How To Write a CV

The other day I was talking to the colleagues at Classeek about what a CV should look like. I like to tell myself that over the years, I have become the master of masters over all CVs. I have indeed seen practically all imaginable CVs and have probably written most of them - at Zurich Opera between 10 and 40 per week for more than a decade, whereas I still translate, edit, rewrite and write dozens of them for my various projects – earlier this year around 90 for the Trans-Siberian Art Festival...

Sometimes I am quite proud of my abilites as a writer of CVs. For the Trans-Siberian Art Festival last Spring, for instance, I had to edit and translate from Russian into English a CV of a leading Tuvan overtone singer who excels in five styles of throat-singing. Apart from being puzzled by the fact that noone could tell me for sure what was the gentleman’s first and what his last name, it took me some time to research the intricacies of overtone singing and how to translate them. In the end I discovered that most of the Tuvan names of the different styles are simply transliterated when written in English, so this particular problem was resolved quite easily.

In general, I have noticed one particular thing: a curriculum is a living organism and changes its shape all the time – like Barbapapa…! It starts with practically a few lines at the beginning of your career when you have nothing much to tell. As your career develops, your CV grows and grows accordingly: you gradually fill in every master class you attended, every city and country you played in, every foundation that gave you money, every recording you made (lables, musical partners and detailed programme included), every radio and TV programme that featured you, every award you won (and what for). And of course all orchestras, conductors and chamber music partners you ever played with, preferably in alphabetical order so that noone can get offended and bar your future career.

One day you realize that most people stopped reading your CV and that you yourself can no longer keep the inventory of orchestras, conductors, festivals and awards in order, that even you have lost count by now.

So you start reducing. You cut it down, summarize, focus on milestones and moments that truly meant something to you, cut out details – until it is about as short again as at the outset of your career...

For some reason, costume designers are masters in brevity. I remember a bunch of them whose CV consisted of one single sentence, maybe two. It was surprising but it worked.

The trouble about CVs is that you must constantly revise them, keep them up-to-date and make them appropriate for every individual occasion. Take your time to think about it – it is one of the small things that let audiences and organisers remember you favourably.

Think of what might be relevant to a particular country, hall or genre. If you are going to play chamber music, you might focus on that part of your work and shorten the part about orchestra concerts. If you play in a particular place, it will be appreciated if you elaborate on something relating to that area.

Try and write it up in a slightly different way and avoid endless (and totally boring) lists of names. However, do not try and be exaggeratedly funny and quirky – some promoters might not appreciate that and change your text completely.

Try and be short or ask beforehand how much space they foresee – otherwise your novel will be cut down to a short story or worse, mere snippets – and you might be disappointed with the editor’s work. For commodity on electronic devices brevity is also advisable.

Don’t invent things because you feel you have nothing of importance to say. The secret is to remain short, generic and sometimes vague enought to discretely pass over some gaps in your career.

Check the proper spelling of people, orchestras and venues – out of respect for your colleagues. And do not trust presenters. They might not translate it properly or print your text one-to-one, without proofreading, and once published, your CV might turn out an embarrassment for you.

Try and be generic and general – the text will age less quickly and spare you some rounds of revision.

Americans are in more of a hurry than Europeans, so they invented the system of writing the newest things first and facts like where you are from and where you studied at the very bottom. As you will have guessed I find this tiresome and annoying – I am always grudgingly scrolling down pages after pages in search for the one paragraph that tells me whether Mr N.N.-ov is in fact from Bulgaria, Moldavia, Russia or the U.S.A. and – since he is so brilliant – with whom and where he studied.

Somehow I find this more interesting than to be told that he went on tour to Germany last month. And my brain feels far less hot when a text starts with the beginning and finishes with the end, rather than starting with the end and leaving the top waiting at the bottom.

Unfortunately, the writing of your cv is a task you cannnot shun even though you might hate it. My basic advice is: be conscientious about your CV. First of all, it adds to the overall good impression you want to create (if you are taking your profession seriously) and secondly, you yourself will be pleased if what is written about you sounds decent and to your own liking.

And - as I mentioned before, in digital times things get spread around very quickly, so you are better off if the facts are right.