This post orginally appeared in Patrick Butler’s Cuts Blog on 3 November 2010 and appears here by kind permission of The Guardian.
My search for work has been slow and steady rather than shock and awe. To begin with I was not sure when I should start. I know that sounds strange but it’s a function of how employment law works. (Or at least how the relevant law has been explained to me.) My employer did not officially start contemplating redundancies until the start of the summer. That’s the time it took for ministerial plans to become clear. Then the consultation started.
Even though there was not much to consult about it was not until the autumn that I got my Notice Letter. In our house we gave it a slightly less polite label – the PPOD letter. Please push off and die. Maybe we didn’t use ‘push’ but you get my meaning. Until I had my PPOD I couldn’t answer some elementary questions including – ‘When are you available?’ – that recruiters might want to know.
But I did not let the grass grow under my feet. I got in touch with an old associate who now works in executive coaching and told him what was going on. He gave me some brilliant advice:
‘Work out what you’re good at. Then work out what you want to do. If they’re the same that’s brilliant. Go for it.’
‘What if they’re not the same?’ I asked.
‘Then we – or more accurately you – have a problem.’
I felt a problem coming on.
My friend offered to look at my CV. It took me ages to find this buried on an old memory stick. A quick look and I was surprised by how brilliant it appeared. I had used some sort of template from goodness knows where and it had snazzy fonts. And there was me in all my glory. A head and shoulders shot in which I managed to appear resolute, wise and youthful.
I waited for the feedback.
‘Ditch the picture.’ Why? I asked. My colleague’s objective view was my picture made me look like a constipated and rather forgetful doorman rather than a hugely talented must-have for any go-ahead organisation. He did helpfully add that if I was looking for a job as a constipated and rather forgetful doorman he might know a few people.
‘Garbage.’ Was his take on the other content. My carefully crafted CV was a jumble of public sector speak, acronym-heavy, bulging with doings but a desert so far as achievement was concerned. His considered view was only about six other people in the country would understand the content. Sadly, they were all being made redundant too. The fonts gave him a headache.
Getting early objective feedback was really important. I learned two big lessons. First, if you want people to be interested in your CV then it has to be interesting. It’s the sales brochure for you. Second, it has to focus on what you have achieved and not so much on what you have done. Potential employers and those advising them have to be able to form a mental picture of you doing the job before you are ever going to get anywhere near being offered it.
So I re-wrote and re-wrote (and continue to re-write) my CV. It’s so burnished I’m not allowed to take it outside on sunny days as it’s a hazard to aircraft.
But my efforts remain unrewarded. I’ve applied for ten jobs. Of the eight I have heard back about four were at the outer limit of my skill set (but not my interest) so I cannot be too glum. The other four were right in the middle of the ‘what are you good at’ and ‘what are you interested in’ diagram. I always ask for feedback (another tip from a friend) and a common picture has emerged. It’s a recruiter’s market. As Steven Toft’s post on private sector views of public sector workers made clear this complicates what was already tricky.
For each of those four jobs there were at least 160 applicants. For one there was over a thousand. How do you get on to that shortlist in those circumstances? I don’t know. When I do find out I’ll let you know.