Who are you? What have you achieved? Why are you the right person for the job? These are all questions a strong CV should instantly answer for the reader. Think of this document as your own living, breathing personal marketing pitch, a marketing pitch that should constantly evolve as you grow and develop as a professional.
It was none other than Leonardo da Vinci, over 500 years ago, who scribed the first CV. That’s right, among his many, many famous accolades, Leonardo da Vinci is also credited with writing the world’s first CV. In 1482, he was keen to find work as a sculptor, craftsman or builder, and in a bid to do so, he sent a letter to the Regent of Milan, outlining the many skills he had to offer.
The CV has obviously evolved over the last 500 years, and, as the world in which we work changes beyond recognition, so does the CV. This is what I want to talk to you about in this blog.
What you need to know about the CV of today
My recent blogs have focused on the fact that we are all living longer, and thus many of us will have no option but to work for longer, possibly well into our 70s and 80s. That’s a long time. We will therefore need more and more variety in our careers to help us feel happy, engaged and fulfilled throughout the decades to come. So, switching jobs more regularly, changing industries, going back to university or taking time out to travel the world will very much become the norm.
This concept is one which has been coined the 100 Year Life, and it is a fascinating and far-reaching topic that I believe will start to impact us all, and probably sooner than we can fathom (if it hasn’t done so already). One area that this trend is undeniably impacting is the job search process, specifically the CV. Below are some of the reasons why:
Gaps on CVs will become more common, and that’s ok
How does a non-linear career journey with lots of turns or even U-turns translate onto a CV, a document that, by its very nature should be concise and deliver impact? Well, it means more gaps and lots of them. It also means more information and more layers. All of this goes against what has, in the past, traditionally been widely agreed as CV writing ‘best practice’. And of course this shift has implications for both jobseekers and employers.
So, let’s start with jobseekers. Take Sally for example. She started her career by spending five years in a permanent role, then took a sabbatical, returned to work for a year, then had a baby, then took on a contracting role which gave her more flexibility, then, years later, she decided to go back to university, and now she’s unexpectedly had to take time out to look after her elderly parents, but is also on the lookout for a new role. She’s feeling daunted by the prospect of writing her CV – she’s worried it’s going to turn out like a patchwork quilt, and won’t truly reflect all the great skills she has to offer.
And Sally’s right, this type of ‘unconventional’ career journey could risk translating into ‘disjointed’ CV, but it doesn’t have to. If you’re in Sally’s shoes, structure your CV in a way that makes sense for the reader, put the emphasis on the information which will be most interesting for them. And when it comes to gaps, don’t try to hide them – account for them and tell the reader what you learnt in that time. If you have been out of work for a period of time, communicate this via your CV. Career breaks are becoming more common, and if you’ve taken one, make sure you highlight how you kept yourself busy, whether you volunteered, undertook training courses or went travelling. It’s also a good idea to start collating an online portfolio of your work – this will help you condense the information on your CV, whilst still providing the reader with evidence of your achievements. Lastly, if you’re struggling for space, use your LinkedIn profile to elaborate on your experiences and skills.
And what does a potentially ‘disjointed’ CV mean for employers? It means a change of perspective. It means a shift away from a simple box ticking exercise, and a shift towards reading beyond just the words on a screen. Employers must start to challenge their longstanding thinking that gaps on a CV are somehow a ‘red flag’. Instead, they must open their minds and appreciate that gaps on a CV don’t equal insignificant or invaluable time in a person’s career journey, if they’ve been explained properly. They are much more than that. They help build a picture of the candidate, and most importantly, gaps often provide an indication the candidate has taken time out to work on equally valuable activities and have therefore learnt equally valuable, transferable skills – skills which could be tremendously valuable to you as an employer. So don’t discount a candidate simply because their CV reads a bit like a patchwork quilt. That brings me to my next point. Skills.
Skills should take centre stage
Skills are the new currency of the workplace. Why? Because technology is ever-changing, and thus the lifetime value of a skill is getting shorter and shorter. Therefore, in my opinion, more emphasis and significance should be placed on a candidate’s skills and potential, rather than past experience. As Janelle Gale, Facebook’s Vice President of Human Resources puts it, “Skills really matter the most”.
Continuous upskilling is now a prerequisite for success, it is non-negotiable if you want to be successful. This means more training and more learning, more often. But what does that mean for the CV? For candidates, it means that skills should take centre stage on your CV:
1. Showcase your tech skills: We will all soon (if we’re not already), need to start seeing technology as our co-workers or even colleagues – both sides need to work together as a team to get the best results. As technology mentor, Nadjia Yousif says in her recent TED Talk, “To work these days, you need to be able to work with technology.” So, as well as any super technical skills you might have such as cloud computing or UX design, evidence your data literacy and fluency, your ability to interpret and analyse data etc. When you really think about it, you might surprise yourself by how many technical skills you have, regardless of your role or industry.
