CV writing as a career guidance tool?

Some organisations and professionals, for a variety of reasons, have decided not to write CVs with clients, referring them to the job centre instead if they are adults or if they are a young person, to another person in school or college or the community. I would argue that this is a missed opportunity. CV writing lends itself excellently to being used as an exploration and career guidance tool. The end result of a written CV could be so much more than the sum of it’s parts! I would also argue that writing a good CV requires relevant awareness, technical knowledge and skills.

When assisting a client in writing their CV, you are writing more than just a CV. Especially when your client is a school student, you are exploring their skills, personality and experience with them.


The case for professional CV writing

Templates & CV writing tools

For some people, writing a CV is akin to filling a form. The worst case I have come across was a client who paid someone £50 for someone they met in a pub to write a CV for them (!!). Even though that could work out well if the CV writer who is visiting the pub knows what they’re doing, but in this case, however well-meaning the pub visitor may have been, the resulting CV was only fit for lighting a fire.

Even though I can see a use for templates and interactive online CV writing tools, in my view, they rarely offer a CV that’s ready to be shared with a prospective employer without extensive additional work and care. Paradoxically, CV templates run the risk of tending towards quasi uniformity in content, especially when an entire year group for instance, uses the same template. The CV has the opposite function, to make the client stand out (in a good way!).

I have also come across many a template on which the formatting is so complicated and difficult to adapt, that the client may end up ‘messing up’ the layout and how the CV looks.

Online tools on the other hand, at best help the client think about what ‘should’ go on a CV. At worst it generates a CV that’s formatted in a way that is not fit for purpose and that will stop an employer from saying ‘yes’. Some examples I’ve come across offer a ‘finished CV’ with gaps in the layout or filling only a page and ‘a bit’, instead of filling the page nicely. Section get split over two pages, making them difficult to make sense of quickly etc… One example I’ve come across was a tool that offered a CV with headers with nothing underneath, where the client didn’t have anything to contribute. Without support, an inexperienced client will not have much of a chance if they share such as CV with an employer.

Those tools have their use but the end results needs heavy tweaking in most cases to make the CV perform its key function – getting a job interview.

The CV in the 21st century

In addition to this, it’s a good idea to be careful with ‘fancy formatting’ on a CV. Increasingly, larger employers especially can use AI (artificial intelligence) tools to pick out strong CVs and it’s difficult to gauge how good they will pick up on information in a CV with tables, headers on a coloured background, added lines, etc… I would argue in favour of simplicity in layout, especially when applying to larger organisations. A well known exception are of course those CVs aimed at vacancies in graphic design etc… where the client can use the CV to show off their skills and where creativity is almost expected. Even there it pays to be careful.

Classic job application process – A CV won’t get you the job.

A CV is more than just a CV

All this means that a CV is a much more technical document, which requires knowledge, insight, careful consideration and thought. Equally, when assisting a client in writing their first CV, you are writing more than just a CV. Especially when your client is a school student, you are exploring their skills, personality and experience with them. You are creating a foundation for their longer term awareness of these skills, personality traits and considered experience, as well as their short term and longer term self-esteem related to the world of work and their abilities, as well as their place within this.


CV writing as a guidance tool

This brings us back to using the CV as a guidance tool and missing an opportunity by referring the client to someone else who potentially will write a CV for them, rather than with them.  Using CV writing as a guidance tool can take different forms. Usually, we can combine more than one of these to maximise the CV intervention for the client. I have even used ‘CV writing’ with clients who don’t immediately need one, but may need one in the near future, because it’s such a useful activity. It offers a framework the client can relate to, as well as a written summary of what they have to offer.

Two examples

I have used CV writing:

With clients who are very negative about their abilities, aptitudes and chances of being successful in either their decision making on what to do next or in the workplace. I have used the activity of writing a CV:

  • As an exploration of how they think about themselves, how their teachers, family and friends think about them, linked to writing a personality profile.
  • In the same way I have used their perception of their skills, those they have and those they want to develop, to write a skills section on the CV and to explore and determine ‘where they are’ and ‘where they want to go’. For both of these, using cards, such as the Career Navigator cards offered by Liane Hambly, can be a good way to discuss skills and personality traits. They offer a low threshold for the client. With these, I’m always careful the client is not too quick in picking examples and discuss why they pick them, etc…
  • Sometimes, clients who struggle getting a good overview of where they are feel they don’t have experience to offer. We then work on any activities they have done, including those they don’t see as ‘work experience’. I start by calling that section ‘experience’ in the first place, dropping the word ‘work’. This enables the client to have increased freedom in what they consider. We then explore which skills, personality traits, knowledge etc… they have, adding that to the relevant sections. Most of the time, the result across the CV is a huge confident boost to them.

