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How to craft the perfect CV for internships & graduate jobs [2023]

Jeffrey Duncan

Prosple Co-founder
The ultimate guide to CV-writing for students and graduates!

🤝 Why you should trust us 🤝 
Working in the graduate recruitment space, we chat with the people who hire students & grads all the time, so we know what they look for. Plus, we hire people too! All our tips for you are rooted in actual hiring practices and first-hand knowledge.

In most cases, your CV will be the ‘first impression’ that a potential employer has of you. This makes it the single most important document for getting your career started. Unfortunately, your CV is probably also one of the most difficult and time-consuming documents to get right.

Fear not: We’ve compiled the ultimate guide to help you put together the perfect CV for internships and grad jobs!

  1. Why do CVs matter?
  2. How do I make my CV stand out?
  3. How long should my CV be?
  4. How should I structure my CV? What information should I include?
  5. What design and layout should I use for my CV?
  6. Steps to review and finalise your CV
  7. FAQs

#1 Why do CVs matter?

But first, why are CVs so important? Let's step into the shoes of an employer for a moment. 

Employers get loads of applications for each job and can't interview everyone. Just think, if a manager had to interview thousands of people for each opening, they'd have no time left for their actual work!

That's where CVs come in. They help narrow down the list to those candidates who look promising enough for an interview. A well-crafted CV can catch an employer's eye and spark their interest in getting to know more about you.

So, your CV is not just a formality—it's your ticket to an interview. If your CV doesn't stand out, you might miss your shot at an interview. That's why a good CV is so important.

#2 How do I make my CV stand out?

Wondering how to make your CV pop? It's all about staying on point. Think about it like this: When you're telling a story, do you include every single detail? Probably not! 

Treat your CV in the same way. Instead of boring recruiters with everything you've ever done, pick out the highlights. Remember, the goal is to make it easy for recruiters to quickly understand your qualifications and decide if you're a good fit.

Here's a simple way to go about this.

  1. Look at the job ad: What skills and qualities are they asking for? Write those down.
  2. Match it up: Next to each item from the job ad, write down your skills, experiences, and achievements that show you've got what they need.

Now you've got a list of what to put on your CV!

So forget those "CV hacks" you see on TikTok and just focus on why you're a great fit for the role. Employers will naturally want to meet you if your CV shows you're a match!

#3 How long should my CV be? 

Your CV should ideally fit onto one A4 page, or two pages at the absolute max. Anything more than that will likely frustrate the recruiter – they review dozens of CVs each day and won't have patience for a multi-page essay.

#4 How should I structure my CV? What information should I include?

Most CVs can be organised into the following sections:

     a.  Heading & contact details
     b.  Summary (optional)
     c.  Education
     d.  Experience
     e.  Additional (optional) sections, which can include:
          Interests / Extracurricular activities
          Awards & accomplishments
          Skills & attributes

Let’s jump in and take a closer look at each section!

a.  Heading & contact details


The main heading should simply be your name. You don’t need to include “CV”. Recruiters know what they're reading!

Immediately under (or next to) your name, you should include your contact details. This includes:

  • Your phone number so that recruiters can easily reach out to clarify anything. Make sure any phone voice messages on the number you provide are professional – no "Hey, You've reached my number. I'll call back when I feel like it! Jkjkjk lol!"
  • Your email address. Remember to spell your email correctly (no "@gmail.cmo's") and avoid 'humorous' email addresses (no "ninjapizzalover@email.com" please!).

In addition, you can also include:

  • Your location. Simply specify your city or region (e.g. Sydney, Australia). Your full address is not needed until you've been officially hired.
  • Links to your professional online profiles (assuming they are suitable for prospective employers!), such as your LinkedIn, Twitter, Github (if you're a developer), or personal website.

In some parts of the world, it is standard to include personal details like your age, gender, date of birth, marital status, and number of dependents. Do not do this in Australia. It's actually unlawful for employers to ask you about most of these things as per regulations set by the Australian Human Rights Commission. 

b.    Summary (optional)


Sometimes called the ‘Profile’ or ‘Personal Profile’, ‘Overview’, ‘Career Objective’ or even ‘About me’ section, summary statements are either utterly essential or a waste of space, depending on who you ask!

