Social Worlds in 100 Objects, Themes and Ideas

The curriculum vitae

A ticket to a job interview. Professor Melanie Simms examines the challenge facing today’s young people as they try to build a CV.

We all have one, even if it isn’t written down. A CV summarises some of our experiences up to a certain moment in time. It is never complete. It always includes some things and excludes others. It captures what we think the reader wants to know about us – usually because we are trying to persuade them to give us a job.

Leonardo Da Vinci created the first known CV in 1482. It became popular among travelling craftsmen to write a list of their achievements and previous employers who could be contacted for confirmation of the quality of their work. As travel became more widespread, organisations became more structured and formal, and getting a job relied less directly on personal contacts, the CV and reference letter became more established. By the 1950s it was an expected part of many job applications.

These days a CV outlines the skills and work experience of the job candidate and there are websites, books, training sessions and advisers who can help people write an effective CV. Websites such as LinkedIn help job seekers network with recruiters and promote their skills and experience. The current trend is to highlight skills development above formal work roles. So while the format of CVs has changed, the basic purpose hasn’t.

Some people face bigger challenges than others writing their CV. Young people who lack work experience and skills, unemployed people and others who have been out of the labour market, and people who might have skills that are no longer needed all find it difficult to present an effective CV. Young people in particular have found that the ways to build skills and experience have been changing.

The development of ‘internships’ to gain experience is not a new phenomenon, but its spread across a wide range of occupations is. As is the expectation in some companies that young people take on these roles on an unpaid basis, or for long periods. At the same time, concerns have been raised about the quality of apprenticeship and training provision which can make it difficult for workers to build the skills they need.

For young people, the unemployed and others who have been out of the labour market, advice to focus on ‘employability skills’ is useless if they can’t access the training and jobs they need to build their CV. Technology is revolutionising how we present our CVs to prospective employers, but we must all remember what it was like to be the ‘new girl’ or ‘new boy’ in our first job making those first, tentative steps to building our CVs.

Professor Melanie Simms

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