Sample CVs: can they help or harm your application?

a blank sheet of paper

Faced with a blank sheet of paper?

As I write this, I’m wondering how many people will land on this page because they’ve typed ‘sample CV’ into a search engine. You’re not alone: we know that  lots of people do it.

Job seekers want something that will kick-start the CV they need – usually in a hurry. But is a sample CV the answer to their prayers, or something that could actually hurt their application?

If you ask most university careers advisers, they will tell you to steer clear. The reason? Recruiters can always tell when you’ve used a sample CV. They will recognise standard phrases that turn up time and time again. And standard wording on an application will make you look like a bog-standard applicant – not what you want.

The key to a good job application is to make yourself stand out from the crowd. If you’re saying the same things as the other applicants, recruiters won’t be able to see you as an individual.

As well as this, they won’t feel that you are treating them as an individual. Cut-and-paste applications are a pet hate of most recruiters: they want to feel that you really want a job with them, not just any old job. So your CV has to be tailored to that company and that job.

But if you’ve never written a CV before – and many students and graduates won’t have done – it’s understandable that you’ll need something to show you how to go about it. So here’s how to use sample CVs with the danger taken out.

  • Find some sample CVs that are relevant to the level of job you are looking for.
  • Read them once to get a feel for how they look and sound.
  • Assess whether they are effective, and analyse the factors behind your assessment. Not all sample CVs are actually any good.
  • Don’t look at them again. Write your CV from scratch, putting into practice what you have learned.
  • Don’t copy anything, ever.

Even better, don’t look at sample CVs at all: look at CV templates instead. These are documents that list the standard headings for a CV, with some notes explaining what they are for, but without any sample text to trip you up. These will help with the structure of your CV and the rest is up to you.

Remember, too, that most third-level careers services can offer appointments where they will review your CV and advise you on how to improve it. But this only works if you don’t leave it to the last minute!

Find out more on The graduate’s guide to CVs

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