Summary statements are typically used by experienced candidates to tie together years of (often disparate) professional experience. Obviously, this is not something most graduates need to worry about, so if you’re struggling to write a statement with substance, you’re better off giving it a miss and saving the space for additional bullet points later in your CV.

The one time a summary really helps is when there's something about your story that might puzzle employers and you're submitting a CV without a cover letter.

Take, for instance, if you're a philosophy major eyeing a software development role. Here, a well-crafted summary would allow you to clarify your unusual career choice – e.g. maybe you've been a coding wizard since high school and just didn't want to major in it!

Philosophy graduate with a proven track record in software development, demonstrated in a final year project where I used Java and Python to create software that makes ethical decisions. Ready to bring my practical coding experience and analytical background to tackle complex challenges in the tech industry.

Second-year philosophy student with robust foundation in software development, reflected in a portfolio of real-world projects and practical coding experience since high school.

c.    Education


Employers don't care about education as much when hiring experienced candidates. But when you're just starting out? It's what you should put at the top of your CV. Here's what you absolutely must include in this section:

  • University & degree. As a grad, your degree gives employers an idea of what skills you might have. For some roles, you may even be screened out based on your degree alone, so make it easy to find on your CV!
  • Start & completion dates (or expected completion dates). Include the month and year. This lets employers know whether you're still a student and when you're available to start working, among other things.

Here are some extra things you can put in this section — assuming they make you look good and are relevant to the role!

  • School results: If you got good grades, like a 6.0 GPA or higher, show them off! This can show you're hardworking or really good at what you study. If you're looking for jobs in other countries, help them understand your grades by explaining what they mean, like "High Distinction (86 out of 100)", "6.7 Grade Point Average (max 7.00)", "73 GAMSAT score (98th percentile)".
  • Coursework: Generally, you should only delve into subject-level detail if it's relevant. For example, if you're applying for an internship at an accounting firm without an accounting degree, you could still get hired if you highlight that you've done well in relevant courses like business law, financial planning, and data analytics.
  • Your high school: Include your high school and any notable achievements — like a high ATAR (>85), leadership roles, or any awards  — if they might demonstrate diligence and intelligence.
  • Academic awards, research projects, and dissertations.
  • Training, licenses, or accreditations, e.g. micro-credentials or industry certifications.
  • Study abroad experience if applicable.

Do NOT feel a need to include any of the above if they aren't relevant or would reflect poorly on you. Remember: Your CV is meant for you to show off your strengths!

c.    Experience


Your education matters, but it's not enough to get you a job. After all, you're not the only student with a degree from your uni! What'll help you really stand out (and land that interview!) are the things you've done and experienced. That's what the Experience part of the CV comes in.

What to include

Your professional experience may be limited. Fortunately, most graduate employers are aware of this and look favourably on achievements that have taken place outside of traditional work settings.

That’s why we recommend calling this section ‘Experience’, instead of just ‘work experience’! Examples worth mentioning include:

  • voluntary positions
  • fundraising positions
  • contributions to University clubs, societies or other membership bodies
  • roles in sporting organisations
  • freelance assignments
  • part-time work
  • internships
  • temporary gigs

Again, you don’t need to list every experience you’ve had. Instead, focus on highlighting experiences that are relevant to the position you’re applying for. A CV where each item screams "I'm the one!" is far more impactful than a CV that's all over the place.

For each experience, include:

  • Your job title – put this first since employers want to know what you did.
  • The organisation name. If the name doesn't clearly indicate the kind of organisation it is, you may need to include a sentence or two that describes it.
  • Your start and finish dates (month & year is fine).
  • A short description of what each experience involved, focusing on facts that are most relevant to the role.

What order to put your experiences in

When it comes to arranging your experiences on your resume, you've got a couple of choices.

  1. Reverse chronological order (most recent first): This is the traditional and most widely used format. It lists your experiences starting with the most recent and working backwards. It's straightforward and preferred by many employers as it clearly shows your career progression.

