In which I learn there is more to CVs than I remember

So you’ve got the news that the egg-timer on your current job has been upended and the sands are pouring out. What next?

I spoke early on to someone who had coached me for a while. Someone independent of the organisation for which I work. I needed some tips on what to do next.

‘How’s the CV?’ was his first question once I’d explained my problem. We’d talked about the importance of keeping it up to date. And, of course I hadn’t. In fact I couldn’t find an e-version of the one I had shown him all those months ago. It was a memorable moment. I had included a photo of me looking rugged and determined. Hubris. Pure hubris.

‘What the hell is this?’ he asked.

‘It’s me,’ I said.

‘Well I can see that. But why have you stuck a photo of you on your CV?’

‘Er … It makes it look more modern. More …,’ I searched for the right word.

‘It makes you look like a bouncer and distracts from the content.’

Humiliating perhaps. But I had learned a useful lesson. A CV is all about content. It’s all about selling you to a potential employer. So a mug shot that made me look like an extra from a Guy Ritchie movie was a mistake. Unless of course I was actually after a job as an extra in a Guy Ritchie movie. (NB – make mental note about finding the name of Guy Ritchie’s casting agents.)

Next in this torture session we got on to length. My CV was enormous. Page after page of wonderful – to me -things I had done. Wrong. Next lesson was that less really is more. Recruitment consultancies or stressed HR departments don’t have the time to read an encyclopedia of the content of your mind. So two sides of A4 max. My coach relayed the bad news wth just a bit too much relish I thought.

‘But what about all the things I’ve done?’ I bleated.

‘Now you’re being especially dumb,’ is he always this supportive?

‘Don’t mistake doing for achieving. A potential employer wants to know what you’ve achieved. It’s a good way for them to begin to think about what you could achieve for them. Think about the visualisation that athletes do before competition. Well it’s the same for potential employers. Before anyone will give you a job they have to form a satisfactory mental image of you actually in the job. That’s why achievements are so important.’

OK. This was getting hard now. No photo. And no endless list of stuff I had done. Instead I had to step back and work out what I had achieved and how. That’s hard work. It also takes time to do it properly. Most of us don’t keep a running total of our achievements. Well, writing my CV has convinced me we should.

One of the things I struggled with most is the opening paragraph. The six lines that say who you are, what you’re about and what you want to achieve. The pitch you’d make about you in the lift. For someone brought up to be diffident and modest in all things this was excruciating. It took ages and I still don’t really like it but I’m told it does the job.

And that’s the final thing I’ve learned. Get feedback on your CV from people whose opinion you respect. Even those whose guts you can’t stand. In fact especially those in that category as they are the most likely to be most objective. (Or not so uncritical that asking an opinion is pointless.)

Then I got round to the mechanics of getting everything I now wanted in a CV into a usable form. In an idle moment browsing Staples I picked up a piece of software called Teaching – you: CV writing skills. It’s a simple piece of software that enables you to put everything in once and then play around with it in a word document. I’m sure there are pieces of software available but this was £9.99 so it didn’t respresent a huge financial risk.

So I’m now armed with a two page summary CV including a paragraph neatly summarising what I can do for a new organisation. So what happened next …


About redundantpublicservant

A redundant UK public servant looking for work, sharing his experiences and providing a space for others to do the same.
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