Why you should never do anything to put on your CV

How many times have you been told that something “would look great on your CV”, or been told to make sure you’ve done “lots of things to put on your CV”? If you’re currently at school or university, I’m willing to bet that it’s hundreds of times. I’m going to share with you why this makes me want to SCREAM and why I hope that you will never ever do anything to put on your CV.

The lovely people that say this to you are genuinely trying to help you. It’s true that employers will look at your CV and make judgments about you, and if you’ve got interesting and impressive experiences on there, then this may help you to get a job. Some universities will similarly look at your personal statements, and be swayed to give you an offer by your descriptions of all the worthy things that you have done outside of school.

The problem is that doing something “to put on your CV” makes the CV the product. It makes an impressive CV the goal that you want to achieve. That’s not what this is about! The reason employers and universities care about your CV is because it’s the only window they have into what type of person you are and what you are able to do.

YOU are the product. Your CV is just a written list of what you’re able to do, and the evidence to back that up. Don’t do anything to put it on your CV – do it because it gives you skills you didn’t have before. Do it because it enables you to spend time in an environment that you want to learn about. Do it because it lets you to talk with people who inspire you and have done things that you would like to. Do it to make a difference, or have fun, or to figure out what to do with your life. Don’t do it to list it on a piece of paper – do it to be better.

That may feel like only a slight difference to you – I’m still encouraging you to get involved, volunteer, start a small business, or get work experience. However, your motivation for doing things fundamentally changes how you experience them. When you do things to get better, rather than to put on your CV, you pick different things. You pick opportunities that allow you to develop skills you want, rather than things that you think sound impressive.

You make the most of the opportunity as well. If you want to learn, you’re more likely to try your best and talk to as many people as possible. If you’re doing it for your CV, it’s tempting just to turn up for long enough to be able to write it down.

You are also more likely to take the time to reflect on what you did and what you learned. If you’re doing it for your CV, that doesn’t matter – you can already say you did it. If you’re doing it to learn, then reflection during and after is a crucial part of the experience itself.

In my last blog post, I suggest that all students resolve to book in something new to do. I stand by that. Do something new. Make it big or small, relevant to your goals or completely new. But do it to learn, to help and to experience, and then your CV will simply describe the amazing person you’ve become.

5 comments

  1. Good advice. You see some frankly intimidating CVs but then no enthusiasm when someone is asked to talk about it. Much better be enthusiastic about the little you have done and enjoyed than the lot you have tried and were very “meh” about just to build a CV……

    • I agree! It’s not only enthusiasm though – it’s whether they can explain what they can do now, that they couldn’t do before they had that experience. I would rather have a student who can say “I did this one thing, I learned this, and now I can use it like this”, than one who lists a load of accomplishments but is unable to articulate what they got out of it.

    • I so agree Alex! Maybe that’s another blog post for the future 🙂 That sort of “growth mindset” really helps students succeed

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