Top advice for graduates looking for first career role – from CV to interview

The summer after school or university often heralds the start of an exciting new chapter in the life of a young adult – they’re looking to start their career after a long slog of studying.

Some may choose to spend time abroad to relax and explore before settling into a job, while others may be chomping at the bit to get into work and start earning money.

The graduate job market can be incredibly competitive, depending on what type of career you are after.

It may lead to an endless cycle of job fairs, recruitment websites, and scrolling through LinkedIn.

Job hunt: At this time of year, there is fierce competition between graduates for top roles - here's how to stand out from the crowd

Job hunt: At this time of year, there is fierce competition between graduates for top roles – here’s how to stand out from the crowd

Just how can you stand out from the crowd? That is the latest question the interview cheat sheet series from This is Money is tackling.

We take a look at the whole process from CV, cover letter, job interview, and whether you should take any old job and continue your search for your ‘dream’ role while doing so.

This is Money has enlisted the help of Debut – the student and graduate careers app which has given us plenty of excellent advice for graduates.

How to make your CV stand out

Creating a CV doesn’t have to be the arduous task people make it out to be, according to the experts at Debut.

After all, what’s more of a confidence booster than consolidating all your achievements into one kick-ass document?

But if you’re struggling with where to start, here are its top three tips for crafting a fresh CV:

1. Ensure it’s tailor-made

It’s crucial to tweak your CV for each role you apply for.

The job market is competitive and if you want to stand out from the crowd, you’ll need to tailor your experience for a specific sector. If you want to go into a production role, be sure to include skills you have learned for this career path, such as familiarity with editing software.

2. Experience is everything

Even if you have little to no work experience, the university will still prepare you for the working world.

If you were in a society, there would be loads of examples that you can reference. Better yet, back up your anecdotes with numbers or a result – if you managed to sell 100 percent of your tickets for an event at university, write it down.

3. Have a sleek structure

The key here is to keep your CV concise. Ensure it is a maximum of two pages long and aim to make a good impression right at the beginning. Due to the high number of applications employers receive, it’s unlikely they will read every word. This is Debut’s recommended structure:

  • – Personal statement
  • – Work experience/employment history
  • – Education/qualifications
  • – Contact details/references
Standing out: Sometimes, you just need to cover the basics - like how to write a great CV and cover letter, along with staying calm at the interview

Standing out: Sometimes, you just need to cover the basics – like how to write a great CV and cover letter, along with staying calm at the interview

How to write a top cover letter

As well as providing a CV, you will need to write a cover letter too.

This is your chance to showcase your personality – include a memory or a quote if you think it’s fitting, Debut says. Cover letters shouldn’t be long, but they should encourage your potential employer to strongly consider your CV, so make it snappy and interesting.

1. Find your tone

Whatever you do, don’t scour the internet for cover letter examples that you can poach and use as your own, is the top tip from Debut. Take the time to showcase your tone of voice – especially if the role involves a great deal of writing.

Employers will be looking for those that stand out and fit within a team and you can use your cover letter to demonstrate this.

2. Avoid clichés

Business jargon has a bad reputation for a reason. If you use phrases such as ‘thinking outside the box’, it will be an immediate turn-off. Don’t write something because you think it will sound impressive. Instead, focus on tangible experiences and get straight to the point.

There’s no need to be fluffy with your language.

3. Don’t regurgitate your CV

Using the machine gun approach is lazy – end of. It doesn’t demonstrate in any way that you’re interested in a company and trust us – employers know if you’ve not bothered to tailor it.

Take the time to research your potential employer and reference the work they’ve done in your cover letter. Hone in on specific requirements for the role and highlight why you are the perfect fit for it.

How to ace the interview

Once you’ve made it through the first steps, it’s crunch time.

This is the chance to build a relationship with your employer and go into thorough detail about the role and company.

Naturally, you’ll have to do some preparation beforehand to be your very best.

1. Do thorough research beforehand

It’s important to demonstrate an understanding of the company you are applying to, as it shows a commitment to the role and conveys your research skills. Some of the key information to look at specifically according to Debut could include:

  • – The culture, mission, vision, and values of the business
  • – Information shared on the company’s social media channels
  • – The person interviewing you, and what they look for in employees
  • – The position you’re applying to, and whether there are pitfalls you should avoid

2. Practice makes perfect

Take the time to rehearse beforehand in front of your tutor, friends, family, or peers. Practicing answers to potential questions will help improve your confidence. Also, consider how you present yourself generally.

Try to be aware of the smaller things, such as maintaining a good posture, your use of hand gestures and body language, and your tone of voice.

3. Make a good first impression

Research shows that three-quarters of people fail an interview within three minutes of entering the room, so ensure you are polite, and friendly and have a positive attitude before, during, and after the interview.

You need to show off positive qualities such as professionalism and likability within the first few minutes of the interview to make a good impression.

Should you take any job and continue your search?

The graduate job market is competitive, and sometimes it may take a while to land that dream role, Debut warns.

For some, this can be problematic, especially when it comes to your finances.

Here are the things to think about if you want to take a temporary job to cover your spending:

1. Do you need to cover your living expenses?

If you’ve moved back in with your family post-graduation, you may need to sit down and have a conversation about your living situation.

Your parents – or whoever is putting you up – may want you to either pay board or move out altogether.

Don’t just assume that you can live at home for free. If you need to work in the meantime to cover rent, then that’s a legitimate reason to take a temporary role.

2. Consider the type of work you’re taking on

If you do need a temporary job, we recommend something as flexible and casual as possible, especially if you’re considering going to interviews for other graduate jobs whilst you’re working.

If you lead a company to believe that you’re staying for longer than you intend, it can reflect badly on you and look unprofessional, so always be transparent.

3. Are you able to handle all your time?

Never underestimate how hard it is to manage your schedule once you’re working full-time. Searching and applying to jobs can be a lengthy process, so make sure you’re mentally prepared to take on that busy schedule.

Gap year? Many graduates decide to take some time off and travel - is that a put off for an employer?

Gap year? Many graduates decide to take some time off and travel – is that a put-off for an employer?

Is it okay to take a few months off and then search?

If taking a few months off is no issue for you financially, this can be a welcome break following the slog of university. Naturally, there is always the question of whether this will benefit you or not, so be sure to keep the below in mind when considering taking a moment to pause:


A study using Office of National Statistics data has ranked 20 of the most popular courses according to the level of salary graduates are likely to be on five years after leaving university.

Unsurprisingly, medicine and dentistry are at the top of the list when it comes to earning potential – with graduates earning some £47,300 per annum within five years.

But some unexpected entries lower down on the list include law – which could see graduates taking home a relatively modest £25,200 within five years, only marginally more than those who have teaching degrees.

Read the full report here: The university degrees most likely to land you a high salary

1. Use these months to make you more employable

One popular thing to do when taking a few months off is to go traveling. If you do decide to take this route, there are several transferable skills you will gain that can be referenced in future interviews, according to Debut.

These include independence, confidence, and the ability to adapt in a foreign country.

Plus, you’ll more than likely have an entertaining story to break the ice as well.

2. Jobs will still be around after peak season

Although most graduate schemes open around Autumn and close in December/January, companies still offer opportunities all year round, including entry-level roles. Just be prepared to work extra hard once your few months of break are up.

3. This could be the best time to take a break

Once you enter the working world, you’ll find it hard to take a few months off. If you do want to travel – or just take time out – then the gap between university and your first job is the time with the least pressure attached to it.

Many graduates are now taking this option, so employers will most likely be understanding if you want to seize this opportunity.