Is your CV really the first thing you need to check?

If you’re a finalist, could this be you?

Is your CV really the first thing you need to check

By Jim Reali, Careers Advisor for GEES


Recently at one of my advice desk appointments I met a final year GEES undergraduate who told me that they had booked the appointment because they wanted someone from Careers Network to review their CV. Let’s call the student “Bob”.

When I’m looking at a CV, it always helps to know what industry sector it’s intended for, what it is that appeals to the student about that sector and how they intend to use the CV, so I asked Bob to tell me about this “bigger picture”.

Bob told me that he wasn’t sure what career to look for or how to go about applying, but that as he was getting towards the end of his studies and was busy with revision and extra-curricular commitments, he felt that he needed to do something, so having a CV check seemed like a sensible option. He wasn’t sure if he might want to do something involving his degree, or maybe something “a bit different”.

I explained to Bob that, whilst I could have a look at the CV, if he wasn’t sure what career he wished to pursue, he may not get much benefit from this. I then asked what he thought might help him to identify some suitable career goals. He said that he wasn’t sure and shrugged his shoulders. We were facing a dilemma…

I asked Bob if, in light of what we had discussed, he would like me to look at his CV, or if it might be more helpful to discuss some options to help him think of some career goals, so that he could be more focused and use his time effectively. He liked the idea of having some focus and opted to leave the CV for a later appointment.

Prospects Planner imageWhen he was at school, Bob had used a computer assessment tool to identify some potential careers, but the results didn’t appeal to him. However, there are a couple of assessment tools available now which are designed specifically to help university students identify possible career goals by helping them to identify what motivates them, their values, their likes and dislikes. The first one of these, which I suggested Bob may wish to try, is Prospects Planner. If you haven’t used it, you might find it helpful, too. It asks a series of questions to construct a unique profile of you and then uses this to suggest a career options aligned with your preferences. The suggestions are presented as individual job profiles, which tell you about key facets of a role, such as the responsibilities, salary, qualifications, skills required, relevant work experience and career prospects. You also have the option to look at actual adverts for such roles on the Prospects database and to each job profile also suggests some other job profiles which have similar specifications. From having no idea about what career might suit you, you can quickly move to a situation where you have a number of good options.

Bob mentioned that he was uncertain whether or not he might want to pursue a career related to his degree. Whilst some of the job profiles suggested by Prospects Planner are discipline-specific, not all of them are, so that could be really helpful. However, Bob said that it might be helpful to know more about what he could do related to his degree.

It can be really helpful to find out what previous graduates from your course have gone on to do in the past – to get an idea of how many might work in areas related directly to Earth Sciences, Environmental Sciences or Geography. I suggested that Bob could look at the Graduate Destinations information on Careers Network’s Intranet pages. If you think that this might help you, you can find out what people from your course have done:

I also suggested that Bob might find it helpful to try the Prospects “What can I do with my degree?” pages, which are available for:

These pages tell you more about some of the typical roles graduates may undertake related to their degree as well as those which make use of the wealth of transferable skills they have developed during their time at university (such as effective communications skills, teamwork, data analysis and report writing, presentation skills and many more).Job Options image

Bob also said that he was aware that Careers Network has Canvas pages for his course, but that he hasn’t really looked at these. I showed him the GEES Careers Network Canvas page on my iPad and pointed-out the school-specific “getting into” handouts that we’ve produced, which provide specific information for students in Earth Sciences, Environmental Sciences, Geography and Planning. I also showed him our “Careers A-Z” pages, where he could access further information about careers in all industry sectors, so if his Planner assessment suggested an opportunity in an industry sector such as logistics, he could use this to find out who some of the main employers are and where they advertise.

I asked Bob how he might use these resources, as he told me that he was pretty busy, revising for his finals, working in a part-time bar job and representing a university sports team. However, he said that he is pretty well-organised and that he uses the calendar function on his phone to manage a lot of his activities, so he would allocate himself a couple of hours each week to work through the Planner initially, before looking at the job profiles and additional information. He felt that if he put his mind to it, he could identify some clear career goals within a couple of weeks and that he would then be in a position to start applying for some opportunities.

Given that Bob had come to see me originally with a request to review his CV, I didn’t want him to leave our appointment thinking that his CV wasn’t actually important, so I asked him what he thought the purpose of his CV might be. He identified quite correctly that employers would read his CV to assess his suitability for their opportunities and to consider whether or not he should be invited to attend an interview. He also recognised that a CV could be tailored to a particular career goal or even a particular employer and that this approach would be far more likely to help him secure an interview for a job that really appealed to him. Bob hadn’t realised that, in addition to a good CV, a tailored cover letter is also a necessity as this will explain to the employer why you’re writing to them, demonstrate that you’ve undertaken a bit of research and know what they do, show them that you have skills which could benefit them and encourage them to read your CV in depth.

Before I finished the appointment, I showed Bob our Careers Network Quick Guide to CVs and our Quick Guide to cover letters and gave him a printed copy of each one from the display stand in our Careers Network hub in the Undercroft. Bob told me that, once he had identified some specific career goals, he would definitely use these to update his current CV and to write a cover letter and CV and cover letter imagesthat he would then book a separate CV check through our Careers Connect database.

At the end of our chat, Bob told me that he found that our 20 minutes together had been very helpful as it had helped him to see that he doesn’t need to worry – if he undertakes an assessment to identify his personality, motivations and values, he can then begin to identify careers suited to him and find advertised opportunities for these, tailoring his CV and cover letter to give him a great chance of securing an interview. He also told me that when he gets his first interview, he will definitely book a mock interview with Careers Network.

Are you like Bob?

If you’ve read this and think that you might be like Bob, I hope that you will be reassured that there is a lot you can do to achieve a satisfying career, even if you don’t have a clue yet what your goals may be.

In addition to the resources I’ve linked in the text above, you might also find it helpful to refer to our “Making Career Choices” course on Canvas, which walks you through the some simple steps to help you identify what motivates you, what your desires and values are, your priorities and how to research your options. It also provides you with access to an Action Plan document on which you can record your progress.

If you would like to discuss your situation with a Careers Advisor from Careers Network, you can book an appointment through Careers Connect, or email


About careersbham

Student Engagement Officer for Careers Network University of Birmingham

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