As a CV writer, I am naturally interested in the history of the CV, and loved reading the National Career Service’s infographic on the evolution of the CV from its early origins in 1482 to its present day. Taking the theme further, I wanted to add a little more depth to the conversation, based on my own family’s involvement with the CV. So, what do you do when you have a burning question? You ask your dad, of course.

Back in the day, my dad managed a Jobcentre. Given his line of work, you could say that he was the family’s first CV expert, so to speak. I recently quizzed him about how the CV has evolved over the past 40 years (a statement which makes him sound a lot older than he actually is). Here’s what he told me.

When were you first aware of CVs being used and how?

CVs were first used for executive posts and, as the labour market deteriorated in the 1980s, they became commonplace for job applications in other white collar fields. During this period, it was no longer as easy to simply walk from one job to the next. There was a shortage of advertised vacancies, and more people contacted employers on a speculative basis for job opportunities.

Jobseekers made speculative visits to a potential employer, hand-delivering their CV. Postage was the other main option. Fax was rarely used.

As the decade progressed, CVs became more prevalent as a means to present your skills and experience in a succinct and favourable light.

What were CVs like in the early days?

CVs in their early form listed work experience, qualifications, and interests. Lack of technology meant that many were hand-written or typed up by a friend. As the 80s progressed and unemployment rose, more and more employers requested a CV as a means to sift a high volume of applicants.

During this period, job search assistance became more readily available. Jobcentres offered literature and advice to help candidates draw up simple CVs. Individuals who had been unemployed for over 13 weeks were eligible to have job search costs (postage, fax) paid for by the Jobcentre.

How did CVs evolve during the late 1980s and 1990s?

In the 1990s, CV applications became standard practice for blue-collar and manual trades. Many jobseekers secured interviews based on their CVs, not necessarily for an advertised vacancy. A good candidate might prompt an employer to recruit and thereby save the costs of a recruiting exercise.

With the advent of new IT and communications, people became more proficient in writing a CV and more employers used the CV to sift applicants.

With the introduction of competency testing, CVs needed to be tailored to meet requested competency examples. Evolving IT made editing CVs much easier, allowing candidates to easily tailor their CVs for different applications.

Thanks, Dad, for those interesting insights.

Where his story tails off, my own story begins so I thought I’d add my own thoughts on how the CV has changed in my lifetime, and changed my life. 

When did I first use a CV?

As soon as I was old enough, at the age of 14, I applied for a Saturday job at the local shoe shop, Freeman, Hardy & Willis. I have to be honest, I can’t remember using a CV, but I think I must have had one in my hand as I made my enquiry, one day after school. This was the first in a long line of character-forming, part-time jobs, which I held throughout my secondary and tertiary education. The first time I can remember using a CV to apply for a role was for a job in a tearoom, which I secured despite oversleeping on the day of my interview! Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, I can’t recall what it was like.

I started to create a CV in earnest once I had finished my three-year degree course in May/June 1997. Looking back, this was shockingly late to start! I can remember typing my CV on an electronic word processor, which was extremely laborious, but worth the effort. I have to confess, I had hardly any experience in using computers. I had used the word processor for my degree coursework and dissertation, and never really ventured into the library at university to use a PC. My first encounter with an actual computer was on the first day of my first real, full-time job.

Anyway, I digress. I’m pretty sure I consulted some CV books to ensure my CV followed the correct protocol. Luckily for me, the first ever guide to writing CVs had been published in 1984, so there was some advice around to help me with the process. I knocked out my CV and, after a few months, secured a job.

My husband and I moved in together the following year, and invested in a Gateway computer, purchased from the shop in Covent Garden. I used this to create a better CV and secured three successive roles, having learnt to tailor my CV for different applications. I can remember using colour on my CV, a trend which has now come back to some extent in 2015.

When did I first start writing CVs for other people?

I remember helping my husband with his CV, but my CV writing ramped up at work when I was required to tailor consultants’ CVs to win new business. In my next role, I worked in bid management, writing CVs for inclusion in $multi-million sales proposals. My work involved presenting the expertise and achievements of global staff to secure high profile contracts. When I left on maternity leave in 2003, I started to form the idea that I could take these skills and use them to start my own business.

How did the CV change my life?

Writing CVs has truly changed my life by giving me a focus for my business, which I am proud to say has now been running for over a decade.

During my lifetime, I’ve witnessed the CV’s evolution from a functional document to a powerful marketing tool, which can inspire confidence, open doors, and change lives – not only mine, but those of my customers.

When did you first write or use a CV? Has your CV evolved much over the years or is it in desperate need of a refresh? If so, you know where to come! Check out my CV services here.

Lis McGuire

Lis McGuire

Lis McGuire is a professional CV writer at Giraffe CVs. She has 15 years of experience gained delivering interview-winning CVs and cover letters for professionals at all levels, helping individuals to stand out from the crowd in a highly competitive job market.
Lis McGuire
Lis McGuire