In our first article in this series, we looked at the ‘Standard CV’, provided some historical context and highlighted the importance of tailoring the CV to different roles. We also put to bed the idea of a perfect ‘one-size-fits-all’ CV. Our next article picks up where we left off as we explore the eclectic world of ‘Alternative CVs’ and take a closer look at how individuals in particular industries go to increasingly creative lengths to stand out in competitive labour markets.

Sending the right message – why ‘knowing your CVs’ is important

We have already established the importance of tailoring a CV to the intended role or job description in our last article and sometimes an even more bespoke approach to CV writing is needed in relation to particular industries or job roles, meaning that understanding the different types of CVs can be vital to communicating the right message. For example, many international students who are used to putting together shorter, more concise CVs for their home countries, complete with a photo of themselves and additional icons and graphics, can find it something of a shock when they prepare to enter the UK labour market and are presented with templates for more traditional and potentially, less visually arresting CVs (although this of course depends on the sector!). Similarly, a student who has produced a punchy, retail-oriented one-page CV for their first part-time job is unlikely to achieve the same level of success when using this document to support their application for a Higher or Degree level apprenticeship or graduate role in the engineering sector. Whether someone is looking to break into the investment sector or the US job market (where a one-page, concise CV is often preferred), applying to a legal firm (where commercial awareness and relevant legal experience are key areas to emphasise) or forging a career in academia (throw the two-page rule out of the window to accommodate research and publications), understanding how to adapt a CV to a particular role or job description is  a valuable tool in any individual’s employability arsenal.

Fortunately for aspiring job seekers, there are plenty of resources available to support them in identifying the right format for the CV they are planning to write. Prospects has a host of example CVs from Academic to Technical which provide an excellent starting point for identifying the key differences between certain formats, while other websites like Monster, Canva or Zety can provide advice and example CVs covering a range of sectors or inspiration for individuals looking to craft their own unique CV. As mentioned in our first article, reaching out to employers, recruiters, academics or careers advisers specialising in particular sectors can also be a great way to gain additional insights into how appropriate a CV might be in relation to the types of roles an individual is applying for. As well as offering advice on the format and structure of the document itself, they may also be able to provide examples of what language or tone really resonates with the employers or recruiters scrutinising each CV.

Although some of the examples above may seem especially niche, one format of ‘Alternative CV’ tends to gain prominence above the rest (though not always for the right reasons!) – the ‘Creative CV’.


T-shirts, graphics and photos – waving farewell to the traditional CV template?

The ‘Creative CV’ is perhaps the most recognisable ‘Alternative CV’ format, particularly in regard to some of the wildly innovative examples that have gained prominence on platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. While the inspiration behind many creative CVs is linked to the industry sector job seekers are hoping to stand out in – such as Graphic Design, Architecture or Photography – many other job seekers are now turning to this format to help differentiate themselves in the eyes of recruiters, using everything from icons, photographs and ‘Skills Bars’ (showcasing their skills and achievements in an infographic format) to outside-the-box formats (see below) to attract the attention of hiring managers.

So what do some of these bold, innovative new CVs look like? A recent article from Save the Student provides an illuminating insight into some of the different lengths that individuals go to in order to highlight their USPs (unique selling points). This includes everything from creatively packaged chocolate bars designed by marketing professionals and stylishly developed video game CVs from games developers, to printed t-shirt or shoebox CVs from budding graphic and fashion designers, and the use of QR codes to link employers and recruiters to online profiles, portfolios and videos of the applicant’s work. This creative approach to tailoring a CV to a particular sector or employer can sometimes lead to high-profile success (see examples above) but are not necessarily a silver bullet for job applications, as there is no standard rubric or template to work from and opinions on the success rate of unusual formats are naturally likely to vary. Although it may be a little early to sound the death knell of the traditional CV format, the ready availability of design software like Canva and creative inspiration from websites like Pinterest suggest that the ‘Creative CV’ is an approach that innovative job seekers will continue to experiment with moving forward – or at least certainly as long as humans are involved in the hiring process!


Different strokes… but content is still king

The CV examples highlighted above may provide an interesting discussion point, but how well received are they by employers? While icons, unusual canvases and well thought out CV designs can certainly be eye-catching, the substance behind the style is of course of equal, if not greater importance. After all, a skill bar detailing the level of an applicant’s transferable skills, such as communication, collaboration and attention to detail may look more appealing than a simple bullet-point list, but without additional detail and/or benchmarks, what does having ‘advanced interpersonal skills’ actually mean to an employer? At the AGCAS Annual Conference 2019 held this September at the University of Manchester, the question of style over substance in CV writing was put directly to two keynote speakers who regularly recruit for creative roles: Ken Lee of the University of Central Lancashire (formerly of the BBC) and Trish Brady of ITV. Although both Ken and Trish noted that they had received examples of more creative CVs hoping to stand out from other entries (such as the t-shirt example mentioned earlier in the article), their feedback from an employer’s perspective was telling – content is still king, and a stylish design is only beneficial if it serves to highlight clearly that the candidate has the skills, knowledge, experience and personal qualities which would make them a good match for the role they are applying for.

In our previous article, we drew reference to the importance of CV writers adopting a 360° perspective to CV feedback in order to gain a greater range of perspectives on the effectiveness of the document. This is perhaps even more vital in relation to creative CVs, where the design can be just as subjective as the content itself. By reaching out to a range of critical friends for feedback on their CVs, job seekers will be better able to ascertain what message their CV is sending out to employers and whether the innovative and arresting designs they have crafted really do emphasise their unique selling point as a professional.


Express yourself – the next stage of CV evolution?

As some of the examples we have explored earlier in this article attest to, many individuals are now beginning to use their CVs as a platform to express their individuality, as well as their employability. Although we have heard employers reflect that content is still king, competitive labour markets and the ability to utilise social media platforms such as LinkedIn or Twitter to directly connect with prospective employers (and vice versa, as a tool for recruiters to reach out to potential candidates) has heralded the appearance of some high-profile expressive CVs, such as this recent inventive cereal-related example from an intrepid job seeker featured in the Metro. Additionally, advancements in the use of technology within recruitment, such as video interviews, are providing job seekers with more opportunities to showcase their personality earlier than usual in the application process, suggesting that developing confidence in expressing and articulating oneself is likely to become even more important for prospective applicants.

With the above in mind, some organisations and individuals are beginning to take matters into their own hands, with the development of new, innovative CV formats like the Video CV. Our next article takes a deeper dive into this emerging practice in the world of CVs, with insights from Jamie Mackay regarding his work with MAKEMEAVIDEOCV and how this medium could potentially change the way we approach the creation of our CVs moving forward. We are hoping these articles stimulate further discussion on the subject of CVs, so please feel free to contact us on LinkedIn or post your comments below the article to share your thoughts on the subject!



Chris Webb LinkedInChris Webb 

A registered career development professional and member of the Career Development Institute (CDI) and Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS), Chris has previously worked for education institutions in secondary education, FE and HE as a Careers Leader, Careers Adviser, Functional Skills Tutor and Study Programme Coordinator.

Dr Jamie MackayDr Jamie Mackay 

With over 15 years’ experience in higher education and the careers space, Jamie is proud to be a connector of people and opportunities. In this role, he is currently working with the HE and voluntary sectors to provide job seekers and career changers with a lucrative tool to make their job profiles stand out – and rehumanise the CV in the process. Jamie is also Skills Strategy Manager with the Enterprise M3 Local Enterprise Partnership.