The Evidenced Based Curriculum Vitae

Teamarbeit-Dooder-Shutterstock.com_One of the first questions clients usually ask me for is help to create a great CV (or résumé) that will get them the position or role they are want, or need for their career progression. It’s generally a low impact way to seek professional career coaching support for career/job change. It can also be perhaps a “one stop shop” just to start to the process of change. Most people I speak to have read the countless books, reams advice given via social media and the internet or have just relied on what they have done in the past. The big question for me as a geeky psychologist working with careers, is where is the research that will help create that winning CV or résumés consistently time after time?

The sad truth of the matter is there is very little proper empirical evidence about what constitutes a great CV; or even less evidence for that matter for covering letters. Now it could be argued that a great CV is the one that gets you the job or secures you that new role.  That view it is very difficult to argue against of course. However, looking for evidence requires a little more digging to help clients move forward with a CV that they can use as a working document for their future career.

So where to start with the empirical evidence for a great CV? Now research does show that good advice is given for structure of CV such as chronological, functional/skills based or hybrid but there is little known about what to put into the CV (Thomas et al 1999). This suggests that there is plenty of advice out there in books and the internet but it is mostly anecdotal and subjective in nature. Needless to say, recruiters & careers advisors will have a view etc but who is right?

According to Julia Yates (2014) there are three key areas to focus upon

  • Academic qualifications
  • Work experience
  • Extracurricular activities

Depending upon where you are in your career the weighting of these elements will change. For example if you are starting out at work, you will probably place more emphasis upon the extracurricular activities & academic qualification.  However, a more experienced individual will be expected to focus upon the their achievements and work experience. Good grades in your qualifications are worth highlighting, though perhaps where you haven’t done so well may be worth leaving the grades out (Thomas et al 1999).

Brown & Campion (1994) conducted some interesting research with US college students suggesting that if young people wanted to showcase their drive & energy then more or less anything will be acceptable – exam grades, activities at school or achievements at work etc. However, to highlight your social and interpersonal skills then  the after school clubs or where you captained a team seemed to interest employers. Any leadership skills can be highlighted by the evidence you have in a work context of supervising others etc. Interestingly there is no link from this research with sporting achievements and impressing employers.

Clearly, employers are more interested in concrete examples of achievements in a work context rather than self-aggrandising statements. Finding examples of a desirable skill or experiences that match the culture, language and essentials for the job & employer will more than likely impress over and above a list of positive adjectives.  Lastly, Thomas et al(1999) suggested that accomplishment statements (achievements) and a targeted career goal or objective within the CV such as “seeking a sales managers role in a leading confectionary business” helps just as an unspecified one doesn’t.

We also have the vexed question of discrimination and declaring an illness or disability within a CV. There has been some research that indicates that having a declared mental health condition makes the candidate less employable, whereas those with a physical disability were more employable. Though a non-disabled person seemed from the research to be most employable. Notwithstanding the prejudice against men in traditionally female roles and against women in traditionally male roles (Brioult & Bentley 2000). So as you can see CV structure & content is a minefield of advice, evidence, anecdotes and just plain old school illegal discrimination.

So where does this potted history of the scant evidence of CV’s leave us? Well with a lot of advice and anecdotal models but little evidence of that elusive winning CV

Read the rest of the post here at Bright Sparks Coaching Blog


Bright, J (2010) “Brilliant CV: What Employers Want to See and How to Write it” Prentice Hall; 4 edition

Fennah, P. (2014) “The Elite MBA CV; Executive Impact” (pp 71)

Lees, J. (2013) “Knockout CV: How to Get Noticed, Get Interviewed & Get Hired” McGraw-Hill Professional

Mills, C (2015) “You’re Hired! CV: How to write a brilliant CV” Trotman

Yates, J. (2014) “The Career Coaching Handbook” Routledge, Abingdon UK.


Bricout, J. C. and Bentley, K. J. (2000) Disability status and perceptions of employability by employers. Social Work Research, 24(2): 87.

