Job-hunting for young people - 4: "I don’t have great exam results – how can I make my CV better?"

The fourth in teenage expert Nicola Morgan's series on job-hunting for young people

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Most people’s exam results are not littered with As and A*s; there are many bright people whose exams don’t go well; and not everyone can have top grades. Fortunately, many jobs rely more on initiative, aptitude, diligence and willingness to learn, rather than certificates. But I agree: a CV that has poor exam results and not much else is tougher to sell. So, there are some other things you can do to make your CV shine even without sparkly exam results.

I recommend any or all of these things:

1. Make sure it’s beautifully set out, with no errors of any sort. This sounds obvious but you’d be amazed at the scrappy, scruffy things some people think are ok. It has to look perfect. Get help from any adult who ever has to employ people, or from the job centre or school careers people, or your school librarian. A smart looking CV is not just a matter of employers being fussy. It shows that you can take pride in your work; and it makes the CV easier for the employer to read and absorb, especially when they have a large pile to look at. If most CVs look scruffy, you already have an advantage if yours is smart.

2. Include as many positive things from school as possible: clubs you’ve belonged to, hobbies you’ve had, anything that shows you are more than just someone who happens not to have got good exam results. You might think that being a pupil helper in the school library has nothing to do with working for a clothes shop, but it shows that you’re responsible and trusted, for a start.

3. Make sure it’s written in a way that suits the particular job you’re applying for. This means that you may have several versions of your CV, depending on which type of job you’re attaching it to. So, if you’re applying to work in a shop, make sure you highlight all the skills you have that are right for that, such as honesty, reliability and the ability to speak reasonably with an angry customer.

4. Don’t forget to mention those skills that don’t have a qualification. So, have a paragraph in which you emphasise that you’re good at getting on with people, you’re punctual and organised, etc etc.

5. When you choose your referees, make sure you ask them first and make sure they know what job you’re applying for. Choose people who know how to write well, such as a teacher or school librarian, and let them know what type of jobs you'll be applying for. Let them know you're really keen and they will be keen to help you.

6. Begin the CV with a short, enthusiastic and positive statement of who you are, what job you are looking for and why you’d be good at it.

The other thing you can do is from now on try to acquire more things to put on your CV – go on a course, get some unpaid work experience, volunteer somewhere. Everything you do can lead to something else and soon you’ll have a healthier-looking CV. Your CV just has to get you through the door to an interview – from then on, you can win a job through willingness to work and to learn and a growing confidence in yourself. This takes time but you can do it!

Next time, I'm revealing an encouraging secret about job applications. Any guesses?!


Schools, PSHE departments, teachers concerned with pupil health and wellbeing, independent trainers going into schools: you might be interested in my multimedia teaching materials about the brain and mental health - BRAIN STICKS™

Nicola Morgan

Author and speaker about adolescence, -

Nicola Morgan is a multi-award-winning author for and about teenagers and an renowned speaker at conferences and schools around the world. Her classic book on the teenage brain, BLAME MY BRAIN – THE TEENAGE BRAIN REVEALED, was followed by THE TEENAGE GUIDE TO STRESS and THE TEENAGE GUIDE TO FRIENDS and innovative multimedia teaching resources on the brain and mental health, BRAIN STICKS™, STRESS WELL FOR SCHOOLS and EXAM ATTACK. Her next books are POSITIVELY TEENAGE (May) and LIFE ONLINE (June). She writes articles at