Support for GCSE students

Building a CV for careers and university entrance (GCSE students)

Most employers and universities want people who can add that extra something to make them stand out, very rarely is it just about achieving top grades.

What can you start doing NOW which will help your application stand out in one or two years’ time?

This guide will show you how to:

  • Identify and showcase the skills which you have gained from out of school activities, such as in a drama club or competitive sport
  • Start getting involved - start participating in activities, such as work experience or volunteering, so that your CV looks really great

Your extra-curricular activities and personal interests can help to show universities and employers:

  • Your enthusiasm and commitment for a particular subject, for example by taking part in sport, getting grades in dance, working with young people, doing art, doing drama workshops etc
  • The key skills which you have learned from these activities; working as a team, being organised, being on time etc
  • That YOU are the person they are looking for


REMEMBER Employers and universities usually want to see five skills in candidates:

  • Initiative
  • Team player
  • Commitment
  • Well organised
  • Passion for the subject or job

Here’s our guide in how to weave your skills and attributes into a great personal statement using the above formula:

Showcase your skills

Write down all the projects and out-of-school activities that you are involved with. Examples could be:

  • Painting the scenery for your drama club
  • Playing football every Sunday for your local club
  • Running a faith group class for young children
  • Entering an art competition
  • Taking part in a dance display
  • Attending summer scout camp
  • Baking for a charity fundraising cake stall
  • Being a St John Ambulance first aider
  • Having a part time job at weekends

Let's take some of these examples and see what skills they demonstrate:

Example: I got up at 7am every Sunday morning for the last three years to play football for my local team, we have won eight out of this season’s ten matches.

Skills: well organised, team player, commitment, passion for football


Example: I have attended weekly evening training sessions and events for the St John’s Ambulance, where I am a first aider, and have only missed two events in the last year. I suggested that we change the way we organise the rota to help at events, this has made everyone much happier and more reliable at attending events.

Skills: well organised, commitment, initiative


Example: I suggested that our class raise funds for ChildLine after they came and did a talk to our school. Almost everyone in my class took part. We talked to the Headmaster to check if it was ok to hold the stall before assembly and gave different tasks to everyone in the class, such as who would bake which cakes, handling money, putting up posters and reminding people to bring money for the bake sale. We raised a total of £35 for the charity.

Skills: initiative, team player, passion to help others, well organised


Example: I wrote a CV and dropped it into 50 shops in my local town to see if they needed part time staff. I successfully got a Saturday job, which I’ve held for the last two years, and I’ve never had a day off sick or missed a shift. I’ve also recently been promoted to a supervisor role. I also offered to help do the window displays, I did some sketches and discussed them with my manager and she used all of my ideas for the next display.

Skills: initiative, organised, committed team player, passion for design

Build a story for your CV

When applying to university, or applying for a job, your CV should tell a story. 

We know that finding any kind of work experience or part time job can be hard.  But you should start thinking about the sort of degree or job which you want and build up work experience around that subject area as much as possible. Of course, you may want to try out various different jobs to start with to see what you want to do but by the time you are applying for university or a job you should be able to show a pattern in your CV that demonstrates your passion for a particular subject or career.

This is not as difficult as it sounds!

Here we suggest some things which you could do to show your interest in a particular area of employment, and don't forget that even one or two days’ volunteering can demonstrate this interest. Volunteering to help charities is a really great way to gain experience, as well as helping the charities and other people too.

You want to be a...


  • Minimum two-week placement or work experience at a local school
  • Job at a summer camp
  • Help with playground duty at a local school
  • Join a drama school and help the young participants


  • Paint scenery for a school play
  • Work experience at a design agency
  • Produce posters for the local Guides group

Event organiser

  • Work experience with a local charity to help them fundraise
  • Join the school Prom committee


  • Help the treasurer of a local charity
  • See if a local business wants help putting invoice details onto a spreadsheet


  • Join St John Ambulance and volunteer at events
  • Shadow physiotherapists in a number of different areas, such as a local sports club, dance club, hospital and care home, or organise work experience at an NHS hospital

What you are looking to do is build up lots of work and other experience which shows you are passionate and committed to the degree subject and career choices you are making.

If you start thinking about this when you are studying for your GCSEs you can build a winning CV by the time you apply to university or start looking for jobs!

Getting work experience

We know that it is hard getting jobs and work experience, particularly in the current difficult economic climate. Your school will have someone to help you find placements, but there is a lot you can do to help yourself.

Some advice

Don't be afraid to ask people for help, inlcuding family friends, your aunts/uncles, godparents, teachers and club/youth group leaders. Someone probably gave them a hand in their career and now it's their turn to help you.

Don't just look for paid work or a full-time job.  Even a few hours or a day in a company or organisation can be really helpful as a first step to learning about a career and getting you started

Do put a notice in your local newsagent or village hall offering your skills

Do look on online, most councils have lists of voluntary organisations and some have volunteer centres where you can offer your help

Do take up offers of help at school from your teachers, mentors and local businesses

Developing your passion

If you want to go to university you will be expected to have more than just the exam grades needed. We've talked about creating a story to show your passion for a subject through extra activities and work experience.  You could also:

  • Go on visits to relevant museums and cultural centres
  • Research your subject on the internet and see what is in the news. Who are the influential people talking about your subject, what are their views?
  • Find websites, blogs and social media feeds which relate to the subject you wish to study and follow them on a regular basis
  • Go to your local library and look for interesting books that help you to understand your subject more widely
  • Consider films which relate to the discipline you are interested in

By developing your interests and becoming aware of the trends within your chosen field you will have good material to show universities that you are serious about the course you have chosen. You will have lots to say in the personal statement which you will need to write as part of your university application.  If you are required to go to an interview you will then have plenty of stories and examples to explain why your subject interests you.

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