Writing your CV! Part 3 Pondering on CVs; language,confidentiality, competencies and referees!

This post is concerned with the particular issues faced by those moving between public and private sectors when completing their CV.

I’m going to comment on language, confidentiality, competencies and references.


A recent post here set out the reasons why public sector jargon needs to be avoided in CVs and job interviews.  Keep your language clear and simple.  When in doubt ask a non-public sector friend to read it and give you honest advice on clarity.


Some public sector staff work in areas where the issues of confidentiality are real and significant.  But in all honesty most do not!  If you do, there will be clear guidance available.  You should consult your HR department about what you can say and how best to overcome the barriers to you getting a new role.

Most public sector staff do not work under the same restrictions.  The reality is that you can record on your CV the kind of work you have been doing.  Of course you should avoid information; under a security classification, relating to an individual member of the public or a fellow staff member, likely to embarrass the organisation or  Government Minister for which you have worked.

Most people will be able to describe their work in sufficient detail for a CV.  But see the comments made in the next section about how you do it.


In my last post I included a list of skills and personal qualities (competencies) that employers are likely to look for. The list was by no means an exhaustive.

When you complete your employment history, try to show how your approach and your achievements demonstrate the competencies you quote.

For example, putting together a team and then driving through an initiative to improve the service to customers while reducing costs illustrates a number of competencies.  It can be understood quite easily by those outside the public sector.

Experience of project and programme management again can be understood outside the public sector and can be used to illustrate planning, organizing and delivering benefits when applying for roles in small to medium-sized organizations that do not have large projects for you to manage.

Those who have worked very close to Ministers managing legislation have had to use planning and organizing skills.  They are also likely to have demonstrated tact and discretion. If you have worked in difficult and sensitive areas  including policy discussions with Ministers (where influencing skills, relationship management, tact and discretion were needed, as well as the ability to be flexible and adaptable) this should be included but with discretion.

Think in terms of the competencies as you write descriptions of the work you have done.  Think in terms of organisations, tasks, problems solved and people influenced.  Describe the tasks you have completed in terms that others will understand and focus on what you delivered and how you delivered.


Some government departments will only offer bland references as your employer.  You will need their reference.   But it may only be a confirmation that you worked for them in a particular grade over a particular period of time.

Most large private sector employers know this – for others you may have to explain.  But you will need something more.  Try asking your line manager or someone in your management line if they would be prepared to give you a personal reference.   Also consider approaching retired senior colleagues and others who have left organisation.

It helps as well if you can provide a personal referee who holds a senior position in the private sector.  This is where people you have met during work in a voluntary capacity may be useful. Otherwise, consider people who you have met through clubs and associations.

You shouldn’t feel embarrassed about asking for a reference, most people feel flattered to be asked But you should always give people the opportunity to say no and make quite clear that you will understand if they feel they simply don’t know you well enough to help.

I would welcome your thoughts on all this and I am very happy to answer questions.

  • Writing your CV! Part 1 The Basics (leavingthepublicsector.net)
  • Writing your CV! Part 2 Making Choices (leavingthepublicsector.net)
  • Watch your language – it’s a different world out there! (leavingthepublicsector.net)
Wendy Mason works as a consultant, business coach and blogger. Adept at problem solving, she is a great person to bring in when that one thing you thought was straightforward turns out not to be! If you have a problem talk to Wendy – she can help you – email her awendymason@wisewolfconsulting.com or ring ++44(0)7867681439

Writing your CV! Part 2 Making Choices

Curriculum Vitae

In my last post I suggested that the following information should be in your CV:

  1. Contact details – name, address, post code, telephone number, e-mail address
  2. A short summary with Keywords for recruiters
  3. Skills and personal qualities (Competencies)
  4. Employment history and experience
  5. Qualifications, professional memberships and achievements
  6. Education and training
  7. Any special skills e.g. driving licence
  8. Interests and hobbies if relevant
  9. Referees

I mentioned as well that there are different styles of CVs.

  • A ‘traditional’ CV that lists everything in date order starting with your education and qualifications, followed by your employment history, interests etc.
  • A ‘more ‘informal’ CV starts that starts with a pen picture of yourself which highlights your skills and experience relevant to the job.
  • Variations and combinations of the two above

Here I’m going to provide you with some advice to help you complete 1 to 9 above

1. Your contact details, name address etc should be simple to complete but have a care on your email address.  This is the time for a simple and straightforward email address – not for a the jokey one that includes your nickname

2. Your summary is an opportunity to show an employer what you will bring to their organization in terms of your key expertise and transferable skills.  It should show how you will make a positive difference to their success. This is a part of your CV that should change in response to the requirements of each particular role.

Begin with previous experience but do not supply too much detail. You can have an intro along the lines of: “With 5 years experience in customer management…”. Only if it is very relevant to this particular job application be exact here – details will come later.

Use key words to focus the reader’s attention on the key skills that you want to highlight: for example, “multi-disciplinary team leadership”. This will put emphasis on more reasons why you may well be the candidate for the job.

When you have established an outline of your background and your skills it is time to look at the future.  You can state what you’re looking for and where you would like to go.  Alter your goals here marginally depending upon the job you’re applying for; for example, “seeking to further develop my career in the field of project management”.

3.” Skills and personal qualities” are usually a list and the kinds of skills that employers look for include

  • Leadership and management
  • Effective communication
  • Problem-solving and Decision Making
  • Creativity
  • Customer Focus
  • Interpersonal abilities
  • Influencing and persuading others
  • Teamwork
  • Planning and organizing
  • Computer literacy 

Highly regarded personal qualities include

  • Adaptability and flexibility
  • Professionalism and work ethic 
  • Positive attitude and energy

If you can make a claim to these qualities – it is reasonable to include them here!  Add any others you think may be relevant.

4. In describing your employment history, concentrate very much on the last ten years and what you have delivered.  This is where you draw on your STAR stories.  For each element include your job title and how long you were employed in the role, then set out briefly;

  • Situation – Describe the situation/problem you were faced with
  • Task – what did you have to do?
  • Action – what action did you take and why.
  • Results – highlight the outcome

Experience previous to the last ten years should be very much summarized unless it is directly relevant to the role but do not ignore key successes.

5. When setting out your qualifications and achievements include most prominently what is most relevant.

6. On qualifications etc, again go for what is most relevant

7. On special skills, stay with what is relevant and here you could add information from your STAR stories that relate to voluntary activities.

8. I would advise avoiding adding hobbies and interests unless they are directly relevant to the role.

9.. I don’t include the details of referees unless they have been asked for.  But I do add a note to say that they are available and can be supplied on request.  When you do provide contact details for referees remember to warn them to expect an enquiry.

I would welcome your thoughts and I am very happy to answer your questions, if I can.  My next post will discuss particular issues for those moving between public and private sectors when completing their CVs

Related articles
  • Writing your CV! Part 1 The Basics (leavingthepublicsector.net)
  • Reading between the lines – what a CV can reveal about a job applicant(premierlinedirect.co.uk)
  • >Transferable Skills (leavingthepublicsector.net)

Wendy Mason works as a consultant, business coach and blogger. Adept at problem solving, she is a great person to bring in when that one thing you thought was straightforward turns out not to be! If you have a problem talk to Wendy – she can help you – email her awendymason@wisewolfconsulting.com or ring ++44(0)7867681439