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Your CV: Your story in words other people recognize

Struggling to write your CV or bio?

It’s tough to write a CV, particularly when we’ve changed career slightly or done something unusual.

Learning from a twitcher

By chance, today I listened to a program on bird watching  and learned about the ‘rare man’ committee.   Apologies for the sexism, but we psychologists have something to learn from what an experienced ‘rare man’ said the qualities needed from a person who sits on the ‘rare man’ committee and ‘rules’ on the claims that fellow twitchers have seen a rare bird.

OK, I wouldn’t sit around all day looking for a rare bird, but the advice was sensible.

These are the qualities needed for someone who wants to sit on the ‘rare bird’ committee.

  • An applicant needs a track record that other bird watchers recognize
  • An applicant needs specialist knowledge to contribute the committee
  • An applicant needs awareness of their strengths and weakness that will affect their judgment

There was a fourth, I think, but it seems this is one of the few BBC programs that will not be repeated!
RGB by Mosieur J Iversion via Flickr

Why we find writing a CV difficult

Generally, I think we find the middle point relatively easy to describe. We find the third difficult.  More on that just now.

Our CV is an act of leadership

We find the 1st very difficult when we have changed our career in some way.  We are frustrated as noobes, for example, when we are asked for experience.  We are infuriated as experienced people when our experience is not recognized by people who sit in judgment on us.  When we live somewhere like the UK, we recognize inherent class bias that engenders the most off-putting blindness and bad manners.

The way the bird-man put it is helpful.  Describe your track record in terms the other party recognizes.  We need therefore to know something about what they expect.  In New Zealand, where I lived for a while, we would highlight our previous job titles and we would put our firms in a lighter weight font.  Where we worked didn’t resonate with the locals.  We also stripped off our qualifications.  If the job application asked for a degree, we didn’t elaborate.  We just said Yes.

It is astonishingly destructive to have to do this and HR departments should be on to it.  It is discriminatory, excluding and ultimately very bad for the firm.  Where there are very dissimilar tracks into an organization, it is up to HR to tell the alternative stories so their line managers understand them.

But HR departments are rarely competent.  Sorry but we know that to be true.  And because they are rarely competent, it is up to us to exercise leadership  I’ll give you an example.  Once I had a student who had come up the hard way.  I advised him to state but not emphasize his good university degree and highlight three features of his background.

  • His father was an underground miner.  He grew up around miners and he understood their concerns.
  • Because he grew up at a mine he spoke 4 languages.
  • Before he came to university, he worked as a temporary teacher.  That wouldn’t be a track record that was ‘recognized’.  But while he was a teacher in this remote rural school, he coached his school athletics team and took them as far as the Provincial championships.  That would be recognized.

He walked into a very good job on a graduate trainee in a leading multinational.  Had he not emphasized this story in his way, he would have fallen foul of class bias.

It can be hard for an individual to identify features of their background that will resonate with people they have never met in a sector where they have no experience.  It is hard for us to recognize those features in our own CV.  That’s our task, though.  To find those points where we resonate with the people we are going see.  That is the leadership task.

Our strengths and weaknesses

Oh, how questions about strengths and weaknesses make us shy.  But I will tell you why.  The question is always asked in a frontal way.  Very, very rude of interviewers to do that.  They need to probe what your strengths will be in their team and what will be your weaknesses.  But that is their job.  You cannot know because you have not been in the situation before.  By the time you know, you will be ready for the next challenge.

Thinking about the referees of rare bird sightings helps, I think.  An applicant would know where they think they would want to play a leading or substantial role and where they would take a following or lagging role.  It can be help, possibly to think about where you think you might speak up and where you would be listening hard.

Whatever, when an interviewer is frontal, remember that it is their bad manners not yours.  Take a deep breath.   Exercise leadership.

  • Orient yourself: Repeat the common & shared goal.
  • Remind yourself of why you want to be with these people: Repeat their three contributions.
  • Steady your audience:  State your contribution and state your main agenda as you see it.

Your goal is not to answer their question.  Your goal is to bring everyone together.  Leadership.

Thank you rare bird man.  If anyone heard the fourth criterion, do let me know.

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