  2. Order of relevance: If you don't have a clear career progression (e.g. you've jumped around and tried out different things), lead with your most relevant experiences, regardless of when they occurred. Think about it like this: If you start with less relevant experiences, there's a risk a busy recruiter might miss the good stuff and overlook your resume.

How to describe your experiences

You should aim to include enough context that an uninformed reader (someone who doesn’t have prior knowledge of you, your area of study, or your industry) can grasp what you did and why it makes you qualified for the job.

For each experience, include a high-level overview of your role and responsibilities. You can also include a few bullet points that cover specifically what you accomplished, learned or contributed. You may find the “STAR” framework (Situation, Task, Action, Result) helpful for teasing out these details:

  • Describe a situation (i.e. the position you occupied or a challenge that you faced)
  • Explain the task you had to do
  • Clearly outline the specific actions you took to complete the task
  • Finally, describe the results and what you accomplished, learned or contributed

Here are a few tips to help you along the way:

  • Make your experience relevant. Highlight why each experience is relevant to the role you're applying for. For example, don’t just say you ‘worked in a bar’— describe how working in a 200-person capacity venue required exceptional customer service, dispute resolution skills, excellent time management or any other qualities the employer is looking for.
  • Emphasize your achievements. Don't just list out your duties & responsibilities. Employers want to know if you did a good job. For example, don't say "managed [student association's] social media accounts" – anyone can do that. Instead say that you "elevated [student association's] online presence by managing their social media accounts, resulting in a 30% increase in follower engagement within six months."
  • Quantify your impact: Use numbers to highlight your actions and results. Specify things like how much, how often, how long, and how many to paint a clear picture of your impact.
  • Make it about you. If you say you were "involved with" a project, employers might assume you played a minor role. To convey your active involvement, use action verbs like ‘designed’, ‘built’, and ‘organised’ and provide specific examples of how you solved a problem, took the lead on something, or significantly contributed to a successful outcome. 
  • Keep it simple. It’s tempting to use industry jargon to look smart. But often, the first person to read your CV won't be an expert. They'll most likely be a recruiter, hiring for all kinds of roles across their organisation (e.g. marketing, sales, finance, engineering, etc). If they can't make sense of your CV, they'll often just skip it. So keep your CV easy to read and interesting for anyone!
  • Avoid empty buzzwords. Vague, subjective terms like “self-starter”, “effective communicator”, “works well under pressure” are chronically overused, and overreliance on them can result in your CV coming across as a list of meaningless buzzwords. If they’re important to your role, try to demonstrate these attributes in your bullet points by using tangible achievements.

Here are some examples to help put all this into practice:

Instead of this… Try this...
❌ Data entry and analysis in excel. ✅ Modelled 25 years of historical financial data in excel to determine relationship between commodity prices and profitability.
❌ Bar work including waiting tables, working the bar & hosting wine tastings. ✅ Managed 200 person capacity bar, requiring exceptional customer service, dispute resolution, and time management.
❌ Chair of soccer club social committee. ✅ Chaired social committee of 8 and organised events throughout the year attended by 200-300 members.
❌ Tutored Year 12 commerce students. ✅ Developed tutorial content, marketing, pricing, and time management strategies to establish a successful small business tutoring Year 12 commerce students.
❌ Launched internal team productivity reporting dashboard. ✅ Liaised with senior leadership and sought team feedback to develop a productivity reporting dashboard that cut weekly team task allocation time by approximately 50%.
❌ Organized the college’s tutorial program and headed up the academic team. ✅ Planned and led a year-long academic program for 230 students across 8 faculty areas, resulting in a 98% pass rate.
❌ Edited articles submitted by student journalists. ✅ Reviewed 20-25 articles per week to evaluate their suitability for publication, selecting and editing up to 5 per week for publication.
❌ Researched CRM SAS options. ✅ Collaborated on a team of 4 to evaluate alternative software platforms to drive sales team productivity, ultimately saving an estimated $600,000 per year.

e.    Additional (optional) sections


If there's extra space on your CV and you want to showcase more about yourself that isn't covered in your Education or Experience sections, consider adding these details towards the end of your document.

