What do graduate employers want to see in a CV?

Posted in: Advice, Applications

Researchers from Keele University* recently interviewed 41 graduate employers to find out what they look for in a CV. These employers were both large and small, and came from a range of sectors, including from the pharmaceutical industry, and education.

Researchers summarised these findings in a table (or “rubric”), which assigns an importance weighting (%) for three themes - “Presentation and Structure”, “Linguistic quality” and “Content”. The rubric also describes elements within each of these themes that would contribute to shortlisting or rejection.  You can see this really useful rubric here, in MyFuture Resources.

Most of the employers interviewed place importance on the “usual suspects” of good CV writing, including:

  • Good presentation, spelling and grammar
  • A logical and clear structure
  • Succinct writing, usually in bullet point format
  • Evidence that the candidate meets key criteria – using keywords is important for busy recruiters
  • Evidence that substantiates candidates’ claims about key skills and strengths
  • Evidence of achievements.

See this recent blog which looks at some of the above elements in more detail.

Employers look for character and cultural fit

I think a more interesting finding from the research is that many employers view the CV as an opportunity to get a sense of an applicant’s character.

This may sound odd to those who assume that a CV’s role is just to tell an employer that you have the right skills and experience to do the job. In this way, CVs are part of a rational, logical matching recruitment exercise – right?

Well yes, they are. But don’t forget that employers are also looking for a good match for a team, and for their organisational culture.  As one interviewee said, “…so many employers now, ourselves included, are looking for that cultural fit…”

What is "cultural fit", and why is it important?

A set of core values often sits at the heart of organisational culture.  If there's a good cultural fit, it usually means that an employee has the same values.  For example, this could mean having the honesty and confidence to share ideas with others in order to reach a goal.  It could mean striving for excellence at all times (which could mean working long working hours on client projects!).

Most employers believe that it is possible to teach someone to technically do a job.  But it is much more difficult to teach someone to live the same values. An employee who is not aligned with organisational culture can cause problems for an employer, even if they're technically fantastic at their job.

How to demonstrate cultural fit

You’re possibly thinking that demonstrating cultural fit is an impossible task. But if you think about it, an employer will usually have given you plenty of clues in the job and / or person description.  Look at those key words and phrases.  Are they looking for people who love learning? People who are collaborative workers? People who have the confidence to lead? Hopefully your thorough employer research will have also given you some clues about values and culture.

Check back through your CV to make sure that you've demonstrated key values in your evidence.  This might be through what you've done, but also crucially how you've done things (your personal attributes and skills).  Using the same words as the employer can help them to quickly identify your suitability.

The research report also shows that in order to get a sense of character and values, some employers look closely at the personal profile, while many look at extra-curricular activities and hobbies and interests. So consider spending time on these sections: they can really differentiate you from other applicants.

Get feedback

You can get feedback on your CV by booking a 15 minute CV and Applications Advice appointment, via MyFuture.


*Source: "What do graduate employers want in a Curriculum Vitae? Designing a student-friendly rubric that captures employer concensus". Simkins, B., and Coney, K. (2019). Keele University.



Posted in: Advice, Applications


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