How to Write a CV for a Graduate Scheme
If you're approaching the end of your university degree, joining a graduate scheme can be an excellent way to launch your career and gain valuable on-the-job experience.
A graduate scheme is an entry-level employment program designed for people who have just finished their degree. They're typically offered by large and often prestigious companies and organisations, making them a great way to develop technical skills, lay the groundwork for a successful career, and earn a decent income in the process.
According to a graduate job market report by High Flyers Research, graduate salaries averaged around £33,500 in 2022 — and pushed £52,000 on some law and banking programmes.
But with salaries climbing, so is the competition. High Flyers also revealed that employers receive an average of 39 applications per graduate vacancy. Promising mentorship, training, and the potential to grow into a permanent role, the best programmes are oversubscribed and highly selective. Standing out is critical.
To help you get noticed in a pool of applicants, this article covers seven tips for writing a graduate scheme CV that emphasises your value to the employer and gets you on their interview shortlist.
1. Identify the fundamentals
Before you start drafting your CV, it's important to understand what it's like to recruit for graduate schemes and what employers look for when they screen candidates.
Graduate scheme recruiting is a high-volume job, which means recruiters have to review a huge number of applications for each opening. They often won't have time to closely read your application. Instead, they'll scan for key job requirements that they can then test in the job interview or through any assignments they give you as part of the recruitment process.
So, write your CV around the key job requirements.
Read through the programme scheme closely, paying careful attention to: any degree or qualification requirements the departments or teams you'll work with technology or skills you'll use cultural values or interests that they want you to have
Use this fundamental information to plan out what to highlight on your CV.
For example, the M&S Retail Leaders Programme emphasises teamwork, customer service skills, and an interest in business management. So recruiters will jump at a CV that features shop floor work experience, university business prizes, or relevant volunteering experience.
2. Use professional design to stand out from other candidates
We all know that content is the most important part of a CV. But that doesn't mean that formatting, font, and colour should be an afterthought.
Your CV's design significantly impacts the impression your application leaves on employers. A garish, graphic-heavy CV will be completely unprofessional. But two pages of plain text? That just looks a bit lazy.
Striking the right balance between personality and professionalism will help you stand out from other applicants while also showing that you're the kind of person who puts added thought and effort into the work they do.
You don't need to be an expert at graphic design either. The website is full of professional and personalisedtemplates that you can download to suit the programme you're pursuing. Just remember to save your final version as a PDF so the file looks exactly the same when the employer opens it on their computer.
3. Write an engaging career objective
When hiring fresh graduates, recruiters look for drive, determination, and strong career goals that align with their organisation. Your career objective is the place to demonstrate those traits.
Also known as a personal statement, a career objective is a 3 to 5-line introduction at the top of your CV that summarises:
- Who you are
- Your background (e.g., your degree)
- Core professional goals
Heading your application with a concise, targeted career objective helps recruiters understand what motivates you and how well your profile aligns with their organisation.
And that's a smart move because graduate scheme recruiters hire often for culture fit so they can invest training resources in employees who are more likely to stay with the company for a long time.
4. Leverage your relevant work experience
Even if the programme you're applying for doesn't require previous work experience, you should work it into your CV.
Relevant work experience lends credibility to your skills and shows you have practical knowledge that you can bring to the team.
Include any professional experience that relates to the position or its skill requirements, such as:
- Work placements
- Part-time student jobs
- Volunteering experience
- Relevant personal projects (e.g., managing your own blog)
Use the standard work experience format to highlight key information and make your CV easy to scan:
Job Title, Dates MM/YY–MM/YY Company Name, Location
- 3 to 5 bullet points highlighting your responsibilities and achievements
- Highlight traits that relate to the specific programme
- Mention if you received any praise or awards to show your strong work ethic
5. Lean into your education
As a recent graduate, your degree is one of the most valuable qualifications you can show an employer — especially when you're applying for a graduate programme.
List your degree title, university, and location as you would on any CV. If the graduate scheme you're applying for has a degree classification requirement, make it clear that you've got the right grades to apply:
Regent's University London, Sep 2020 – Aug 2023 BA (Hons) Psychology, first-class honours
Furthermore, adding additional subsections can help show the breadth of your university experience and help you stand out from other similarly educated applicants.
For example, you could include a relevant modules subheader to highlight any relevant classes or seminars (e.g., a corporate finance class for an accounting graduate scheme).
6. Tailor your key skills section to your situation
In most CVs, the skills section is a quick bulleted summary of your competencies that recruiters can refer to for a quick digest of what you know.
But for recent graduates, a good skills section can be instrumental in padding out your experience.
If you already have a lot written in your work experience and education sections, keep your key skills section to a short bulleted list:
- Key Skills
- Tutoring expertise
- Fluent in French
- Classroom management
- Organisational skills
However if your CV is looking a little sparse, add a short sentence highlighting a relevant achievement that you accomplished using the skill. This can be a great way to emphasise soft skills like teamwork or adaptability, which are quite vague out of context:
Organisational skills: Maintained exceptional grades throughout university while also working part-time as a Floor Manager at Next
7. Expect competition and trust the process
Investing time and effort into your graduate scheme CV will vastly increase your chances of getting hired — but you might not get hired right away.
Given the stiff competition for the best graduate schemes, don't be disheartened if an employer doesn't get back to you or if you're passed up for another candidate.
If you research the position carefully before you apply, then you're likely more than capable of doing the job well. Continue applying for new opportunities until you get an offer that satisfies you.
Applying for graduate positions can be a real slog, but if you trust the process and commit to your applications, then you'll start getting notices, and your application will get picked up by the right people. Bio
Words by Seb Morgan
Seb Morgan is a Careers Expert and Digital Content Writer at CV Genius, where he helps professionals in a variety of industries get the jobs they want. With over 7 years of experience in business and lifestyle journalism, he's written for a stack of careers-focused publications, including Oxbridge Home Learning, Study International, theHRDirector, and Employee Benefit News. His expertise includes skill development, interview preparation, and resume and cover letter writing.