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How to write your first student cV

a step by step guide

by Aima qureshi | 05 nov 2023

Are you confused on how to start when it comes to making your first CV? We’ve been there. Whether you are a college student applying for extra curricular opportunities or a fresh graduate stepping into the professional world, CV making is a must-have skill. A good CV is pivotal in helping you stand out from a large pool of candidates.  

This guide is a step-by-step walkthrough through CV basics. We have compiled all of the common myths and misunderstandings students have when it comes to CVs, so this article is bound to answer all of your questions. Let’s begin!

First and foremost, you need to understand the difference between a CV and a resume. A CV reflects a full history of your academic credentials and work experience, so the length of the document is variable. In contrast, a resume presents a concise picture of your skills and qualifications for a specific position, so the length tends to be shorter (1-2 pages). 

Basically, your CV will always be updated with all of your achievements till date, but a resume will pick only the relevant credentials from these, according to the opportunity you are seeking. Since it is more brief and to-the-point, recruiters will usually ask for a resume rather than a CV. 

Onto the second query, how is a CV structured and what to include. Now, you may be tempted to include every single one of your achievements in one big bullet list and get done with it, but remember: Patience is key

Step 1: The Basic Sections of a CV

Your CV must include a Career Objective, Contact Information, Education, Work Experience, and Skills section. Every recruiter will go through these basics, but if you want to stand out, you can highlight your profile by adding a few more sections. These include language certifications, professional training certificates, publications, awards, conference participation, volunteer work and much more. 

Now, you might have seen a references or hobbies section on a few CV templates. So, should you add these or not? The hobbies section is redundant if you have over a year of experience, that already speaks volumes about your capabilities. However, if you are just entering an industry with no work experience, you can keep the hobbies section. You can really use this wisely to show you are a good fit for the company’s workplace by adding hobbies that exhibit valuable skills. For example, instead of “sports”, write “Coaching football at the community club’s team”, which is more impressive. 

And for references, unless asked for explicitly in the job advertisement, it is preferable not to add them. You may add them still if you believe it strengthens your position. Otherwise, a “References available upon request” clause can be added just in case.

Step 2: Organising Your Achievements

The second step is to organise all of your credentials. For education, compile any standardised tests scores, college GPA, degrees and result sheets so you can enter accurate information. Similarly, collect language proficiency certificates, awards, research work, volunteer work, professional training courses etc. for the relevant sections. 

Next step is to organise all of your extracurriculars. As a student, you can make sub-sections like public speaking, entrepreneurship, volunteer work, writing, dramatics, sports, olympiads, freelance work etc. Then, organise them further, keeping the latest first and so on. You can refer to recruitment emails or certificates so you can write down the exact durations and dates for them. Make sure you have complete information for every entry, your job title, duration and the name of the organisation/institute.

Step 3: Writing Descriptions for Every Entry

This is where your creative sense comes in handy. You need to write brief but highly convincing descriptions for each and every entry. Refrain from over-exaggerating your job in long paragraphs. Break it into crisp and concise bullet points instead, which start with compelling action words. Resume action words are words that you can include in job descriptions to represent your impact whilst working for a recruiter. They give you a sense of authority and confidence over how your services changed the organisation’s output for the better. For example, instead of “I designed a computer software XYZ that made data analysis easier,” write “Improvised the existing data analysis system by designing XYZ, which saved time and boosted productivity”. These descriptions will be written under the position titles of every entry.

You can find 300+ Resume action words for different roles here.

Step 4: Write a Career Objective

A career objective is usually written at the start of your CV/Resume. It gives a synopsis of your career, reflects upon your ambitions and passions and your aims for the future. It is recommended to keep it creative, interesting and concise. As a student, take your best skills and causes you work passionately for and tie them with your future goals. If you have some experience in your industry, you can mention that, and then link further to the next skills you are leveraging to realise your ambitions.

Step 5: Choosing a Template

The final step, bringing it all together! You can choose from a variety of free templates online, e.g. on Canva or Zety. Make sure it has a minimalistic design, a good balance of text and white space to make it more readable, and side panels to include bits of information that are too small to be included in an entire section of their own. These can be hobbies, languages or skills etc.. The colour palette should not be very vibrant, rather give off a formal look overall. Choose readable but formal fonts as well, to improve the outlook of your document. 

Step 6: Maintaining and Updating Your CV

Once you have made your first CV (at times a labour of days), you need to update it with every new opportunity or credential that you complete. Keep in touch with the latest trends as well, so your template never gets outdated or boring. It is always recommended to go back and re-read your descriptions and improvise them further.

How to shift from a longer CV to shorter 1-2 pager resumes for every unique application?

For every application, pick relevant experience and skills, which match the requirements mentioned in the job advertisement. These will vary between industries and employers, so keep an eye out for that. Add any other training or projects that may be impressive to employers. Edit the career objective and connect the relevant experience to the job purpose and your passions. 

Once you have eliminated irrelevant details and re structured it, it will automatically fall in the 1-2 pager bracket and you are good to go! If not, you need to closely look over your job requirements and also break down your descriptions into one liners. Some people also prefer to write longer descriptions only for the latest jobs or the more significant ones. You can have a look at Stanford’s guide for ideas on how to structure resumes.

Other resources for further reading/templates

Harvard’s guides on CVs, resumes, and cover letters.


Author: Aima Qureshi
Proofreaders: Syed Muhammad Shaheer Ali, Sarah Zubair


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Published: 05 November 2023
Last Updated: 05 November 2023
Written by Aima Qureshi