had been poorly designed. In this post, I try to help you design the perfect resumé, and avoid common pitfalls. While this is designed towards Software Engineering, you might find this relevant for other areas.

The Header

You should have your basic information on the top of your CV: Name, email address, location and optionally phone number. A few tips:

  • Use a personal email address, not your current employer’s.
  • If your student email is something like sch34134123@..., please use a personal email address.
  • Do not use your full address. Your street number is useless for this purpose and you don’t want your personal information on the internet. Just list your current city/county.
  • I would suggest having the Country specified.

Things you should omit from the header:

Things you may or may not include in the header:

  • A plain (meaning non-party) picture. I would suggest towards including if there is an expectation that the hirer would know you (e.g. if you are applying for a research grant with a professor).

First things first.

The next two sections are Education and Experience. If you do not have real-world experience or if you are applying to an academic position, you should have Education first. Otherwise, I would have Experience first.

Experience

Experience should come in reverse chronological order. Have your last (or current) job first. This is usually what most recruiters will focus on. Besides the start and end dates, title and company, you should have a small paragraph explaining what were the main activities and responsibilities of your position. If you were a software developer, you should explain what kind of software you worked on, and what was your contribution. Some people also like to include technologies they have worked on, which works well with HR people.

If you had odd-jobs outside your field, please leave them off the first page and in “Other Experience”. Not that you should feel ashamed of them, but let recruiters focus on what’s important for the role they are pursuing.

Education

Stick with reverse chronological order. If you are currently taking (or just signed up for) a degree, please include it, as well as the expected graduation year. If you have other degrees like Biology or Music Theory, please leave them off the front-page (and move them to Other Education) except if that might be relevant for the job application! Examples would be a company that works on software for DNA processing, or on software for Audio Synthesis.

For each degree, you should list your average grade, as well as highlight the top 5 or top 10 courses in which you had the best grades, or which are relevant for the job application.

Projects

This section is specific for Computer Science and it is only relevant if you do not have a lot of experience. In this case, you should write one paragraph about the projects (even if it’s coursework) that you did, what technologies you used and what you learned. 3 projects are more than enough, and if they were developed outside course work (opensource or in a research environment), it’s more valuable. Include a link for the code repository (Github or similar), making sure you already have the final grade for that course.

Other Activities and Awards.

You can have some other activities listed in your CV, but make sure they are relevant for the job if they are in the first page. As a rule-of-thumb, you should list those that reveal organizational or leadership. Being a casual chess player is not a relevant activity (It’s actually a hobby, and you should leave it off the Resumé) but being the President of your local Chess chapter can be relevant.

Final Remarks

Show your CV to more senior colleagues and even professors and ask for feedback. You want your CV to shine compared to those Europass form-generated CVs.

As an example, you can look at my CV in 2011 (I also had a cooler web version).