The curriculum vitae – time to let it go?

Writing in the Times newspaper, columnist Clare Foges suggested this week that ‘ditching the CVs would level the playing field a bit’ when it comes to recruitment for employment. It would, she suggested, in particular reduce the unwarranted advantage that graduates of Oxford and Cambridge get when their applications are seen by senior managers who are also graduates of these august institutions.

Over my 30 or so years in leadership positions of one kind or another in universities I have read goodness knows how many CVs (or resumés) when I have taken part in employment selection processes. Highlighted information about where the applicants got their degrees always tends to be the most immediately visible part of the personal sales pitch. In a recent case, one job applicant listed three degrees he had been awarded. The first – and this was awarded for his actual work as a student – was from a very well respected but fairly new university; it was not particularly highlighted. The other two were from one of the two aforementioned institutions and were recorded in bold print with a slightly larger typeface than the surrounding narrative. He knew I have a degree from Cambridge (OK OK, I shouldn’t mention that, but I’m not looking for a job) and maybe thought I should feel a strong affinity with him; or maybe he didn’t know and thought that, as head of a newish university, I should be most impressed by his pedigree and his willingness to condescend to apply to our modest institution.

Whatever. He didn’t get the job. But all over the academic world, and everywhere else, people use their CVs to make a sales pitch, and sometimes this can take on the form of some sort of masonic handshake between applicant and recruiter. So is it time to stop using CVs in recruitment processes? Is it time to test instead for specific skills, experiences and attributes that would qualify candidates, without allowing prejudices about various categories of institution to determine outcomes? Can it be done?

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4 Comments on “The curriculum vitae – time to let it go?”

  1. My plumber is in the “gig economy” and he does very well. He’s very skilled and does good work and thus is in great demand. There is no reliable way of recruiting good staff. The formal “competency” approach is so predictable that those who ensure that they have all boxes ticked and spend a lot of time preparing can score more than those who are genuinely competent. (We’ve certainly managed to recruit a few duds) Perhaps everyone should be in the gig economy. It seems to ensure that the competent get the work.

  2. paulmartin42 Says:

    Like Marriage the CV has evolved to cope. Unfortunately a lot of senior managers, especially in Scotland like to play it safe & hire those of a similar background. Diversity breeds success – London buzzes: compare Roman Road market in Bow with the Barras of Glasgow.

  3. Vince Says:

    You don’t think he was playing the cards he was dealt. And I can’t fault him for playing into your connection to the Cam. He may have been a proper leftwing, Yarrow march wannabe. So if a sales document… .
    But is that what it actually is. We hear of people getting knocked not because of their education but of their interests.
    What implication can you draw from Skydiving. Me, I’d ask a few questions. It could well be a person who conquered a fear of heights, so one you’d actually like, than some snot. They might only go once a month rather than five jumps a week.
    Isn’t the true question can the person do the job.

    What i didn’t know when I applied for 3rd sec was it’s a well known thing to buy reams of those aptitude tests the CS deploy to cull applicants. Now that’s something I’d probable have known had I better connections. 🙂
    Still you’d have to say thank f&*^ for the sake of diplomacy I didn’t get it.

  4. Anna Notaro Says:

    It is interesting to look at the CV through the lens of media history, from the very first one apparently produced by Leonardo in 1492, (his outlined skills and experiences included rock flinging, creating lightweight bridges and – in times of peace – sculpture (
    to the digital age: 1970 – Digital typesetting and word processors make CVs more professional; 1980 – The first VHS portfolios; 1987 – fax machines are the new, cool way to send it; 1995 – Email replaces fax; 2002 – Interactive CVs begin to appear; 2003 – LinkedIn is launched; 2007 – Video CVs hit YouTube and today when Digital CVs can contain social media links, visuals, multimedia and Infographic.
    Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the academic CV has resisted the latest technological innovations and remains strictly analogue. I won’t dwell here on the CV related strategies to enhance diversity in recruitment (I might have mentioned this in a previous comment), perhaps digressing from the main topic of today’s post I shall just say that I’ve always found the CV an apt metaphor for conferring upon our lives that (necessary) patina of logical consistency, by imposing a rational grid on our past (on the ‘course of our lives’ – that is what ‘curriculum’ means). Everything is neatly in its place, in clear defined sections, gaps are cause for suspicion and should be avoided at all costs. The CV of course only tells part of the story, the major events (in terms of qualifications and experience) are given a prominent role, what are ignored are the interstices, the intervening events, no one really cares about those. The CV is thus a *backward* document, by focusing on achievements only tells very little of the kind of professional individuals we truly are, of what we have learnt from our pitfalls, struggles or failures.
    The CV I would like is instead a *forward* one that captures not only someone’s version of her past but also someone’s version of her future, one where enough emphasis is put on one’s plans, aspirations and dreams. Academia and innovative thinking should be two sides of the same medal, holding on to such (in its current format) antiquated tool for recruitment is an anachronism we can certainly do without.

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