I was at a job fair several months back, in a room teeming with defence recruiters and engineering firms. Despite being positioned neatly on the edge of the fair, our small stand very quickly had a long line of job hunters stretched out before us, hoping we would tell them their CVs were not too bad.
In the blur of conversations, with comments here and there about formatting, security clearances and content presentation, I remember one particular conversation I had with a woman transitioning out of the military. Her CV was only one page, despite having over a decade’s experience, and as it was purely skills-based, gave only the barest of frameworks about her experience. I certainly won’t harp on the page count, as that is a topic I am sure you have seen repeated throughout this blog.
Instead, my thoughts today stem from one particular moment in our conversation, when I challenged her formatting and content. I claimed something like this: “Right now, you are selling yourself like a packaged set of skills on a shelf, resting and looking over the edge for someone to come along and purchase you. I recommend reframing your mode of presentation and content to demonstrate why you are the person who is the best fit the role to which you are applying.”
I remember she looked at me very sceptically at this point, as if by suggesting that CVs are supposed to be about more than just ‘selling’ one’s competencies, I had said something radical and concerning.
The truth is that successful career marketing materials – whether a CV or social media account – are about much more than just skills. They are even about more than just experience. Successful career marketing materials hinge on communication, on how you communicate yourself to the reader.
Now, let me qualify this briefly and clearly: it is essential to have the content required in the job description, and no amount of good communication can make up for lack of content. So what does it take to best communicate that experience, those skills, to ensure you come across as more than simply a shiny package on a shelf? And, even more pertinently, why is that important?
Recruiters and hiring managers see hundreds, thousands and sometimes hundreds of thousands of CVs over their career lifetimes. The question is what do they remember? Or, in other words, the eternal question: what does it take for your CV to stand out above the others? Obviously, CVs that border on or live in the realm of ridiculous are often memorable, or ones with alarming typos.
I remember hearing a top recruiter for the UN International Secretariat tell a story of a CV he read in which the candidate had made the egregious typo of a missing letter: instead of “public administration”, the CV read “pubic administration”. But provided you do not want to be remembered for painful typos, what ensures a memorable CV?
Many different people would answer this question in many different ways. Throughout the next few weeks, I will argue that successful career marketing demands personal-ness. I don’t mean a weird, tell-the-world-all-your-personal-business kind of personal.
I mean a relational personal. I mean rethinking your CV to be the beginning of a dialogue between two persons, you and the reader. It is your chance to make an impact as an accomplished individual, creating a shared space with the reader.
Over the next few weeks, I will write a series of blogs entitled “The Push for Personal” exploring this ‘personal’ dimension within the realm of career marketing. While this conversation could lead in many directions, from a psychological analysis to cross-cultural critique, my focus remains firmly on the key mediums of career marketing: CVs and social media.
I am going to argue that the best career marketing materials engage with the reader (or viewer) in a personalised, relational manner while maintaining strict and polished professionalism and without losing an iota of content. For fear of giving away the end game, I will conclude by simply saying that next week we will begin with the negative – with what personalised career marketing is not.