October 31, 2019

The CV: An Irreverent History

As you know, we’re in recruitment and if there’s one thing we know about, it’s the CV. We’ve seen plenty of great ones and we’ve seen plenty of awful ones. We’ve seen some submitted on toilet paper (more than you’d think) and we once had a guy who thought it prudent to print it on the front of his t-shirt when he came in to see us.

The story about how the CV first came about may surprise you.


Oh Really, This Is The Age Of The Internet, Not Much Surprises Us…


Before being recognised as perhaps the world’s greatest ever polymath and one of the most diversely talented people ever to have walked the Earth, Leonardo da Vinci was a humble artist, trying to scrape a living. It’s hard to imagine that a man whose areas of genuine expertise included painting, drawing, sculpture, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, astronomy, botany, anatomy, cartography and palaeontology was ever hard up for work but in his early career, he was.

In 1482, the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza was on the lookout for military engineers and as talented as he was, da Vinci wrote him a letter explaining why he was qualified for the role. The translation and scan of the original is here, and it’s worth a read.

More a letter than a CV as we know it but as the 16th century came about, the practice became more common as travelling craftsmen and labourers noted down their achievements as they moved from town to town and needed introductions to local guildsmen or the lord of the manor looking for work.

This tradition carried on for centuries until the early 1930s when the age of the formal job interview was upon us but even then they were no more than scribbled notes.


The Modern CV


Latin for ‘the course of my life’, the Curriculum Vitae is, according to the Open University, ‘a concise document which summarises an individual’s unique skills, character, experience and achievements. It outlines a person’s academic and professional history which is usually used for applying for jobs.’

In 1937 after 25 years researching the world’s most successful people, Napoleon Hill wrote Think and Grow Rich which is, so say medium.com, ‘one of the universally recognized personal development masterpieces’ and has sold something like 100m copies and it was he who first understood the importance of a CV (which he called a ‘brief’).

‘This brief should be prepared as carefully as a lawyer would prepare the brief of a case to be tried in court. Unless the applicant is experienced in the preparation of such briefs, an expert should be consulted, and his services enlisted for this purpose. Successful merchants employ men and women who understand the art and the psychology of advertising to present the merits of their merchandise. One who has personal services for sale should do the same.’

Fast-forward to the 1950s and the CV became a more formalised document and was expected to be produced at the start of a job application. Back then, the CV would include personal information such as religion, marital status and weight – questions that would wind you up in court these days – but they were different times. Into the 1960s and 70s the type of information included in a CV was widened to talk about outside interests, designed to offer the interviewer a broader picture of a candidates’ personality.

The 70s and 80s ushered in the age of the word processor so the CV became a more consistent document and in 1984, the first guide to writing a CV was published, inventively named ‘How to Write Your CV’.

As the digital age arrived, CVs got more and more sophisticated. There was an accepted format and every job site in the known universe produced their own ‘How To Write A Great CV’ eBook, blog post or article for SEO juice. Gone were the requests for marital status, religion, weight and heaven knows what else and in were they days of salary expectations, LinkedIn URL and requests for travel subsidisation.

Today, instead two bits of stapled A4 paper, candidates have taken to some VERY creative ways of submitting their CVs including a YouTube video, infographics and a massive sweet wrapper. In theory a good idea if you’re looking for a job in a hipster design studio in Shoreditch but not great if you’re looking for a paralegal role in a 150-year old law firm.


How Do I Write A CV Then?


For starters, there’s no such thing as rules when it comes to the perfect CV. Chances are, the ultra-hip agency cats will appreciate a funky video but what about if you’re applying to be a pharmacist, bank manager or accountant?

Your CV is your opening salvo, a marketing tool, your shop window. It’s a ready-reckoner for a prospective boss to determine whether they’d like to interview you and regardless of where you’re applying and the level of creativity you’re offering, here are the headline do’s and don’ts – the rest is up to you!

Don’t Lie – if you don’t think the firm you’re applying to join won’t do their own background checks on you, including checking your Facebook posts, Tweets and Insta uploads, you’re crazy. They will.

Do Sell Yourself – tell them why you stand head and shoulders above the noise. You have unique qualities, personality traits, skills and experiences. Let them know why they should hire you.