Clients I work with are mainly in education. Some have a good idea of what they are aiming for. They sometimes have their eye on a very specific job and don’t look at other opportunities and ideas.

  • Before we do anything else, we explore the job verbally, which allows me to gauge how their understanding works. Here too, career navigator cards are useful in allowing them to explore and pick out those relevant to the career or job they are aiming for, which often is a real confidence booster.
  • We then often have a look at the job vacancy, or job vacancies relevant to them, to identify gaps in their understanding and to confirm what they have to offer already. This helps the client test their understanding of their job or career idea and what they have found out so far with reality. It also helps them explore other career paths when we come across other vacancies.
  • In the meantime we document the qualities they have on the CV and discuss ways in which they can build up those qualities they don’t yet have. This helps the client maximise their chances, but also helps them in their reflection on whether the career they are aiming for is really what they want to do and whether they are on track. Again, it helps them consider related options too, which they can then decline or explore further. Sometimes the client realises they need to rethink their plans at a more fundamental level.


… very important tools are our skills and professionalism, in addition to our own research in what a CV is and its function, how they are used by employers, current recruitment tools and practices, etc…


Summary of how CV writing can be used as a guidance tool

These are just two examples of how a CV can be used as:

  • An opportunity for reflection by the client – of where they are, where they want to go next and what they have to offer in relation to this.
  • As an exploratory tool – both for the way they see themselves and for the way they perceive the world of work.
  • As a confidence building tool – they usually have far more to offer than they realise.
  • A way to build hope in the client, to help them motivate themselves to more forward.
  • An opportunity to practise adaptability in the 21st century world of work through role modelling by the guidance professional, through offering examples of how this could work and for the client to build resilience and confidence in being able to adapt to change.
  • An opportunity to practise adapting their CV to different vacancies.
  • Preparation for a job interview by helping them realise the many qualities and experiences they have to offer.
  • Preparation for filling in application forms, if that is how the employer requires them to apply. The CV is usually a very good summary document for the information needed on an application form. In this sense, talking through what the client has to offer and their experiences, as part of the CV writing process, helps them formulate anything they could write in any open questions on the application.
  • A decision making tool – “am I on the right path?”, “are there any obstacles I need to overcome?”

Of course, how important each one of these is, depends very much on the individual client.


How does this way of looking at CV writing fit in with career theory?

Key ways I can think of are:

  • Trait and factor: it helps the client estimate and gauge how well they fit in with the requirements of any options they have in mind for their next step and it offers an opportunity to talk about the ever changing world of work and career management skills.
  • Chaos theory and Planned Happenstance theory: it offers us the opportunity to talk about ongoing career management and the skills needed to successfully navigate the world of work. It also allows us to practise and role model ‘career change’ and ‘career management skills’ with the client.
  • Hope-Action theory: it gives us a clear opportunity to build hope in the client. If done well, it also increases motivation as the client walks away with a more accurate view of all the things they have to offer, with an increased opportunity for the client to follow this up with determined action.
  • Boundaryless Career theory and Protean Career theory: it gives us an opportunity to discuss ‘self-responsibility’ of the client within any job situation and the flexibility within career opportunities. It can give the client more ownership of their development and success. It potentially puts them more at the centre of their planning, instead of it being a form filling exercise for ‘something that is available’.
  • Career Anchors: it can also helps them assess what their key values are, what is important to them in the workplace. And it is an opportunity to discuss their level of attainment versus the job opportunity or career opportunities they are looking at (Career Engagement Model). An example I come across quite often are those clients who would like to train to be a chef, but don’t realise the realities of actually working as a chef in a busy kitchen. Writing their CV offers the opportunity to discuss how they handle a busy, often stressful work place with unsociable working hours in a sensitive way.
  • Psychology of Working theory and also Structuralism: writing a CV with the client allows us to explore their context and what their needs are within this. It also allows us to explore where their idea has come from and what influences their choice. Helping the client make discoveries about this, may help them confirm their choice or challenge this, prompting them to assess their skills and qualities in view of an expanded view of what is possible for them.

These are just some of the examples of how this can fit in with different theoretical frameworks of course. Equally, not all of these will be practised with every client of course. The client’s needs and situation will be key in which of these we can approach to help the client.


Tools that can be used:

Some of the tools we can use in relation to this:

  • I think within this, very important tools are our skills and professionalism, in addition to our own research in what a CV is and its function, how they are used by employers, current recruitment tools and practices, etc…
  • I already mentioned career navigator cards, which is an excellent, low threshold interactive way of exploring qualities, skills etc… with the client. From experience, especially younger clients get stuck quite quickly when assessing what they have to offer.
  • Job vacancy websites for exploring, such as , , and many others, as well as the apprenticeship website.
  • Company websites and the vacancy pages on them can also be a handy tool for exploring what companies are looking for and what certain career routes require.
  • and for higher education