Brown, B. K. & Campion (1994) “Biodata phenomenology: Recruiters perceptions and use of biographical information in résumé screening” Journal of Applied Psychology, 79(6): 897-908

Fennah, P. (2014) “The Elite MBA CV; Executive Impact” (pp 71)

Thomas, P., McMasters, R., M.R. and Domowski, D.A. (1999) “Résumés characteristics as predictors of an invitation to interview”. Journal of Business and Psychology 13(3): 339-356

Yates, J. (2014) “The Career Coaching Handbook” Routledge, Abingdon UK.

Read more blogs on this and many other career and work related subjects like this atBright Sparks Coaching

David Dean is an award winning independent Work, Career & Coaching Psychologist, blog writer, work psychology tutor & speaker on areas of psychology that make your career and workplace a better place to be.


Groupthink = FIFA Fail

images (16)So dear old Mr Sepp Blatter (or Stepp Ladder as one wag put it) has won the FIFA president election for a fifth-term. Needless to say, the decision by FIFA was met with almost universal condemnation by commentators and people in the know. So why is it the case? What is it about the apparent morally out of kilter executive & Mr Blatter’s style of leadership that has created this outpouring of disapproval and disgust? We know that FBI have a huge dossier on FIFA executives and have arrested a number of people for financial wrongdoing; so why do FIFA top brass feel immune from criticism? Well the hoary of theory of Groupthink may have one or two clues.

The theory of Groupthink from Janis (1971 & 1982) has been with us since the 1970’s and has been attached to all manner of historical events where group dynamics has impacted upon decision making. Notable studies include the Bay of Pigs, Chernobyl and the lack of preparedness by the United States services for the Pearl Harbour attacks during WW2. Though applying the theory to FIFA & Mr Blatter may become a little clearer after looking at the main characteristics of groupthink as described by Janis:

  • The illusion of invulnerability – group of people can become over optimistic about events around them & will take unjustifiable risks
  • Belief in the rectitude of the group – Group members think that actions they take are morally correct.
  • Negative views of the opposition –  Can become disparaging about leaders and people from the opposite side of the situation.
  • Illusion of unanimity – A group presents a perception that everyone has been in agreement with decisions, when clearly they may not be.
  • Constructing a protective shield – the group will vehemently defend itself from the views and perspectives of those on the outside.

There are of course many more dimensions to Groupthink.  However you the reader will begin the see patterns and links to what we know about the FIFA executive and leadership behaviours. Clearly, the wheels are now coming off the FIFA gravy train but Mr Blatter’s denial of wrongdoing continues apace. Again perhaps a symptom of Groupthink from the leader. Although the Groupthink theory is not without it’s detractors and criticisms, though there seems to be many parallels in the case of FIFA executive team and leadership.

So utilising this theory how can FIFA start to rebuild with transparency and credibility. I am sure we all have our own views, however, Janis suggests a number of ways groups can avoid the issues and pitfalls of Groupthink.

  • Encourage open criticism of the group and leadership team to evaluate decision making process
  • The leader does not express any personal preferences on the solutions to the problems until the debate has run its course
  • Create a “devil’s advocate” within the group to deliberately challenge the group’s decision.
  • Include people from outside the group to critique the decision making process and ultimate decisions of the group.

Again there are many more, however, creating an open and transparent system of decision making so there is no opportunity for Groupthink or criminal activity may help to rebuild trust in the FIFA board. Though the group has a long way to go before the maelstrom of recent events subside and a new way of doing business can emerge. FIFA may need a revolution before the evolution in their leadership team will have any credibility, though perhaps incorporating a few remedies from Janis and others may well start the open dialogue with World football once more. Remember Mr Blatter “Denial is not a long river in Egypt” so action on stopping Groupthink may well be a good place to start.


Janis, Irving L. (1972). Victims of groupthink; a psychological study of foreign-policy decisions and fiascoes. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin.

Janis, Irving L. (1982). Groupthink: psychological studies of policy decisions and fiascoes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin

Read more blogs on this and many other career and work related subjects like this at Bright Sparks Coaching

David Dean is an award winning independent Work, Career & Coaching Psychologist, blog writer, work psychology tutor & speaker on areas of psychology that make your career and workplace a better place to be.