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A Great Curriculum Vitae/Résumé……..the Evidence.

One of the first questions clients usually ask me about is the help to create a great CV/résumé. The belief is it will get them the position or role they want, or perhaps need for their career progression. It’s generally a low impact way to seek professional career coaching support for career/job change. It can also be perhaps a “one-stop shop” just to start to the process of change. Most people I speak to have read the countless books, taken the advice given via social media and the internet. Or have just relied on what they have done in the past. There is one big question for me as a geeky psychologist working with careers, however. Where is the research that will help create that winning CV or résumé time after time?

The Truth of the Matter

The sad truth of the matter is there is very little proper empirical evidence about what constitutes a great CV. Even less evidence for that matter for covering letters. Now it could be argued that a great CV is the one that gets you the job or secures you that new role.  That view it is very difficult to argue against of course. However, looking for evidence requires a little more digging to help clients move forward with a CV that they can use as a working document for their future career.

The Evidence

So where to start with the empirical evidence for a great CV? Now research does show that good advice is given for structure of CV such as chronological, functional/skills-based or hybrid but there is little known about what to put into the CV (Thomas et al 1999). This suggests that there is plenty of advice out there in books and the internet but it is mostly anecdotal and subjective in nature. Needless to say, recruiters & careers advisors will have a view etc……………. but who is right?

According to Julia Yates (2014), there are three key areas to focus upon

  • Academic qualifications
  • Work experience
  • Extracurricular activities

Depending on where you are in your career the weighting of these elements will change. For example, if you are starting out at work, you will probably place more emphasis upon the extracurricular activities & academic qualification.  However, a more experienced individual will be expected to focus on their achievements and work experience. Good grades in your qualifications are worth highlighting, though perhaps where you haven’t done so well may be worth leaving the grades out (Thomas et al 1999).

Brown & Campion (1994) conducted some interesting research with US college students suggesting that if young people wanted to showcase their drive & energy then more or less anything will be acceptable – exam grades, activities at school or achievements at work etc. However, to highlight your social and interpersonal skills, the after-school clubs or where you captained a team seemed to interest employers. Any leadership skills can be highlighted by the evidence you have in a work context of supervising others etc. Interestingly there is no link from this research with sporting achievements and impressing employers.

What Employers Want

Clearly, employers are more interested in concrete examples of achievements in a work context rather than self-aggrandising statements. Finding examples of a desirable skill or experiences that match the culture, language and essentials for the job & employer will more than likely impress over and above a list of positive adjectives.  Lastly, Thomas et al (1999) suggested that accomplishment statements (achievements) and a targeted career goal or objective within the CV/résumé such as “seeking a sales managers role in a leading confectionery business” helps just as an unspecified one doesn’t.

We also have the vexed question of discrimination and declaring an illness or disability within a CV/résumé. There has been some research that indicates that having a declared mental health condition makes the candidate less employable. Whereas those with a physical disability were more employable. Though a non-disabled person from the research is most employable. Notwithstanding the prejudice against men in traditionally female roles and against women in traditionally male roles (Brioult & Bentley 2000). So as you can see CV/résumé structure & content is a minefield of advice, evidence, anecdotes and just plain old school illegal discrimination.

What to do next?

So where does this potted history of the scant evidence of CV’s/résumé’s leave us? Well with a lot of advice and anecdotal models but little evidence of that elusive winning CV. Though I would like to try to draw the evidence toward a useful model of how to create a CV/résumé.  To that aim, I will use a great CV impact checklist (pp 71) developed by my good chum Peter Fennah in his straightforward e-book The Elite MBA CV; Executive Impact (2014)

CV Impact Checklist (Fennah, 2014)

  • Career Profile/Summary –
    • What message do you gain from reading the profile?
    • Can you easily identify their Unique Selling Proposition?
    • Is there a person here or just machine-gunned achievements?
  • Presentation
    • On first glance is the CV: crisp; clear; clean; focused; easy to find information, keywords are
      used in tune with the level of the role, etc.?
  • Language: Is there evidence of:
    • Positive, action & success orientated language, e.g. proactive, led, re-focused,
      overcame, aligned, transformed, creating, resulting in, progressing, demonstrating, etc.
    • Avoid words that have negative inferences, e.g. however, damaged, cut, slashed,
      merely, mistake, failed, etc.
    • Are outcomes, profit, and time scales clearly mentioned?
  • Spelling & Flow
    • Poor spelling, repetition or inaccurate language use in your own CV – your best sales
      document – does not demonstrate attention to detail or good communication
  • Powerful Impact
    • Can you picture this person in your mind? How would you describe them? What:
      management style; problem-solving approach; interpersonal skills; personal qualities;
      communication ability; strategic thinking; technical aptitude; customer skills; strengths
      & weaknesses, etc. do you think they have? Does this fit the role?
  • Social Agility
    • Recruiters are looking for a ‘well rounded’ person able to work at all levels creating
      meaningful relationships.

The Never Ending CV/Résumé 

Of course, the CV/résumé is never completed. It’s a fluid document that will need to be adapted to every role you apply for. It will need to incorporate the specifics from the job & person specification. Where you match the specifications and where your transferable skills can be applied to meed gaps. You will have the chance to demonstrate what you bring to the role and how you will contribute to the business or organisational success. More importantly how you will “fit” with the organisational culture, beliefs and values. No easy task I am sure you will agree.


I appreciate that this is a long article and hope you stayed the course. The subject of CV & résumés is not a straightforward exercise or a linear process of joining the dots. However, it is a creative and strategic opportunity to showcase your career to date and its trajectory. The CV forms a central part of your career planning and supports your motivation by highlighting your achievements, legacy, value and successes etc.  The CV/résumé is your chance to highlight where you have met challenges and overcome them to secure promotion and a greater sense of meaning in your work.

So never underestimate your CV/résumé. Even if it used to identify who you are at work, to help create the landscape and a call to action for change in your career.




Bright, J (2010) “Brilliant CV: What Employers Want to See and How to Write it” Prentice Hall; 4 edition

Fennah, P. (2014) “The Elite MBA CV; Executive Impact” bookboon.com (pp 71)

Lees, J. (2013) “Knockout CV: How to Get Noticed, Get Interviewed & Get Hired” McGraw-Hill Professional

Mills, C (2015) “You’re Hired! CV: How to write a brilliant CV” Trotman

Yates, J. (2014) “The Career Coaching Handbook” Routledge, Abingdon UK.



Bricout, J. C. and Bentley, K. J. (2000) Disability status and perceptions of employability by employers. Social Work Research, 24(2): 87.

Brown, B. K. & Campion (1994) “Biodata phenomenology: Recruiters perceptions and use of biographical information in résumé screening” Journal of Applied Psychology, 79(6): 897-908

Fennah, P. (2014) “The Elite MBA CV; Executive Impact” bookboon.com (pp 71)

Thomas, P., McMasters, R., M.R. and Domowski, D.A. (1999) “Résumés characteristics as predictors of an invitation to interview”. Journal of Business and Psychology 13(3): 339-356

Yates, J. (2014) “The Career Coaching Handbook” Routledge, Abingdon UK.

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