Common additions for students and graduates include:

  1. Awards & accomplishments
  2. Activities & interests
  3. Skills & attributes

Remember, these sections are entirely optional. Only include them if they add value to your profile (e.g. help round you out as a candidate) and are relevant to the job you're applying for.

Awards & Accomplishments

In many cases, you may find it easier to list awards under the other relevant sections (for example, by placing academic awards under the education section and so on). However, a standalone section for awards and accomplishments can be helpful if your trophy cabinet is particularly full (e.g. you have three or more awards)!

Some cool awards to list could be winning a science fair (shows you're a science whiz) or placing second in a debate tournament (you have strong communication skills and work well under pressure!). These all tell a story about what you're good at.

Just don't assume the reader knows anything about the award – no matter how prestigious it may be. Take the time to include a short description of each one (eg, ‘for leadership and service’, or 'granted to the top 5% of students in [Subject]').

List the awards and accomplishments that are most relevant to the job you are applying for first. Where relevant, include the issuing institution and date of issue.

Activities & Interests

Similar to summary statements, this section is another grey area when it comes to CV writing.

Unique and varied side projects, such as sports, volunteering, travel, hobbies and interests can demonstrate that you have a certain depth of character. Done well, this section can give recruiters the sense that you're a well-rounded human being.

A tip is to mention things that tie back to the attributes the employer is looking for. For example, large professional services firms are often looking to hire candidates with a ‘global outlook’. In this case, you may choose to mention overseas experience, like independent travel, particularly if it’s supported by a broader theme, such as having gone on an exchange, speaking another language, or growing up in a different location.

On the other hand, if your interests consist of hanging out with friends and watching Netflix, it’s probably best to skip this section.

Skills & Attributes

This section gives you the opportunity to list all of your skills that are related to a position. If you have lots of skills, you can break them out under subheadings. For example, you might add separate subheadings below your ‘Skills’ section for “Leadership”, “Foreign Languages” and “Software Skills”. The idea is to group your skills into themes and make it easy to skim them.

Technical skills in particular are good to mention these days. For example, if you're an accounting student, mention any accounting software you're familiar with. Employers mainly want to know that you've learned to work with different software (even if it's not the one they use), as this shows you have the ability to pick more technical skills on the job if necessary.

Just don’t mention skills that everyone is expected to have, like email or Microsoft Word. These are a given these days, and listing them on your CV will actually make you seem less tech-savvy.

Also skip the self-scoring infographics (where you rate yourself out of 5 for certain skills). These might look great on the page, but they’re totally subjective and rarely helpful for a recruiter.

#5   What design and layout should I use for my CV?

Design might seem like a big deal, but most employers aren’t looking for fancy CVs.

Actually, unless you’re applying for a design role, there’s no need to make a CV from scratch. Most people just use ready-made templates, and recruiters are cool with that.

So, take it easy and stick to a template. Here are some free ones to help you out. When you’re choosing, think about:

  • The industry: Traditional sectors like finance or law often prefer classic, more conservative styles – think: black text on white paper.
  • The company vibe: If the place you’re applying to is all about new ideas and being different, then you can try something a bit more modern and creative.
  • How much you've got to say: Got loads of achievements and projects to talk about? You’ll need a template that fits all your info without looking squashed. Skip those super sparse ones with lots of empty space.

If you decide to tweak a template or make your own, here are some things to keep in mind.

  • Headers: Headers are titles that mark the start of different sections on your CV, such as "Education," "Experience," and "Skills." Use a bigger font size and/or color to make them stand out so recruiters can find what they need quickly.
  • Bullet points: Instead of writing paragraphs, break things down into short, snappy points. Each bullet point should be 1-2 lines max. Recruiters usually don’t have time to read big blocks of text on a CV!
  • Font: Use a simple and clean font like Calibri or Arial. Keep the size between 11-12 so it’s easy to read — 10 at the smallest. You don’t want anyone squinting!
  • Bold words: If you know a job is looking for certain skills, make those words stand out in bold: e.g. “Experienced in Java and Python".
  • White space: Don’t pack every inch with text. A bit of empty space makes your CV easier on the eyes and less crowded.
  • Widows and orphans (if your CV is longer than one page): Avoid having single lines of text stranded at the top or bottom of a page. It’s like when a sentence gets cut off and continues on the next page of a book — annoying, right? Keep your ideas together, so they’re easy to follow.

