I couldn’t make any sense of my new client’s CV. In the 10 years since university, she had set up her own business, and worked for a charity, a consultancy and a major tech company. There were huge chunks of time unaccounted for and, to be honest, I wasn’t buying what she was saying. It seemed too disconnected, and when there were notable achievements I found myself wondering: did you really do that? And I certainly didn’t understand why she wanted to work for a big company now… why not do her own thing? None of it made sense. It raised more questions than answers.
However, I really liked her when we spoke on the phone. So I did what I do with all my clients before we meet: I met her online first. My searching found her being interviewed on BBC News as an expert in entrepreneurialism; it revealed a high profile charity award she had set up, and her tone online said “this person is fabulous”. But her CV did not. She didn’t have a clear career story, which was why she was struggling to land interviews.
The diversity in her working life is not unusual and, most likely, it will only increase. Most of us will try different roles and companies and have a portfolio approach to our careers. This is a positive thing – the mix, and where our experiences intersect, will help create our unique offering.
However, we need to communicate our career paths with clarity and purpose to give them meaning. Otherwise we can look random and unconvincing to employers.
When I was a marketer I spent a lot of time writing creative briefs. The secret to writing a good brief is simplicity – having one core thought that runs through the entire brief, like a thread. I think CVs are the same. A good CV needs to have one key theme or thread running through it. We can have different experiences but they need to clearly stand for something.
We often rewrite our story with the benefit of hindsight. It can be hard to connect the dots as we move forward and we have to make sense of them after the event.
This is how we approached it with my talented client:
- We asked “why?” For every role, I wanted to know why she took the job and why she left. What were the motivations and drivers behind her choices?
- We plotted her life story on one piece of paper. We drew a line and at one end wrote age zero and at the other end age 31. Everything above the line was a peak experience, an experience that enriched her life, and everything below the line was a “turnaround” experience. Turnaround experiences are sometimes negative but not always. They are the points in our life that force us to rethink: maybe not achieving the grades we had hoped for, or going to a different university then we had planned, or ending up working for a boss who was less than desirable. When it is complete, the idea is to look at the timeline and think: what is this telling me? What are the key themes and what is repeated?
From these exercises it was clear to my client that she was driven by building things that mattered. What mattered to her was having a societal impact, whether that was showing that young lives matter in London or helping people start their own businesses. It made sense of all of her career decisions to date. It also explained why she wanted to work for a large company now: she wanted to step up her impact and look at what she could do globally, with a view that in the long term she would take this experience and apply it to her own business. We wrote about “building what matters” in the profile section of her CV, and everything that followed supported this purpose.
A month later she was one very happy lady but had a new problem: she had just landed two brilliant job offers and she needed to decide which to choose. This is the kind of “problem” I like to help my clients face.
If you want to talk careers, CVs and presenting the right story, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.