What is a CV?

I couldn’t begin this blog with anything other than a definition of territory. This definition is not as straightforward as it may seem however.

It is well known that Curriculum Vitae translates as the ‘course of life’, and that is fine, but what clues does that give you about the structure and content of your CV? In truth, not very many! I say this because if you treat the CV as a story telling exercise, you will miss a huge opportunity to be significantly more persuasive. Also, despite CVs having been a foundation of the way recruitment is done for longer than any of us can remember, the average applicant is not actually getting any better at writing one.

Guidance and templates abound, but the results whenever I recruit, far from being a pile of well written well informed pieces of persuasive writing, are a lot of documents that look the same but are not particularly persuasive.

So, what is a CV?

Let’s start by acknowledging what it is not. It is not an objective list of facts. Of course it’s not – it’s written with a particular purpose in mind – to get you an interview. So let’s not treat it like a list of facts. There is no value in following supposed rules about what should and shouldn’t go on a CV and in what order. We are all different and this should be reflected in the CV.

I define a CV as an opportunity to write persuasively about why you should be shortlisted for a role, providing credible evidence in support of this. Write it with this in mind and you will soon see that the template based approach is actually a huge constraint to actually being successful.

But there are some expectations

Of course we should not use gimmicks and we should not be too maverick if we are applying to very traditional organisations. Two pages on white paper with black ink is still a necessity in those kinds of roles. If you are a graphic designer however, then this would be complete anathema to you and probably the employer. If you are an architect, fashion or interior designer then there is an argument for subtle use of images on your CV if designed well. This is part of the credible evidence that transforms your CV from a bland list of facts to a persuasive document.

CV structure

A profile section at the start, which is like an introduction to you and your background is very useful – I have yet to come across any situation in which this did not add huge value to a CV. Its purpose is to give the reader a positive overview before reading on for more detail. A competency based CV is worth considering for some candidates, where you wish to emphasise particular examples of skills and experiences rather than the roles themselves. If you are seeking a career change or only have a small amount of experience then this could be for you. These techniques are sometimes referred to as ‘trendy’ but for me they are no such thing – they are simply sensible ways of getting yourself selected.

Whichever structure you use, it’s the persuasiveness of the content that matters – so find a way of emphasising your achievements rather than tasks and processes.

Graeme Jordan

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CV Writer and Interview Coach. Blogging about ways to improve your CV writing and job searching experience.

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