Thoughts, insights & waffle





The standard of CVs can vary widely among students and there is nothing worse than being handed up a poorly structured CV full of typos and poor formatting – straight away the reader is given the impression of a candidate that is careless and unprofessional. CV preparation, in my opinion, is a topic that should be worked on long before students ever look for jobs. A CV is your personal marketing document and it is the first hurdle you must clear to get to the interview stage.

My section on CVs & cover letters goes into more detail providing a CV checklist, some “golden rules” along with some sample CV templates. However I thought it would be useful to work through a breakdown analysis of a sample CV to identify the key areas that students should focus on when preparing a CV.

I am by no means an expert in the area but to me CVs are somewhat common sense. Put yourself in the shoes of the potential employer, what would they like to see? What would they focus on? How long would they actually have to look at your CV? Using these to guide your CV should result in a pretty decent first cut at a draft document. One important point to note is that CVs are very subjective and one person may love a certain CV structure but the next may not. Notwithstanding this there are some general principles and points that are relevant to any CV.

I will break a typical CV into a number of key sections and will go into a bit of detail as to what are the key things to watch for;


Breakdown Analysis

First glance/contact details

The first impression (as with meeting people) is everything for a CV. It’s crucial the document has a nice clean and structured layout with easy to read names and contact details. Here is a nice blog post from Flowing Data about where CV readers focus their attention.

Education and Qualifications

Keep a clear and concise structure to avoid rambling paragraphs or hard to read layouts.

Make sure your education is in chronological order and be conscious of giving too much detail with regards results (e.g. a breakdown of your Junior Cert results is unlikely to be relevant anymore). However don’t try to be “strategic” by leaving results out either as you will likely be asked in any interview about them if omitted.


Work experience

Keep your structure and layout consistent throughout each section. Do not be afraid to put down all relevant work experience (e.g. if you spent 3 summers working on your home farm). Focus the reader’s attention on the skills learned and responsibilities.


Interest/Hobbies & Skills

This section gives you the opportunity to show that you are a rounded person. This about your interests and the transferrable skills/experiences they provide you. This can easily be a single or two separate sections depending on size.



You can either put in your referees and their contact details or alternatively you can in a phrase saying “References available upon request”. It is important to read application guidelines carefully to see if there is an explicit requirement for references to be included. Note if you do decide to put in referees make sure you contact them before.

Many students preparing their CV for the first time will have no experience with the references concept. Typically one academic and one work related reference is required. Many students will approach their course head for a reference and my advice would be to go and have a chat with this person to make yourself known early.




Finally, bringing all the sections together will give you a nicely structured and easy to read document. Have a look on my CVs page for more examples of CVs and cover letters.


CV Fails

Once you have made an initial draft of your CV take the time to have a look through the list below (and some links) to ensure you haven’t fell into the trap of some of the most common CV mistakes. Always get someone else to review your CV (you will be amazed to see the mistakes found even after several reviews) and also to play devil’s advocate asking the hard questions and picking holes in the CV. It is better to do this exercise now than in an interview!

  • Ugly CV and not logical structure/flow
  • Spelling and grammar
  • CV not tailored to the specific role
  • Too much detail/ too high level
  • Too long (typically max 2 pages)
  • Incorrect personal details
  • Unexplained gaps in timelines


That was just one example of a CV and how to structure/lay it out. There are an endless amount of CV templates/structures available and it is up to you to decide on which one you think is most suitable.

My advice would be to review the sample CVs I have on my CV section and also trawl the internet to get some more ideas. Once you have some layouts you like try to complete a first draft using the breakdown analysis provided above. Then pay a visit to your college’s career service centre (a valuable resource for students) who will help you review your CV and identify areas for improvement. Having an initial draft CV prepared before you meet with career services will allow you to get a lot more value from your meetings.


As you are preparing your CV feel free to ask any questions you have via, @accmilkman or the feedback function.


Take a look at my CV section for more information

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