Kate Evans' design narrative - An Employer's view of CVs

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Katherine Elizabeth Evans
10 April 2016


An Employer’s view of CVs (HE workshop).



I was an Associate Tutor for Employability, working in an HE Media Department.  This is a session on CVs I created and delivered while in post.  I included the use of Video CVs for the first time.


A UK university in 2012.  The room was set out with tables to support group work, and a screen at the front for presentations etc.  I was invited in by the regular tutor to deliver a workshop on CVs.  The class size was about 30, and the tutor was present.  It was my intention to give a brief discussion-based presentation, summarising CVs, and then have the students take on the role of an employer and address the issues via group work.


I was working with third year undergraduates I had never met, and this was a one-off workshop.  I was very positive about the material I was delivering, had experience with most elements, and had updated it to include video CVs, which for them as media students, was highly relevant.  I wasn’t sure what the atmosphere within the class would be like or how they would react to me/my topic.


Preparing students to market themselves successfully to employers via a CV. 

Learning Outcomes included:

  • understand a CV as a marketing document
  • understand how employers use CVs
  • make value judgements on CVs based on content, clarity of information, and selection criteria (employer’s perspective)
  • Integrate this new understanding in preparation for revising/creating their CV.

I was trying to empower them to create great CVs.  My measure of success in the session was that they would engage with the learning activities in order to integrate new learning about creating a good CV, so that after the session they were equipped to update their CV based on best practice before approaching an employer.


I expected them to be bored with the topic before I even started (they have been learning about CVs since school, the topic often elicits pantomime groans at the start of sessions in HE) so I had prepared an activity-based session to counter this, with minimal ‘me talking’.  I had a PowerPoint with basic prompts for discussion/activities, and a few slides with key information to present after discussion.

I started with questions to the entire group.  It was my intention if this did not provide answers to move straight to pairwork/groupwork for the follow-up questions, but the level of engagement was good, and class discussion worked well, so I kept the questions directed to the whole class:

Q: What is a CV?  (What is its purpose?)

Some people were happy to volunteer information, and discussion built on that leading to the point I wanted: a CV is a marketing document. 

Q: What is a spam CV?

Q: How long (on average) will an employer spend looking at your CV?

Discussion about how employers use CVs/targeting your CV etc.  Students were shocked at the average time employer spends looking at a CV.

PowerPoint slide ‘What makes a great CV?’ - explanations re. matching/mirroring the vacancy, researching the organisation, CV scanning software for keywords etc.  Some discussion.  Again, students had been unaware that some organisations now scan CVs for keywords as a way of filtering them, which highlights the importance of including the same terms on their CV as are used in the vacancy information/selection criteria.

Learning activity: ‘A memorable CV?’

I put a CV up on screen, asked them to read it, and removed it after 2 minutes.  I then put up a second CV for 2 minutes.  Both CVs were fairly standard – one was skills-based, one more traditional.

I asked: what was the name of the first candidate?/second candidate?  What posts have they held?  What skills did they highlight?   Working as a class, they got some of the answers, but most students had not retained much information.  I then asked: if you had looked through 25/50/100 CVs, how much would you remember about these two?   (getting to that awareness was the point of the exercise).

I then used these CVs to make some points on CV layout and the importance of the front page, and showed them a website with different types of CV, and CV advice.

Class discussion on ‘what to include in your CV’ with plenty of questions from class, followed up by a PowerPoint slide checklist.

Learning activity: ‘Video CVs: an employer’s perspective

I showed the class 5 Video CVs for a big online competition to become the caretaker of an island for a year (big PR element to the post), and told them that one was from the successful applicant and I wanted them to see if they could figure out who that was.  Before showing the videos I went through the selection criteria for the post, so that they knew what the employer was looking for from the successful candidate.

After watching the CVs, I got them to discuss in groups who they would have given the job to.  Then I got the class to vote (show of hands) on who they thought had got the job.  Split vote between 3 (including the successful applicant).  I told them the outcome (many were surprised – they had had a negative reaction to the winner (as had I)) and we re-watched the three CVs the majority had voted for, to see if the class could understand/explain why one had been successful.  Useful class discussion afterwards – not the best video, not the most likeable person, but the person who demonstrated the most experience.  How does this transfer across to a written CV? etc..

Concluding learning activity: ‘Create a CV crib-sheet’ (in groups, with feedback to class) – what will they consider when writing/updating their own CVs?.

Useful discussion-based overview of the session which covered everything, and came from them rather than from me.  Based on their crib-sheet suggestions, I created a master crib-sheet and posted it as a document to the VLE, along with my slides, after the session.


All discussion elements worked well, and participation was good.

‘A memorable CV?’ – expected outcomes of this met my objectives.  In their discussions, the students began to consider CVs from an employer’s perspective (e.g. ‘I wouldn’t have read page 2 of this CV because…’ ‘I think this looks very cluttered…’).  This lead to the recognition that their CV must be strong in order to be effective.  Also, having shown them the information and support available on the website they will now be able to access it via a link in their VLE.

Video CVs: an employer’s perspective

This met my objectives, but I realised that I should have been more explicit in my initial instructions.  I should have asked them to focus on content and clarity of information, and reminded them that this is just another format of CV, to be considered in the same way as paper-based CVs.  Many were initially distracted by the quality of the film-making (being film-makers), while I wanted them to focus on content (suitability for the post), which we got to by discussion.  

Crib sheet activity

This was a lively group activity and a nice way to summarise the session.  Students showed that they had retained the main points of the session, including the employer’s perspective.  I hope students will feel ‘ownership’ of the class crib sheet they contributed to, and use it when writing their CV.

I met my objectives for the session, as evidenced during participation in the Video CV activity, and the final recap crib-sheet activity.  In analysing the Video CVs, students demonstrated an understanding of the purpose/use of CVs in the selection process and took on the perspective of an employer to rate the CV.  In creating their own ‘crib sheet’ they demonstrated that they had taken on board the main points of the session and were left with a lasting document of best practice, to support them in writing their CV.   


  • Don’t assume learners will transfer understanding (e.g. of paper-based CVs) into another format/context without support.
  • Keeping them active worked well
  • Adding a new element (video CVs) made me rethink and restructure my entire approach.  This was useful, and led to the crib sheet activity. 
  • The crib sheet activity shifted the focus from me to them, replacing a more traditional summary from me.  This worked well. 
  • Keep looking for new ways of doing things.

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