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.
Opportunity for all
Find out how we’re working to deliver more diverse, equitable and inclusive recruitment…
Recruiting a charity CEO?
Our executive recruitment specialists have an exceptional record of successful CEO, chair, trustee and…
Charity sector salaries
Check out the market rate for your charity role in the latest Harris Hill Salary Survey.
We're delighted to share the news that Harris Hill is now B Corp Certified! It makes us part of a global community of businesses meeting high standards of social and environmental impact, accountability and transparency, and leading the transformation of the global economic system. That's a big ambition, but at the simplest level, being certified is recognition that we're here for the right rea...Read more
As part of our diversity and inclusion strategy, the Harris Hill website now features the award-winning Recite Me assistive toolbar, providing a wide range of accessibility and language support tools for a more inclusive online experience. Here’s an overview of the benefits and how to use it.There’s a lot to look out for when you’re searching for a new job online. In most cases, you'll actual...Read more
Landing just ahead of the big day and 20th anniversary celebrations, meet the teams playing for glory in the 2023 Charity Softball League!Like any other year, 2003 gave the world some things we’d rather it hadn’t - war in Iraq, the SARS outbreak, the Black Eyed Peas – but over the course of that long hot summer, it also gave us (courtesy of founding father Leo Visconti) something we’re very gl...Read more
They’re certainly earning their keep in these financially-challenging times, but are charity finance professionals securing higher salaries and what’s happening in the market? Here’s what our finance experts have to say on the subject, updated from our 2023 Salary Survey, which you can view or download below for all the figures.Finance market trendsTo the world of charity finance now, whe...Read more
Candidate scarcity and high inflation have made securing new staff more challenging (and expensive) than ever, but there ARE ways to improve your hiring prospects that needn't cost a thing...(updated and extended from the 2023 Harris Hill Salary Survey)Beyond the world of marketing, where they grow on carefully-branded trees, our 2023 Salary Survey finds candidates in short supply and high dema...Read more
Hiring temps is a flexible and cost-effective way to fill gaps and bring in extra resource or skills, but if you haven't before, where should you start and what are the benefits? Freelance writer and HR specialist Nicola Greenbrook talks us through everything you need to know.What is a temp?A temporary agency worker or ‘temp’ differs from a permanent member of staff as, rather than being direc...Read more
For this week's insights from our 2023 Salary Survey it's the turn of business services, our catch-all term for the operational and support roles that keep organisations running and make things happen.You'll find the latest figures for jobs in operations, admin and support, data management, projects & programmes and HR in the survey itself, available to view or download below.Meanwhile here'...Read more
From the people who brought you the 2022 Harris Hill Salary Survey... yes, it's the 2023 Harris Hill Salary Survey which is out now, and this year we're taking a closer look at the market in several key areas.You can view or download the survey here to check out the figures:One striking feature this year is that market conditions vary substantially between charity departments – there's a wid...Read more