Write your own CV from scratch

By Aneth David and Godbless Baluhya

Did you know that your CV/Resume has on average 5-7 seconds to impress? Meanwhile, a typical corporate receives about 250 applications per position and 75 percent of candidates are eliminated by their CV alone.

This is how to prepare a CV that improves the odds of a fresh graduate landing an interview. The article was written targeting fresh graduates in Tanzania, however some things are universal. Mistakes to avoid when writing a CV were covered here.

The million dollar question; What is the recruiter looking for?

Your CV should in theory match the skill-set the recruiter is looking for, and be packaged in a form that piques his/her interest. Pay attention, there’s two key parties here; you and the recruiter, your skills and their vacancy, your CV and their job description, what you’re capable of offering, and what they need, the parallels go on and on.  Always keep in mind that what you are trying to land is an interview not a job.

While it may seem counter intuitive at first, you need to forget about everyone else that is applying for the job so that you can focus on being THE applicant. Let the recruiter worry about everyone else. Unlike many guides, we will attempt to get you to write your own CV, that tells your story, in your own words. Most fresh graduates simply copy & paste their name and address to online CV templates, if that’s what you are looking for then you’re only one google search away from your quest; those templates will also be helpful for when you are writing a generic CV. If you are however interested in literally building your own CV from scratch, or polishing your generic CV to match a specific job posting then read on.

Before you go about,


  • Know your strengths, skills and abilities; what are you really good at? (Your UVP  – Unique Value Proposition). Ask yourself why should the employer choose you among  many other candidates, assuming that you all have achieved the same level of education? Is it academic merits? Ability to solve complex problems? Or you are a hard worker? Fast learner? A person reading your CV should be able to grasp that. This should be backed by evidence, for example if you have a first class GPA, then automatically you have academic merits, if you engaged in various projects at school, you may come across as a hard-working and initiative person. Just make sure it is presented well without coming across as arrogant/overconfident (Yes, recruiters are very much human and they automatically form opinions as they go across your CV/Resume; opinions which matter)

What is your UVP?

  • Make your CV unique, a generic CV is a waste of time. Invest on learning how to prepare a good CV. Read about it, check out other CVs online and compare with yours. Send it to other people like mentors to get their opinion, keep asking and keep improving it with time, the first draft or a hurriedly-put CV is in most cases useless.


  • Talk to industry insiders (Do your homework). While we are on the subject of personalizing your CV, an insider perspective is invaluable. An insight into the culture of your prospective employer will significantly boost your mileage. Human beings in general like dealing with familiar things, and HR managers are no exception. Understanding what they expect in an application/CV will save you a lot of headaches.


  • Start preparing a CV as early as possible, regardless of whether you have an opportunity at hand or not. Job seekers are encouraged to prepare a CV even when one is not needed right then, when one is still a student for example, or still on another job. This way you are not working under pressure and odds are a great CV will result. The investment on a good CV always pays.


  • Proofread you CV  after it has cooled off for a few days and when you are relaxed to make sure that things make sense. You will have fresh eyes and will be more likely to spot mistakes such as  spelling and grammatical errors.

Each opportunity will require a different, customized CV. Somewhere in the CV, career goals or what you are looking should be clear. As a fresh graduate, the main focus is on getting experience, as you have little to offer in the real job market, unless you have prior work experience before college, or worked during college years. Now on more specific matters:

  1. The format

A CV should contain bio-data and ideally on top of the page: full names, address (permanent address and P. O. Box), Date of birth, gender and contact details (phone number and e-mail address). The name maybe written in slightly larger font and be centered at the top.

Know the difference between a CV, resume and something in between (usually either is fine) and decide which one better suits your writing style and the application. Either way, a brief description of yourself is required, which means your educational background (nothing actually personal, unless it is a personality trait/hobby that gives you an edge and even then bury it in personal attributes) and what was achieved and gained (note the difference between gain and achieve), working experience (if any, otherwise stick to field training), what you are looking forward to (hiring is expensive, and HR needs to know whether your ambitions match the growth potential available within the organization) and the skills you have to undertake the career path that you look forward to.