Don’t Leave Unexplained Holes – if there was an 18-month gap between jobs two and three, you’ll need to front up as to why. Prison, career holiday, travelling, finding yourself on a Thai commune or unemployed, they will ask and you should have an answer.

Do Put Yourself First – your personal statement is the headline that should leave the reader wanting more. Where you went to school and the degree you got in 1991 is secondary to who you really are, your ambitions, goals and personality. When you buy a new car, is it the technical specification or the glossy pictures that entice you in?

Do Be Clear and Concise – DO. NOT. WAFFLE. Nothing will consign your CV to be filed under B for bin quicker than a novel on who you are and why you’ve dreamed about accountancy since you were a child. You can fill in those gaps during the interview but your CV should be no longer than two pages, easy to read and waffle-free.

Don’t Make Mistakes – Grammar, punctuation and spelling are immediate job prospect killers. When you think you’re done, read it over. Then get your partner to read it. Then your mum, your sister, your next-door neighbour, your kid’s form teacher, your bus driver and then your vet. There cannot be a single error. Not a single error. We can’t emphasise that fact enough.


But Of Course, People Do…


No piece on CVs is complete without shaming those who have made errors so grave they make it into internet top ten lists, so here’s ours.

The Irony Guy

Skills: Strong work ethic, attention to detail, team player, self-motivated, attention to detail.

The ‘Eager-To-Please’ Guy

Communication: I communicate, yes. Want to know how many ways I can communicate? All the ways. That’s right. Need me to say stuff? I can do that. Want me to type some stuff? Done. Talk on the phone? Call me right now and guess what? I’ll answer so politely it will amaze you.

The ‘Drug Dealer’ Guy

2009-2012 Telecommunication Sales & Installations

2004 – 2009 – Graphic Designer

1999 – 2004 – Marijuana Dealer & Nefarious Dude – good with money, ran my own delivery service, high customer satisfaction, access to several excusive county penitentiary facilities…

The ‘Eager Actor’ Guy

Exceedingly handsome and suave leading man, just finished playing a dodgy geezer. Was very realistic. I’d love to audition for ________________…

The ‘God’s Gift’ Guy

Devilishly Handsome – Prom King two years in a row with two different Queens
Ridiculously Smart – I can solve a Rubik’s Cube in front of your face. I’ll bring one
Pinpoint Accuracy – Once killed a hawk with a ninja death star
King of Office Morale – When girls cry in the office, I’m all sympathetic and shit

The ‘Or Whatever’ Guy

Objective: To claw my way kicking and screaming to the top by any means necessary, but to then be a fair and just ruler and bring your company to new heights, or whatever.

The ‘Not That Type Of Experience’ Guy

What experience do you have that make you a suitable candidate for the role of marketing Assistant: I’m pretty experienced with the McDonald’s menu and I was once bucked off a horse. Also, life coach.

The ‘Too Much Info’ Guy

Hobbies and Interests:

Cheese, I mean serious amounts of cheese. The smellier the better. Cheese rocks.
Going to Church

The ‘I Don’t Care’ Guy

2007 – Lost virginity
2008 – Graduated in three years, not four – legend
2009 – Almost got tricked into marriage
2010 – Experimented with Class B drugs
2011 – Rejected Buddha’s teachings in favour of my own
2012 – Got email from YouTube saying I was funny
2013 – Will drag your sorry company up from where it is to where I want it to be

The ‘Will Eventually Be A Serial Killer’ Guy

Education: Read To Kill A Mockingbird with I was 11. Divorced my parents aged 11. They don’t call it ‘high’ school for nothing. Moved into the jungle to study leaf behaviour. Just come back.

Work History: I will say ‘Hello’ when a customer walks in (only 45% of the time). If it’s an old lady, you do it (they smell and wig me out.) When I start a job I eventually might get it done. Forget the rest, hire the best. I’m the best at it. Hire me bro.

Since 1482 when Leonardo da Vinci told the Duke of Milan that he was good at building bridges and painting, the CV has refused to go away. There’s a good reason for that. Make sure yours is an absolute belter.

Catch you soon.

The Liquid Team