By novelist, trainer, and journalist, Sue Walker

CVs - the ultimate writing challenge?

‘I’ve got too much to say’; ‘I’ve not done enough’; ‘I don’t know what I’ve got to offer,’ are just a few of the typical responses I get when running CV workshops for freelances.

It’s true - producing a CV that stands out from the crowd can be a time-consuming challenge for anyone including those of us who write for a living.

But whatever creative field we’re in, the ability to use words to maximize the chances of obtaining work or the opportunity to get through the door and make a pitch is essential.

And, CVs are sometimes the only way of letting people know that we exist, so it’s worth putting time and effort into creating CVs that grab attention immediately.

What skills do I have that they need?

This is a must-ask question when thinking about how we write ourselves up. If, like me, you’ve had a variety of jobs and linked careers in the creative sector, the temptation may be to try to tell prospective clients everything that you’ve done.

But, no matter how interesting your life story might be to you and your granny, it’s important to remember that people are only interested in what you can do for them and they just haven’t got the time or inclination to wade through reams of information to find out how your skills match their needs.

In fact, most decisions on CVs are made within seconds of reading, so you need to present your key messages up front to avoid the discard pile.

Get to the point

To do this, it’s crucial to tailor your CV by picking out and prioritising the skills and experience that you have that you think most suited to the job brief – one size does not fit all.

Or, if you’re not applying for a specific job, highlight those attributes that you think the potential client will be most interested in.

This does not mean that you have to write a brand new document each time but you must ensure that the most relevant information for the particular employer/client/organisation you are targeting is clearly emphasised. It also means that you can have many versions with different content and length.

Less is more - be simply beautiful

Layout and style can heed or hinder the immediate impact of your CV. If in doubt, keep it simple and uncluttered.

Beware of using too many design features such as fonts, boxes, pictures and colours to catch the eye. They can backfire and appear visually confusing and thus off-putting. Also, bearing in mind that most CVs will probably be sent by email, check how it looks on screen and how it opens up. Send it to a friend and let them see what happens.

A cautionary tale – I have seen horrifying CV examples (due to software/PC mismatches) including a perfectly decently presented CV by the writer, emailed to me and looking utterly unreadable in text and layout - as if it was written on a manual typewriter last century! So watch out – looks can be everything on first impression.

If nothing else...

Remember one thing: whatever you produce, it has to meet this crucial benchmark – it must be a quick and easy read, giving the employer/client an immediate indication of how you meet their requirements.

Want to learn more?

FEU Training is running a number of CV development workshops around the country this autumn. If you would like to attend, look out for updates for workshops coming to your region or register your interest by emailing and letting us know what workshop you are interested in and where you are based (if we have sufficient demand in your area, we’ll come to you).

More info:


Business skills training
for creative freelances