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The 500+ year history of the CV – The Life and Death of the Curriculum Vitae?

Who wrote the first CV and why? Who will write the last CV and when? When was the first CV written on Computer?

Most of us, me included, write our CV’s, send them off and hope for an answer. But why were CV’s or Resumes (for our Stateside audience) invented in the first place, for what purpose and by whom? One would assume that CV’s have always existing, and one would wonder how employees were selected for a job before the CV existed. TheEmployable non the wiser, went on a journey to find out…

This might be a romantic notion, written in history, but the great man himself; the inventor of the pretty much
 everything, artist, musician and writer, Leonardo Da Vinci, also seems to take credit for having written the very first CV. How selfish you might say, “was it not good enough that he designed the first Helicopter and painted the Last Supper, but now he takes the credit for the first CV!” This must be an impossibility I hear you cry! Well the hard truth is that he is credited with the first CV on record  – attached to the right, but in terms of inventing the CV, the reality is that there must have been many people at the time, who started to put their achievements on paper. But the History goes, that in 1482, Da Vinci listed his capabilities and skills down on paper, to send off to a potential employer, the Duke of Milan.

So what does Curriculum Vitae mean? Curriculum vitae is a Latin expression which can be translated as the course of my life. So with that in mind, it seems realistic that the outline of a modern CV still remains true to its original intent. Yes, legislation has been conceived and developed; it’s no longer standard to put your date of birth on your CV – to protect against Age Discrimination or you would no longer need to know who you are related to (from a historic age when who you were, and who you were related to, was possibly a shortlisting criteria!!),but the intention of a CV remains true to its original purpose. Yes, the Silver Spoon of the ‘upper classes’ still exists, but your ability, experience and skills are much more relevant than a few hundred years ago, when class played a massive part in the job that you had; if you had to have one at all!
But the weird thing is – the internet – usually full of amazing facts and figures about useless facts is pretty lacking on information on the whole subject. There are some mutterings of Resumes being created by English Lords to give travelers a character reference when arriving on a distant land, but that is pretty much it!

Fast forward 400 years and it’s not till the 1950’s that CV’s are used as a matter of course in applying for job. Prior to this the CV remained a document of choice and often drafted up at interview of with an employer as a formality for being offered the job.

This is just a guess, but one would also assume that it is not until the 1950’s that applicants for a job traveled from afar and therefore the majority of applicants for a job lived local to where the job was based. Therefore word of mouth, reputation, and past experience working in that local area would be more valuable than any CV could offer.
Prior to the 1940’s, and for our UK readers, imagine ‘Downton Abbey’, you either were born rich and became educated or you were poor and had a menial job. Your CV up until that point, was the family you were born into. It was probably at the end of the Second World War in 1945 that the working classes and as importantly, Women, strived to better themselves beyond their expected ‘position’. Least not forget, that Women only gained the right to vote in the UK in 1832! What would be the point of the CV to the many, if you could only ever really achieve one type of job!

Post 1950, we have seen the introduction of the word processor, the home computer, the internet, sending CV’s by
email, applying for jobs online, creating CV’s using online CV builders, and social media being used to apply for jobs or at least network about available positions.

But as much as technology advancements have enhanced the formatting and delivery of our CV, the reasoning behind the CV has changed very little. So any predictions of the demise of the CV are slightly shortsighted! Perhaps over the next 100 years the delivery of the Curriculum Vitae will evolve somewhat. Perhaps we will not need to write a CV, as our records will be updated for us via online record keeping!?! But for the CV to go, it may mean we are returning to a time when skills, experience and education are no longer required – and that seems a future not worth the paper it is written on.


One Response to “The 500+ year history of the CV – The Life and Death of the Curriculum Vitae?”

  1. The Public Sector has never made much use of CVs for recruitment, preferring application forms.

    Posted by LC Jackson | December 15, 2011, 11:53 am

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