Important things are to pay attention to are: whether a passport picture is required or not, or the employer require a specific format. Is there a specified length of CV/Resume? (In a nutshell, do your homework!)

Include a line or two of your  skills, both professional/academic and soft skills at the end of the brief description about yourself. Cliche adjectives are okay, so long as you can back them up in an interview. What’s the point in declaring yourself able to work and deliver under pressure and then proceed to have a panic attack in the interview room? Everyone tends to over promise and in most cases they cannot back it up, do the opposite and your chances begin improving.

Education background should mention which schools you went to, when, the certification obtained, and the grades if they are good (academic merits). If you went to three high schools, it may suffice to mention the one you graduated from. Do include important accomplishments and certifications like best disciplined student, language certification, top of the class graduate, etc

Typically, working experience comes after the education background, and this is the part to show off. Include anything work-like, such as practical training/field work conducted during school years, part time stints in sales and campaigns for example, volunteer activities as an intern or trainee and actual working experience. Mention the title held, company/organization name and duration. Give a brief (1-3 lines) description of roles undertaken (and may be experience gained). More importantly, mention achievements during working experiences, if any,  such as, awarded employee of the month 3 times, or best innovative employee, etc

Include relevant training attended and skills gained from thereof, presentations made, especially academic one.

Any projects ever initiated and/or managed/participated in will boost your CV as well. Include both academic and social (out of school) projects, especially the ones you have initiated or took a leading role should be boldly presented. For example, organizing fellow students to donate for and visit a charity, organize a debate competition, initiate an environmental awareness program, etc.

Do include as well important associations memberships and roles played and duration. If you do not have any club/association membership this may be a good time join some, students, professional and sports clubs are a good start. They build an extracurricular profile, they are a good place to network and make a difference, as well as being rewarding in many ways.

Put referees details and contacts but do let them know in advance so that they don’t bail out when asked whether and how they know you. Avoid using relatives as referees as they are more likely to put you in good light under all circumstance.

CV Template

2. The Flow and arrangement

Your CV should be attractive, convincing, smart and presentable without being too clouded. The information described above may be presented in different manners utilizing different features like bullets, numbers, lines and pipes but the end result should look professional.

Consider the font type and size, use of colors, bold and underlines for highlighting and emphasizing important points. Use the emphasizing features only where necessary, too much bold or underlines defeats the purpose. Avoid overuse of capital letters as they tend to scream.

Consistency is very important in a CV. Use the same format throughout the document, such as font type, formatting, colors, headings, font sizes, etc. Consistency screams this person is well organized and knows what he/she is doing while mixed formatting says one lacks attention to details and is lazy, he/she did cannot even write a proper CV anyway. Also while we’re on that, being brief and to the point without appearing too proud.

3. Wrapping up

  • Before you send/submit your information, do talk to your referees and get on the same page with them. Make certain your professors and field supervisors remember you and are willing to vouch for you, otherwise you will never hear back from the recruiter.
  • Decide on the best way to send in your application. Your industry insider or the job announcement will have the correct email or physical address. If you do not hear from your potential employer within a length of time specified in the job announcement then it is safe to assume you were not shortlisted. This would be the time when that industry insider would be invaluable to help you understand why your application did not get through so you can improve the CV.
  • Also it’s important to keep in mind the current competition for jobs, someone out there is doing his/her best to get this job, you can make it easier for them by submitting a sloppy CV…:)

You may need to check out more resource before you have a compelling CV that will land you that interview, but this shall put you in a good place.

What has your CV writing experience been like? Share with us in the comments section below.

About the authors

Aneth is an academician and Godbless makes beer.

2 thoughts on “Write your own CV from scratch

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