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How to write your charity sector CV - part 1

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It's your personal marketing tool and essential to your charity job search, but what makes a good CV and what do charities look for? Harris Hill's marketing director David Young trapped several of our specialists on a Zoom call to find out, and here’s the resulting advice, in the first of a two-part guide.

​How to write your charity sector CV

There are, you may have noticed, quite a few CV-writing guides around already. Some very sound, some a little dated, and some by Americans who insist on calling it a résumé, unaware that stealing French words to mask gaps in your language is a shameful faux pas. Steal from the Romans or whoever once they've died out and nobody can sue.

So why are we adding to this giant adviceberg?

Well, if we're not counting 'for the clicks, obviously', there are three reasons. First, because many of us go for years without updating our CV, and what worked back then won’t necessarily do so now. Second, because most CV advice assumes you're applying to businesses, not charities. And third, because as we still see only too often, sometimes bad CVs happen to good people and it breaks our gin-soaked recruitment hearts.

Simply put, we want to see you succeed, so let’s look at how to write a CV that will maximise your chances.

What you're aiming for

First, it’s worth stepping back to look at what a CV is, and what it’s there for.

‘Curriculum Vitae’ might sound like some dusty old artefact of historical record, but far from it. More than anything, it's a communication, a present-day profile designed to market you and your very best qualities to the recipient. Like on many of today’s popular ‘socialising’ apps but without the unrequested photos you'll never unsee.

As such, you don't need to try and emulate some antiquated formal style, but it does make sense to apply some time-honoured marketing principles. Specifically:

1. Understand your strengths and identify your key selling points.

The more clearly you can define and explain what you’ve got to offer, the more people will buy into it.

2. Identify your target audience and focus on appealing to them.

If you’re urgently job-seeking, it’s tempting to cast the net as far and wide as possible, but trying to include something of interest to everyone is the path to interesting no-one, as you’ll know if you’ve ever seen The One Show.

3. Having identified your audience and what you’ve got to offer, tell them about it as clearly, effectively and engagingly as you can.

Which brings us neatly on to… ​

Format and design

As a communication, it's all about getting your message across clearly, so remember what we’ll imaginatively call the three ‘C’s of CV design. Make it:


Don’t overcomplicate the layout with too many elements or design flourishes. Keep it simple, check your spelling, and always use terms that people outside your organisation will understand.


Two sides of A4 at most. The more experience you have, the more challenging this becomes, but keeping it short will force you to filter out all but the most essential, relevant points.


Use an easily-legible font (just the one) for your main text, no less than 10pt size. Don’t shrink it to squeeze more in; cut text instead. And whatever your formatting choices for things like dates and headings, apply them ruthlessly throughout.

As for what you use to create it, the world's your alleged aphrodisiac, but the final format should be one that anyone can view - most people opt for PDF or Word documents. Many recruiters, ourselves included, actually favour good old Microsoft Word docs, as they're easily integrated with our database.

Things to consider for a charity sector CV

Charity CVs aren't radically different from anyone else's, but if you’re used to the corporate world, there are a few things to be aware of:

• It’ll be read by actual humans

Much current CV discourse concerns the latest dystopian wheeze: automated readers that can reject your CV before it ever reaches human eyes. Popular with big business (naturally), they’re known as applicant tracking systems, presumably because the alternatives didn’t make candidates sound enough like hunted prey.

Happily, at the time of writing in early 2023, things are a little less Hunger Games in the charity sector and here at Harris Hill. Gone are the days when you'd have to print your CV on paper, slide it into a paper packet, stick a tiny picture of the Queen in the top right corner and push it into a sort of giant red pepperpot in the street - I’m honestly not making this up - but we’re a long way from it being read exclusively by robots.

Which means you can write for a human audience, so it’s less about regurgitating keywords in the right place and more about painting a meaningful picture of what you bring to the table.

• Charity experience matters

…and should feature prominently, so if you haven't worked for a charity, make space to flag up anything charity-related that you’ve done in your job or your free time. Charities like to see an ongoing commitment to the sector, so give yourself plenty to say by getting involved in charity activities, which ideally means more than simply wolfing down macaroons at a bake sale (although arguably a skill you may need).

Fortunately, through the magic of volunteering, charities are among the easiest organisations to get involved with: far more of us have done something for charity than have had a bash at selling derivatives, for example, and not just because we don’t know what they are.

• Different skills have value

Some qualities – being resilient, self-motivated, proactive – are an asset wherever you work, but 'softer' attributes - sensitivity, empathy, compassion - can be highly valued by charities, while apparently a hindrance in certain parts of the private sector.

• ​Supporting statements

Instead of a covering letter, you’ll more likely be asked to pair your CV with a supporting statement, a slightly more structured way of showing you have the skills required. For more on these, see our earlier blog on how to write a great supporting statement.

Having established the approach to take and what you're trying to achieve, what should your CV actually say?

And what can you easily get rid of to free up valuable space? Read on to find out in part two.

Read part two

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