#6   Steps to review and finalise your CV

  • Always ask someone else to read over your CV. You’ll be amazed at the typos a friend or family member can catch. And if you're applying for a role that requires you to be detail-oriented (e.g. a quality control role), you'd better make sure there aren't any mistakes in your CV!
  • Ask for additional feedback from your university’s careers service center. Most universities offer a free CV review for current students.
  • Once you’re happy with the final version, save the file as a PDFGive your PDF a professional title (such as “Jane Smith CV”). 
  • Do a final FINAL review of the PDF version before you submit it. And make sure you upload the correct version!

Good luck!

#7   FAQs

a. Should I include a picture on my CV?

No. It adds no value, and some recruiters will explicitly request that candidates NOT share pictures, so as to avoid any risk of unconscious bias.

b. What file type should I use?

Unless directed otherwise, always submit your CV in PDF format. Why? The hint is in the name - ‘Portable Document Format’.

This format ‘freezes’ your desired formatting in place, so your document displays in the same way regardless of the software, hardware or operating system that recruiters use to view your CV.

There are many websites that'll let you convert documents into PDF format for free. Alternatively, you can use Google Docs to create your CV and download it as a PDF for free.

c. Should I include references in my CV?

No. Most reference checks will only be done at the end of the recruitment process, and recruiters often complete them using an online workflow, so there’s no benefit to taking up valuable space on your CV with references.

The only exception to this is if you have a particularly influential referee and you feel it will help your case to ’name drop’ them on your CV.

Don’t bother writing “references available on request". It goes without saying that you would provide references if an employer asked for them.

d. Do I need to tailor my CV for each employer?

No. Employers in the same industry tend to look for similar qualities, so you can just use one CV for the whole industry.

However, if you're applying for different roles in the same industry, you'd still want to modify your CV to highlight experiences that best match the job description for each role.

💡 Pro tip: Create a ‘master’ version of your CV that covers everything. This allows you to select appropriate content from the master version as a starting point for each position and employer.

e. Should I use certain keywords to pass the automated CV check?

No. Automated CV checks are mainly a myth at this point. We’ve not yet heard of an employer taking this approach – and for good reason.

There are stringent employment laws promoting fair hiring practices, and AI tools have been shown to have strong biases up to now. (A case in point is when Amazon had to abandon their AI screening tool for penalising CVs mentioning 'women'.)

That said, using the same keywords from the job ad can help. This is because recruiters often aren't experts in the field they're hiring for, so seeing familiar terms from the job description can make your CV easier for them to understand.

Just remember to use only keywords you can justify. If you stuff your CV with all the keywords from the job description, it could make employers feel like you're trying to trick the system rather than showing your real skills. And if they doubt your honesty, they won't consider you for the job.

f. Can I get ChatGPT to write my CV for me?

Nope, don't let an AI tool write your whole CV. As an employer ourselves, we can assure you that it's painfully obvious when someone outsources their application to ChatGPT!

If you do use an AI writing tool, use it wisely. For example, you can ask ChatGPT to brainstorm keywords to include or to edit your CV for clarity, relevance, and impact. Just don't get it to generate a CV without putting any thought into it.

g. Can I lie on my CV?

No, lying on your CV is not a good idea because:

  1. Recruiters are skilled at spotting things that don’t add up. They talk to lots of candidates and are good at telling when something is off. If they find out you’re not being truthful, they won’t trust you anymore.
  2. Before giving you a job, employers will check your references. That means they’ll contact the professors or bosses you said you’ve worked with. If your stories don’t match up, they’ll know something’s wrong.

Plus, the professional world can be small. People talk, and a lie can follow you around, making it hard for you to get a job later on. It’s always better to be honest and show what you can really do.

h. Can I put special requests on my CV?

No, do not mention requests for things like special working hours or days off. It’s best to cover this in your interview.