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Dear Graduates: Polish your employability not your CV

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Photo credit: Flickr/ Rob Williams

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY – I spent over 5 years hand in hand with HR activities, first as a headhunter and consultant, then within the public sphere, and then I faced the hassles around the term internship both as an intern and later as a recruiter.

Regardless of the fact that job-hunting is difficult at any times, age and location, let us now turn our focus on: the YOUTH, or specifically fresh graduates.

Dear Graduates…

When I was in your shoes, – or actually, I was even one step before you due to my career change – I was scared and worried I would never get an employment. I was studying under a so-called sandwich program, which meant a compulsory 12-month internship/placement/apprenticeship/employment, whatever you can get, in order to graduate and get a BA degree.

There was I, half way in – half way out of the Uni and I was worried. Some of my classmates chose the most evident way and went to work with their parents, some did not care about the opportunity itself just wanted to get something, some did not even know what he wanted and some put the standards quite high. And yet, there was a common point in all of us: we had no idea how our CV should look like, how to search for a job, what to do if we are invited for an interview, and clearly, we had no idea about our rights as workers.

Our Uni organized a job fair but little was achieved in terms of success rate, or ‘hired people’. They also created a database of companies that might look for people, but then again, those were mainly for (already) graduated ones. So, all these drips-drops were there, but actually we were left alone in front of the door of the vague and adultly job market.

By this time, I already arrived back from Oxford, where (due to my anxiety from the upcoming placement-hunt) I was seeking for career advice as you are seeking for your national food ingredients in a foreign country: you ask everybody, you look at every corner, you post in FB groups… (well, back then FB was just starting, so I skipped this step), but I was all-over-the-place, as we often say so meaningfully.

Worth(less) CV coaching sessions

I clearly remember what happened on my career coach session in Oxford: I grabbed my neatly prepared CV and my confident smile. However, what I got as answer was a face worryingly observing the 2-page document.

And then she started to talk: “the format is not good, you don’t write only a word, no, this should be revised, and where is the volunteering experience? What? You have none? Ah, you did ballet, nice, but why you put it in your CV? Really? That can be a full-time job? Well, we definitely need to translate it to business language.

(I guess by this time both my smile and confidence melted away).

Chris Hardwick

I spent with her 2 hours. She was tough but great (or rather convincing, in retrospect). She told me not to go to an MA right after the BA just because everybody else does so. I followed her advice and never regretted. The only thing she did not tell me though was that CVs are culture-sensitive creatures. What’s more is that they are even company-sensitive(!). And I soon learnt that even though she was thrilled with my revision my CV would not necessary lead to a similar level of satisfaction by others.

All these were very quickly proven: when I applied to a Hungarian company with the CV-format she gladly approved in Oxford, they did not like it (to say the least). When I applied to a foreign-led business in Hungary, it already made the trick. When I applied in Brussels with the same format it was followed by long and deep silence.

Afterwards, life turned it all up-side-down and when I received CVs over CVs as a recruiter and headhunter, I was astonished by the diversity of styles, formatting, and the whole ‘CV’ as a concept. I started to save my favorite ones (as per layout and informativeness) and assessed why I liked them. Soon they became my guidelines and best benchmark documents. They taught me clearly, what a recruiter feels after the 700th CV and what makes one stand out of the crowd.

And if you are still with me by this point, you can see, we are only at the first step of your so-called application process; yet, there are far too many questions already.

You can attend seminars, buy books and search the internet: you will clearly get an a pleasant information overload, but barely any clarity. The only real advice that stands its grounds all the time: you need to adjust your application to each and every employer!

I know, we all hate this. It takes half a day per application, it is clearly boring, it is clearly annoying, especially if after all the efforts we are still rejected. Yet, this is the only way to find the job your REALLY WANT!

Bo Bennet

Therefore, based on my experiences I would tell you that CV-screening, CV-boosting talks, seminars are just enhancing your general know-how on different HR-views (but again, always check who writes or talks. Isn’t she an other commercial face?). They might serve as a good base, but it is not enough! I am even brave enough to say: they are absolutely useless sometimes (for instance, if not done properly; see my above example).

So what are your 3 ultimate rules to follow?

Rule Nr1.:

You need to personalize your application all the time.

Rule Nr2.:

You need to do your homework.
And yes, during your homework you can ask for help! But such as your father, who could only help you with the Maths equations once you knew the rules and hence he only guided you towards the good solution, your CV can be couched only if you know your direction and aim.

Rule Nr3.:

You need to believe that what you created is good.
Even if you get rejections, revise, learn, try to find out why, but don’t turn your back to yourself, your approaches and ideas.

Believe in the human factor

Ah, and just to finish my thoughts on my first job-hunt anxiety. Very quickly, I jumped deep into the HR world and made my own application style. Back then, I applied for 8 opportunities and I got a job offer from all of them. Not an internship but a real job for that 12-months placement time.

At one point I needed to choose from the options, and guess what happened? I became a headhunter and HR consultant. Since then, I was helping many of my friends, clients and former applicants to boost their employability. And every time they get a job I feel grateful that I could guide them. As a recruiter, even if my official job description did not ask for it and my former CEO opposed it, I did correct CVs of my rejected candidates, when they turned to me.

I believe in the human factor of recruitment. I believe that respect brings respect. I believe that you have to know the market you are playing on. I believe that CVs shouldn’t be standardised but be your first marketing tool. And I believe that instead of CV formatting we should polish our employability!


Virag was born in Hungary but currently lives in Belgium. A former ballet dancer, who after leaving the stage started to build up her life #2. While being a diplomat and a communication & marketing coordinator, Virag slowly started to give in and listen to her heart. That is when she started to write and gave birth, first, to her own blog, and then to several published articles. She believes in honesty, openness and that women are the strongest creatures on earth. More about Virag

Virág Gulyás is the founder of MissCareer/Less, a startup dedicated to women who embrace change, and works as a freelance creative project manager. As a former ballet dancer, she faced the challenges of what it means to change a career and start a new life in a culture where success is defined in linear terms. She believes that raw, honest storytelling is the new generation of women empowerment. Virág is an author, speaker and develops workshops to empower women and young (un)employed people.

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