CV Tips

(Reading Guide. Only bother reading this if I have asked you to. It is generic advice for CV drafters. Lots of folks ask for guidance and I point them here for it before meeting them).

CVs play a smaller role in the hiring process than they used to. Technology allows for video interviews and online testing for roles. The Spectator only test and never look at CVs. Nevertheless, you need a CV and it might as well be a good one.

Pre Amble

Before writing sales literature you need to brand the product which in this context is you. So read some branding books (Wally Olin, Seth Godin) and decide what your brand is. Only then can you write a good CV. Write down the 5 adjectives which describe you as a brand. The more useful ones will be almost unique to you and beneficial to your CV reader.

Imagine you are writing for one of these two scenarios. Either, a PA has printed a load of CVs and put them on the desk of a hirer.  That person will flick over them as they take off their jacket, make their coffee etc. If one catches their eye they might ask for a meeting. The CV does no more than get you the meeting. Or in corporations, a junior HR person is going to sort a pile of say 50 CVs and sorting them into Yes, No and Maybe. None of them are ‘reading’ your CV as we understand the word. They scan them.

Lots of young people tend to be uncommercial and at some level or another resistant to sales. Whereas, senior executives in most organisations spend lots of their time getting business. Their need is for more sales by profit and volume. So your CV needs to respect the needs of your hirer, hopefully by explicitly or implicitly showing that you can contribute commercially. Fine, if you are the worlds expert on Ecuadorian Printing in the 14th Century, but how will that help the hirer. It really can, but has to be positioned.

A quality like ‘hard working’ is a poor descriptor. No one out there is saying ‘lazy’ so it does not differentiate you. ‘Fluent in French’ is better since not everyone is. Try and emphasise specialisms which make you different. Also, do not assert a quality without providing evidence of completed achievement from the quality.

If you present a CV with blocks of dense text, you are leaving the choice of which bit is ‘read’ to chance and the reader. Not good. It needs to be you that choses what is read. So leave lots of white space making it easy to read. Sentences should short and pithy and ideally only one or two per paragraph. Big blocks of text suggest a reading task that is put aside for later i.e. never.

Order is everything. Think of your CV as being in thirds and that you lose 90% of your readers every third. Clearly, you want all the good stuff at the top,

Lastly, it is not the role of your CV to describe your life i.e. chronologically. The CV is to sell you and your qualities using your life as collateral and evidence. There is a difference.


The first thing the reader sees is your name address and email, usually top centre. Ideal if the address is near where you are applying for the job eg London address for London jobs. Otherwise, you are expensive to bring to interview and there is the hassle of moving to start the job and you might end you up not liking London etc. Keep all of this out of the way. Hirer just thinks: Risk.

An email address is a chance to brand your self.  Some have which is smart. Hotmail is fine but a wasted branding opportunity. You might choose to have a blog about something you are passionate about, then why not have a URL and use that as your CV email. Of course, put your phone number on. If you have CVs out there you have to answer your phone after three rings. Emails need to be answered every half day even if it is a holding reply.

We do not need to know your middle name. I am neutral on photos but I suspect they are out of fashion now.

Then an opening paragraph. 4 lines maximum. 3 lines better. Start with the most powerful descriptors about yourself. Say what you are looking for, cite your greatest achievements etc. Assume that at the end of this you will lose 90% of your readers so make sure this is the very best of what you have.

Then describe what you have done, making sure that the benefit of having done it is spelt out for the reader. And if you assert a quality then supply evidence.

If your education is strong put it high up. If not put it at the end.

Mention things which would not have happened if you had not done them.

Sports and Hobbies is a chance to catch an eye. You might be an avid reader and play tennis but on whole even keen tennis players are not excited to meet other tennis players. But if you go caving, and you just happen to be seen by another caver they are pretty likely to want to meet you. So do not waffle on about mainstream activities. I was always a soft touch for Mountaineers and rowers, although avoided hiring people who mountaineered with guides. Whmyper said “Genltemen do not take guides”. Niche but there is a defendable logic.

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