How to construct a killer CV – even for a holiday job

Your CV is a foundation document for your job search campaign – even if it’s for a temporary job.  So it’s worth putting some time and effort into designing it.

It may appear to be a daunting task to write one from scratch. If the blank page makes you feel slightly anxious, try the tips below.

First things first

All CVs should contain your contact details including your email and mobile number. I also recommend setting up a LinkedIn profile and including the URL to that as well. 

You can include your postal address and landline number if you choose – some recruiters see having a postal address and landline number as implying a stable form of citizenship. Not everyone in the recruiting industry agrees.

My advice is to include your postal address and a landline number every time; especially if you want the recruiter to know that you are an established citizen in the country in which you live.  This can be an important consideration for some holiday jobs when the right to work in a particular country has to be proven.

Your CV should not be longer than three pages and should ideally be only two pages in length. This is because recruiters are sent so many CVs that they have to be very disciplined when reading them. If they do not see the content they’re looking for on page 1, many are under pressure to save time and therefore do not bother with pages 2 or 3.

Applicant Tracker Systems (ATS)

Many CVs are not read by a person at all but are ‘screened’ using software that searches for keywords. 

These Applicant Tracker Systems (ATSs) can take some getting used to.  The secret to cracking the code here is to understand keywords

If you’re applying for a role that you’ve seen advertised, the description of the job will contain phrases and words that capture the role’s requirements.  Those words should appear in your CV to give you the best chance to get through the first sift of CVs

It’s a bit old-fashioned but I print off the job ad and use a highlighter pen to go through it, marking the important words and phrases.  Then I make sure that they appear in my CV and Covering Letter.

You can find out more tips on handling an ATS here

Styles and layouts of your CV

The layout should include plenty of white space and look clean – easy on the eye.  A busy recruiter may be dismayed to open a CV only to be confronted with pages of dense text.  Font size should be 11 or 12.

Below your contact details, you can list your key skills as bullets (use the keywords in the job ad) or insert a summary of your profile.

A profile summary is a short paragraph that summarises the value that you can bring to an employer.  Here’s an example that I helped a client to create recently (he got the job…)

“An organised, hard-working, highly numerate, customer-focused maths undergraduate. Experienced in a range of customer facing roles including retail, stock control and office environments.  I’ve handled cash securely and worked various shift patterns successfully”

Show us your strengths

I can hear some of you asking “What do I do if I have no experience or work history of any kind?  How can I write a profile if I have nothing?

This is a common and understandable concern. But you can still write a good CV for a holiday job, or highlight any temporary roles you’ve had.

Start by considering how people who know you well describe you.  Ask trusted friends and family for their opinions – what are your strengths?  Note the question:  it asks only for strengths.  It drives the respondent to consider your skills and passions.

If you’ve recently left the education system, what would your former tutors say in answer to that question?

Great at wakeboarding?

Next move on to any hobbies you have.  What do they tell us about you? 

You play hockey = “A team player who keeps very fit”.  You play a musical instrument = “Creative and artistic”.  Computer games = “strategic thinking”. 

Posted any video or picture content to Instagram or YouTube?  If it generated interest, it would allow you to claim content social media creation skills.

Any hobbies that involve working in groups allows you to claim teamworking as a skill.

Even if your hobbies are solo activities, they nevertheless are useful evidence of your capabilities.  Written a short story that was published in a local newsletter or student publication?  It shows your command of the language and your creativity.  If you make your own Christmas cards for friends and family – same thing applies.  Even hiking alone can show your energy and determination

Next on the list are any positions of responsibility you have held.  Team captain, debating society or playing in a band or orchestra are all examples.

Any volunteering or charity fundraising is also evidence for your skills, talents and drives.

There is always some evidence from your past to draw on – no matter how young or inexperienced you are.

Which CV – chronological or skills?

The content that follows could be organised in one of two ways: Chronological or Skills. Each has different advantages and drawbacks. You should construct one of each.

Chronological CVs list your previous roles starting with the most recent and working backwards.  Under each role list key achievements as bullets.  More on achievements in a moment. 

Here’s an example:

FLORENCE YARDLEY

15, Starlings Drive, Newtown, Frontshire, FF43 8BB.
Tel 07777 777777 email flo2000@anymail.com
Linked Profile: linkedin.com/florenceyard

A recent History graduate with leadership, customer, commercial and teamwork skills gained from employment and volunteering.  I’m used to working in busy environments and dealing with all kinds of people from a wide variety of cultures.

SKILLS

• Teamwork
• Organisation & Planning
• Negotiation
• Leadership
• Communication
• Problem Solving

EDUCATION

University of Loughborough (2016 – 2019)
BA History 2.1
Newtown High School
A-levels: history, English, French. AS level Geography
10 GCSEs including Maths and double Science

ACHIEVEMENTS

CoffeeWorld, Newtown    
(2018-Present)
Shift Leader

• Gave excellent levels of service by actively engaging with customers. 

• Won employee of the month twice.

• Appointed Shift Leader.

• Dealt with the unexpected arrival of 40 elderly customers at the coffeeshop together after their coach broke down.  I got extra tables from the top floor so that customers would not have to climb the stairs.  Also organised staff to hold an impromptu singalong to keep them entertained whilst the replacement coach was on its way. The customers had a whip round and left a tip of £53.

Liddle Supermarkets
(June 2017 – Sept 2017)
Checkout Operator

• Gave excellent levels of service through chatting with customers.

• Given a commendation by the manager for helping a disabled customer with communication difficulties with his shopping.

