CVs – the good, the bad and the ugly

Once again Ellwood Atfield has teamed up with Women in Public Affairs to give a series of workshops for the Public Affairs Leadership Series (PALS).


The 2017 series kicked off February 1st with a “CV & Interview Workshop” hosted by our very own Ben Atfield. As the communications and advocacy headhunter, Ellwood Atfield place hundreds of candidates and see thousands of CVs annually.



CVs – the good, the bad and the ugly.

In our industry we are used to communicating our message as quickly, accurately and succinctly as possible. Yet when it comes to our CV, people seem to find it a lot harder to describe themselves in the same way. However here are 10 key ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ – with a few more ‘it’s-up-to-you’ (it is a personal document after all).



1. Keep it to 1 or 2 pages

There is no reason your CV should be more than two pages – ever.
If it is longer, instantly you are not instilling confidence you would be able to provide a short, succinct briefing note when you cannot do the same for your CV.

2. Keep it in chronological order (and include the dates)

The two priorities for a client are what relevant experience do you have and what recent experience do you have. By not putting the dates you worked at an organisation makes it seem as if you have something to hide and will beg more questions.
Give any time out a one line explanation. Finally (unless you are a recent graduate) your education should go at the end of your CV.

3. Write a line about the organisation you worked for

You may know that Ellwood Atfield is the Communications and Advocacy Headhunter (and if you don’t – you should) but that doesn’t mean the person looking at your CV will know this. Give your role context by including a one line description about the organisation.

4. Include key words and terms

As processes are becoming more automated and often put through online systems/portals you should be using key words. Explicitly saying that you are a ‘public affairs manager’ who has had ‘budget management’ experience and ‘lead a team’ means you’ll come up in any search.

5. Write your CV so that anyone can understand what you do

This links to the above point. Line managers will understand the jargon of your role but a HR Manager may not know what a good public affairs candidate looks like unless you show them.

6. Include your key achievements

Anyone can write a CV as just another version of a job description, but to really differentiate yourself against your competition you should be including what you achieved in that role



1. Don’t lie. Don’t embellish. Don’t omit anything. Don’t include anything misleading

This may technically count as 4 separate points but anything less than the truth will come out eventually – and it will affect your future credibility when it does. Most organisations do background checks and if something is not as it appears on paper, it’s unlikely you will be invited to interview for the chance to explain it.

2. Don’t write long prose

Whether it is your CV or your covering letter, don’t send a document that makes people want to skim read it. You wouldn’t send a dense document for a press release so don’t send one for your CV (hint: short bullet points are best).

3. Don’t use subjective words

Saying you are ‘a dynamic communicator’ or ‘a strategic thinker’ doesn’t make those reading it believe you. Your CV should be factual – then the proof should be in the pudding.

4. Don’t have more than one copy of your CV

This one was the most controversial point as most people often tweak their CV for each application. However the idea is that you should be able to produce a single document that accurately summarises your experience and career to date.

demonstrate flexibility

1. Use a personal statement

If you do then keep it short. Keep it pithy. Keep it objective.

2. Use a photograph

Whilst the standard format for CVs in some European countries includes photographs, this is not the norm in the UK. Also bear in mind that you are giving the reader another thing to judge you on whilst you’re still just on paper (so at least make sure it’s a professional one)!

3. Include some personal information about yourself

Have a line or two about your interests, hobbies and extra-curricular activities and what to include is up to you.


Unfortunately getting your CV right is only the first part of the process. Once you have passed the on-paper test you then must pass the in-person test. One could write a whole book on the Do’s and Don’t in interviews (in fact I am sure it has been done) but here are a quick 5 pointers:

1. Do all the basics ahead of the interview, including:

  • Researching the organisation
  • Reading the job description and preparing examples of when you have done each of the requirements previously
  • Finding out as much information as you can about those with whom you are interviewing
  • Searching the news for any recent stories relevant to the organisation
  • Giving ample time to account for traffic or unexpected delays.

2. Remember that the interview starts long before you walk in the door

Whilst you may know who you are interviewing with – you don’t know who else is evaluating your performance. If another team member sees you outside smoking or being short with the receptionist, this will form part of your overall assessment.

3. Practice a firm handshake

You will be judged on it – use it as an opportunity to assert your confidence from the outset.

4. Find a way to distinguish yourself

Hiring managers are human and whether you are the 1st or the 10th person they have met, try and make yourself memorable. For example:

  • Find a topic of conversation that you can both engage with. If you saw you share an interest on your LinkedIn profiles – mention it
  • Wear the red dress/tie. Black and grey are the staple colour for job interviews so wear a little something that makes you notable (just make sure it is for the right reasons)!

5. Don’t forget to say why you are interested in the position

It’s very easy in an interview to focus solely on answering the questions and talking through your experience only as you are asked. Take an interview as an opportunity to tell them why you want the role, as well as why you are right for it.



We will be hosting PALS workshops on the first Wednesday in each month that Parliament is sitting.

For upcoming events visit


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