2. Don’t forget about your soft skills: Soft skills are by no means ‘soft’. In today’s tech-driven world, it’s our innately human skills that are often the most sought after. As Dan Roth, LinkedIn Editor states “…soft skills are what enable you to change industries, change jobs, change positions…” In fact, more than 57 percent of senior leaders today say that soft skills are more important than hard skills. So use your CV to showcase your soft skills, whether they be adaptability, creativity, communication or time management. This is the human aspect of you, something unique to just you.
3. Provide evidence for your skills: There’s a big difference between simply stating you have a skill on your CV, and giving the reader indisputable proof of your competencies. And, as potential starts to be given more weighting when assessing candidates, it’s important you provide this evidence wherever possible. For instance, include links to projects you’ve worked on, or as I said earlier, link to your online portfolio. It’s also possible to provide links to digitally signed qualifications. Another great way to convince the reader of your high potential is to use action verbs. And once you’re invited to interview, provide that undeniable evidence of your skills through the way in which you interact and build rapport with the interviewer.
4. Update the skills on your CV regularly: It’s no longer an option to learn a new skill and simply forget to update your CV. Every time you learn something new, update the skills section of your CV, no matter how minor or insignificant you think those skills might be. Think of these as hooks for the reader, they’ll be in the back of their mind as they scan through (or indeed programmed into the algorithm that we are all likely to come across at some stage in our future job searches).
And now onto what this means for those searching for talent. Work is changing, roles are changing, and the skills needed to do those jobs are changing, and they’re changing faster than we’ve ever seen before. So, when you’re hiring for your next position, that fact needs to be firmly front and centre of your mind.
Instead of automatically thinking you need a candidate with X years of experience, question and challenge yourself on that. Would a candidate who has all the right skills and bags of potential, rather than years and years of experience actually make more sense? Resist the temptation to dive into writing the job description on autopilot. Instead, start by thinking about what skills are needed for the role, your team and for your business, both now and in the future. Trust me, putting in this thought now will save you a whole lot of time (and pain) later down the line.
Your CV must be written for both man and machine
As I’ve spoken about before, technology is driving huge change in the world of recruitment. And, as a result, jobseekers should be aware of the fact that the readership of their CVs is shifting. Today, it’ll likely be both a combination of both man and machine who are perusing it.
So in the same way that you would write a report or a presentation, you need to write your CV with your audience in mind. For example, artificial intelligence and automated machine learning algorithms may well be used in conjunction with the recruiter or hiring manager to screen your CV. So, as I said earlier, ensure you think carefully about the most relevant keywords you could use. For instance, try referring back to the job description and include similar words on your CV.
On the other hand, write the employment history and personal statement section of your CV for a human audience. Think of your personal statement as your elevator pitch, it’s the first thing a hiring manager or recruiter will read, so it’s got to be good. Use it to really paint a picture of who you are and what your story is, as I said earlier, your career journey might have gaps or at points taken a pause, and that’s ok. Put yourself in the shoes of the reader, and answer the most burning questions you think they’d have about you. Above all, make it impactful and captivating.
Don’t be afraid to make it personal
As human beings, we are not one dimensional. We are complex and interesting, we are fun and passionate and so much more. We are far more than words on a CV. And, where appropriate, I think that’s a positive thing to show a potential employer.
After all, despite all the amazing benefits that technology can bring, it’s still the human touch that delivers the most value. Not only that, but as we are all facing the prospect of working for longer, the lines between our working and personal lives are becoming more blurred. Both of these factors, many would argue, mean that seeing a candidate as more than just words on a screen is becoming more important.
Use your CV to tell the reader what you’re passionate about and what really motivates you. The words you use should set the scene for the interview, during which you can explain more. And for those who aren’t camera shy – you could even try recording a video CV or if you’re really tech-savvy, try creating an augmented reality CV. In my mind, anything that will personalise your CV is only a good thing and will help set you apart from the competition.
The nature of how we work is changing, and therefore, so is the nature of the CV. But the fact remains that, despite many predicting its demise, a well-written and well-structured CV can open doors for you that you always thought would remain firmly closed. It can start conversations with people you never thought you’d ever be able to get airtime with, and importantly, your CV remains a key tool in helping you land you an interview for the job of your dreams.
About this author
Alistair has been the CEO of Hays, plc since Sept. 2007. An aeronautical engineer by training (University of Salford, UK, 1982), Alistair commenced his career at British Aerospace in the military aircraft division. From 1983-1988, he worked Schlumberger filling a number of field and research roles in the Oil & Gas Industry in both Europe and North America.
In 2002, he returned to the UK as CEO of Xansa, a UK based IT services and back-office processing organisation. During his 5 year tenure at Xansa, he re-focused the organisation to create a UK leading provider of back-office services across both the Public and Private sector and built one of the strongest offshore operations in the sector with over 6,000 people based in India.