The History of the Curriculum Vitae

Phoebe Johnson

In the UK, we call it a CV. If you're in the US you’re likely to call it a resume. But do you know what the latin phrase actually translates to? It loosely means ‘the course of one’s life’, the concept of which was supposedly coined by Leonardo Da Vinici in 1482! Allegedly, Da Vinci, in his pursuit of work, wrote a list of his skills and experiences and sent them to the Duke of Milan. In the letter he offered his services in designing structures such as bridges, sculptures and boats. Although, of course, Da Vinci was known for his artistic contributions to society, the content of the letter was said to have paid particular attention to skills that aligned most closely with that of the Dukes wishes. Da Vinci’s letter was the first example of how we prioritise accomplishments of note in the context of our audience, and thus Da Vinci was credited as the first ever to write a CV as we know it.

Quite astounding that to this day, over 500 years later, we are still practising this same basic method of job application, and it still follows a pretty similar premise. However, whilst the concept or goal of the ‘CV’ has remained unchanged, just like anything over time, the CV has morphed in response to language, our general ways of life, the ever changing job market and of course evolving in response to the advancements in technology. 

What did they used to look like?

So what did a 13th century CV look like? Well, not dissimilar to what they look like now, except most likely penned onto a piece of parchment, and potentially even sent via pigeon post, not email! For the first couple hundred years, CV’s remained relatively guideless, and more than likely took the form of handwritten letters by way of introduction, and would be sent to potential employers or lords explaining why the sender was apt for work. It wasn’t until the 20th century that more formatted and structured CV’s became an expectation for all employers.

The modern day CV

Nowadays, with the invention of computers, templates and smart formatting software, we have the facilities to be slicker, neater and sometimes more flamboyant, which in fact, is not necessarily a good thing. You could argue that sometimes the advancement of technology has brought with it impersonal and cliche gimmicks that are actually the opposite of what an employer wants from a CV. But really, a CV needs to be as simple and clear as possible, and let the content speak for itself.

The sheer scale of the job market these days means that employers simply don’t have time to read through masses of applications. So, flamboyant language has become archaic, and these days we stick to shorthand, bullet points and simple language. By stripping back the fluff, we allow the employers to get to the point, and fast. 

The one page argument 

It’s widely contested that, if you have a lot of relevant experience, that you might struggle to fit everything you want to say on one page, but it’s commonly encouraged to condense everything on one side of A4. Andrei Kurtuy, co-director of online resume builder, Novorésumes says “Even a highly successful career like his can be presented in a one page résumé,’ and uses Elon Musk as an example to support her argument. Musk most likely has noteworthy experiences and enough career accomplishments to fill a warehouse, but who would have the time to wade through all of that? And depending on the role he was applying to, not all of it will be relevant anyway. If he was applying to be an interior designer, what does it matter that he’s the CEO of a rocket company or created PayPal? Yes sure, it’s impressive (extremely so) but it’s not going to help him design a chic and contemporary room fit out, is it? It’s all about prioritising the achievements that show how much of a perfect fit you are for that specific role. Just like Da Vinci didn’t mention his incredible aptitude for painting in his letter to the Duke. For example, he wrote about how ‘unattackable’ he could make the duke's chariots with his designs and spoke a lot about how his ideas would protect the duke from enemies, which Da Vinci knew was the key to capturing his attention. Although a lot of what Da Vinci wrote seems rather speculative in this day an age of ‘PEE’ (Point Evidence Explain for those of you who don’t remember high school English) as he doesn’t actually have any proof that he could do everything he was promising, it followed the guise of a list of punchy, digestible points on just one page that were most attractive in the context of his audience. The truth is, that employers in these modern times just do not have the time, and CV’s have had to respond to this.

Pictures. A modern day asset or a vulgar step too far?

Now, this topic is often widely controversial and depending on where you are in the world, this may differ. It’s quite common, for example, in the United States to include a picture of yourself. However in the UK, it might be deemed inappropriate, or perhaps even a little ‘cheesy’ if you add your picture to your profile. (Unless you are in the performing arts sector, this may differ.) But in the industries we work in at GCB, an image would be best to leave out. Of course the invention of photography was hugely exciting, and in the past especially, may have seemed like a great way to present yourself to a potential employer… but in reality, these days, it can be contentious in the face of diversity hiring and stubborn systemic racial prejudices that we still haven't managed to stamp out entirely. 

What makes for a strong CV by today’s standard?

  • A one page format (2 maximum)
  • Most recent experience at the top of the page. Don’t make the employer hunt for your current place of employment.
  • Relevant experience only.
  • Content that avoids speculative or superficial language.
  • Provide relevant qualifications. Is it relevant to still put your high school qualifications on your CV decades later?
  • Clear formatting, with no flamboyant styling. Let your content do the talking.
  • Avoid an image, unless specifically requested or if you’re applying for a job in an industry where this is standard.
  • Avoid disclosing personal information such as your age or marital status. 


Hello administrator, Your posts are always a great source of information.
Posted on Wednesday, February 15, 2023 13:28 by Rose Ortiz

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