Loughborough University                                                                         (2016-2019)
• Successfully combining study, paid employment, volunteering and extra-curricular activities.

• Committee member of University Civil War Society, devising and facilitating annual programme of events and talks. Ran a stall at Freshers event that recruited 25 new members.

• Planned and organised reenactments for the Civil War Society involving dozens of role players and hundreds of spectators.  Ran Naseby reenactment that attracted record numbers of spectators.

• Negotiated terms with celebrity guest to attend the reenactment of Naseby.  I persuaded him to attend and speak for free.

• Negotiated 15% lower rents on behalf of all my housemates in Years 2 & 3 with our landlord.

• When leaflets didn’t arrive in time for the Freshers event, I quickly considered a range of options and chose to quickly compose a basic one page version on my phone and print in black & white whilst asking a colleague to drive and pick up the missing colour version.

VOLUNTEERING

• Local History Society Guide
• Editor of local newsletter for English History Society
• Fundraiser for Dogs for the Disabled

Now here’s the same CV set out to showcase skills

FLORENCE YARDLEY

15, Starlings Drive, Newtown, Frontshire, FF43 8BB.
Tel 07777 777777 email flo2000@anymail.com
Linked Profile: linkedin.com/florenceyard

A recent History graduate with leadership, customer, commercial and teamwork skills gained from employment and volunteering.  I’m used to working in busy environments and dealing with all kinds of people from a wide variety of cultures.

EDUCATION

University of Loughborough (2016 – 2019)
BA History 2.1

Newtown High School
A-levels: History, English, French. AS level Geography
10 GCSEs including Maths and double Science

SKILLS

Teamwork
• Staff member at CoffeeWorld giving excellent levels of service by actively engaging with customers.  Won employee of the month twice.  Appointed Shift Leader.

• Member of local history society, conducting guided walks with other local experts.

• Committee member of University Civil War Society, devising and facilitating an annual programme of events and talks.

• Working with others to edit and publish the newsletter for Midlands Branch of The English Heritage Society.

ORGANISATION

• Successfully combining study, paid employment, volunteering and extra-curricular activities.

• Planning and organising reenactments for the Civil War Society involving dozens of role players and hundreds of spectators.

• All essays, assignments, reports and seminar papers completed to deadlines during my course.

NEGOTIATION

• On behalf of my fellow housemates I negotiated a 15% reduction in our rent over two years.

• I worked with a local celebrity to attend the Naseby reenactment.  Eventually he agreed to open the event for free.

LEADERSHIP

• Appointed Shift Leader at CoffeeWorld in recognition of my organising and customer skills.

• Chair of the Organising Committee for the very successful Naseby reenactment event.  The team presented me with flowers after the event.

COMMUNICATION – WRITTEN AND VERBAL

• Delivered several seminar papers and presentations as a student – all of them attracted positive feedback.

• Delivered a comprehensive safety briefing to all participants before the Civil War reenactment without a script.

• Wrote a regular newsletter to sponsors when I raised over £300 for Dogs for the Disabled via a sponsored walk.

PROBLEM SOLVING

• When 40 elderly people arrived together at the coffee shop because their coach had broken down, I organised extra tables from the top floor so they wouldn’t have to climb the stairs.  I also arranged for the staff to lead an impromptu singalong.  The customers had a whip round when the replacement bus arrived and left a tip of £53.

• Whilst preparing the stall for the Freshers event, our printed leaflets didn’t arrive ontime.  I quickly assessed the options, arranged for a simple one pager in black and white to be printed up and sent a member of the team in his car to collect the colour version.

IT SKILLS

* Competent user of Microsoft Office applications including Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint.

EMPLOYMENT

CoffeeWorld, Newtown 
(2018-Present)
Shift Leader

Liddle Supermarkets                                                                         
(June 2017 – Sept 2017)
Checkout Operator

VOLUNTEERING

• Local History Society Guide
• Editor of local newsletter for English History Society
• Fundraiser for Dogs for the Disabled

What have you been awesome at?

Many of my clients present me with a CV that lists an impressive array of duties or responsibilities. Listing the accountabilities from your current or most recent job description tells a recruiter very little about your capabilities or strengths.  So list your achievements instead.

Consider these two statements:

“I was responsible for serving meals to customers”

“I achieved high levels of customer satisfaction, growing the number of customer tips by 30% during my time at the restaurant.”

One of these states a duty. The other describes outcomes and is consequently much more powerful. You can use Achievements in both a Skills CV or a Chronological CV.  Here are some more examples.  Try to include quantifiable evidence. 

“Planned and organised a stall at the Freshers Fair for the Jazz Society.  I succeeded in getting some complimentary tickets to The Glasgow Jazz Festival and offered them to new members.  30 agreed – our best ever Freshers Fair.”

“Supervised 40 groups of schoolchildren through a Ropes Course safely and ensuring that they all had fun.  Including giving intensive 121 to some children to help them overcome their fears.”

“I was a key member of my school table tennis team which won three regional championships consecutively”

“I raised over £300 for Dogs for the Disabled by completing a 25 mile hike across the North York Moors”

Tailoring each CV

Whenever you apply for a role, make sure the CV that you send in is unique to that role. By reading through the job ad, you can extract the keywords, attributes and skills that the recruiter seeks. Armed with that knowledge you can ensure that the CV makes the most of your skills and achievements in relation to that specific role.

As you get more practiced at tailoring the CV, you will get quicker at doing this sometimes laborious task.

Your CV is a key document.  So keep it up to date.  As you gain more and more experience it will become a rich statement of evidence for potential employers, so is well worth the effort.

Career advice, Careers