Previously, on How To Write Your Charity Sector CV: how to approach your CV, what it's for and what you're aiming to achieve, with tips on format and design.
In part two, your career history and what to say about your roles, responsibilities and achievements, skills and qualifications, and just as importantly, what not to say at all.
What should your CV include?
As we've established, it's a concise communication, not your life story, so it needn’t exhaustively track everything you’ve ever done. That’s what Google and Facebook are for.
Everything on your CV is potentially your ticket to the interview, so focus on what’s relevant to the role in question, and what the employer needs to know.
Let’s start with the most important section.
Your career history
● Presenting your roles in reverse order serves most people pretty well, as you'll start with the most recent, typically the most relevant. In each case, provide the job title/s, organisation and dates you worked there, along with a carefully-chosen selection of your responsibilities and achievements.
● Getting that selection right is the challenge, so keep the formatting consistent, but everything else flexible so as not to restrict your choices. For example, don't feel you need five bullet points on every job, just because one has - it's likely to mean skipping relevant recent details in favour of pointless filler later on. If there's one thing we know, it's that getting the job will not come down to those six months in 2009 where your ‘duties included photocopying and answering the telephone’.
Give yourself more space for roles that are relevant to the application, and tailor your descriptions to the audience. Which is to say, if your application's going to the Head of Events, they'll have a pretty good idea what an events manager does, but if you’re moving into a new area, you may need to provide more detail, to highlight transferable skills.
● Remember that responsibilities and achievements are different things. Saying you 'were responsible for x' tells us what the job involves, but not how well you performed. For that, you’ll need achievements: tangible results, outcomes or pieces of work for which you can legitimately take credit. Where it was a team effort, don’t claim otherwise but do highlight what you personally brought to the project that contributed to its success.
Where possible, quantify your achievements with numbers, because it gives them a clear, unambiguous meaning: 'improved x significantly' is subjective, but we all know exactly how impressed to be with 'increased x by 30%'.
● Most employers still prefer to see a history of fewer, longer-term jobs over a succession of short term roles. This might seem a little harsh in the current climate, with its ‘flexible workforce’, ‘gig economy’ and other popular euphemisms for ‘zero job security’ that mean you may have had little choice. Not to mention a global pandemic that may have upended even the most carefully-laid career paths.
What's behind it, however, is the cost and time involved in securing new staff: hiring managers like to feel confident you'll stay in the post for a couple of years or more, so they won't have to repeat the process in just a few months' time. If your career to date suggests you won't stick around, but you're actually looking to, address it head on and make that abundantly clear both here and in any accompanying communications.
What else to include
● Kicking off with some kind of grand personal statement is optional, but if you’re going to, keep it to a single paragraph, the best of which in our view tell us what you want to do, not just who you are.
'Inspirational' quotes, however, are best left where they belong: ruining perfectly good pictures of sunsets on your annoying friend's Instagram feed.
● Your key skills and professional or specialist qualifications, including any relevant training you’ve completed and software packages you’re familiar with. Details of your education too, but not too many, of which more in a moment.
● Your charity-related experience, as discussed in part one.
What not to include
Two A4 sides is already pretty tight for all the things you need to cover, so the last thing you need is pointless clutter. Here's what you can safely ditch:
This one’s partly cultural as it’s standard practice in certain parts of the world. However under the UK's 2010 Equality Act your appearance should not be considered when hiring, and nor should your age, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, disability or other ‘protected characteristics’. Except in very specific circumstances, prospective employers should not ask about these matters, and whatever they know already must not influence their decisions.
So definitely no photos. Not even if you’re ridiculously attractive: all you’re likely to achieve is the decision maker being extra-critical to avoid appearing biased.
Similarly, while the newly-divorced HR Director reading your CV will no doubt be thrilled to hear of your 25th anniversary and three lovely children, they're unable to do anything with this intel other than try to pretend they’ve forgotten it, so it’s best not mentioned at all.
Did you know?
Most recruitment agencies, ourselves included, actually remove your name and personal details before sending your CV to a client. This helps to protect your privacy and reduces the risk of discrimination due to unconscious bias: decisions can only be made on the content of your CV and not, for example, on the perceived ethnicity of your name.
Interests and hobbies
What you do in your spare time is – by law - no concern of employers, so these are often just taking up space. Sharing that you ‘enjoy keeping up with current affairs, reading and good food’ (watching Netflix while scrolling through social media with a takeaway) tells us nothing beyond the fact you're alive, generally the absolute bare minimum of minimum requirements.
Interests are really only worth mentioning if they're directly relevant to the role, or at a push, something genuinely impressive.
We'd skip it altogether, but if you're going to include interests, try to explain why you enjoy them, what skills they require/have given you, and how (ideally) that relates to the job.
‘References available on request'
As are everyone else’s. It goes without saying, so ditch it to claw back space for something more useful.
Salaries of previous roles
There’s nothing to be gained here - you’re simply telling employers what you’re likely to accept, which may be considerably less than they were planning to pay. There's no reason you should be paid less in a new role just because you were underpaid in the last one.
Your full academic history in unrelenting detail
Look away now in the unlikely event you’re under 16, but once you’ve started working (are you looking away?), hiring decisions are never going to hinge on your GCSE Geography grade.
Your most recent/highest qualification – and I wish there were a better word here - trumps the others: once you have a degree, no-one cares about your ‘A’ Levels, and if you have a PhD, we’ll just assume you breezed through GCSEs. Even if you didn’t, it doesn’t matter - you've got a PhD - but if you are under 16 (you can look back now), it’s also very important to remember that your GCSE grades are Vitally Important For Your Future. Yes indeed.
So include academic qualifications, but not in great detail. Subjects are fine for your highest level, but something like ‘10 GCSEs at grades A-C’ is the most you need say about those, if anything. If they’re not great, leave them out, or better still convert to the new grading system so the employer has no idea if they’re any good, but now feels too old and out of touch to be judging you. You’re welcome.
To sum this up in seven points:
Remember it’s a communication and a marketing tool, not some ancient official record.
Know your target audience and your strengths, then tell them in a way that’s clear, concise and consistent.
Write for a human audience and bring your charity experience to the fore.
Focus on what’s relevant to the role and what the employer needs to know.
Tailor your work history to your audience: say more about the most relevant roles and less about the rest.
BRING IT ON: simple layouts, Word docs, quantifiable achievements, skills and professional qualifications, short personal statements, clear commitment to the sector.
BE GONE: elaborate designs, photos, overly personal details, irrelevant interests, references on request, meaningless jargon, what you scored in Miss Richardson’s test at the end of Year 9.
We hope you'll find this a useful contribution to the CV adviceberg, and helpful when it comes to writing your CV.
It's by no means the only way to approach your CV of course, and for legal reasons we should probably mention that it won’t guarantee you a brilliant job or a lifetime of success - there's still every opportunity to spend your later years an embittered husk of your former self, wondering where it all went wrong in a regional Wetherspoons.
But at least by applying these methods, it (probably) won’t be down to your job applications.
Good luck with your search!
David Young, Director of Marketing, Harris Hill, with the invaluable assistance of our charity recruitment specialists.
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