Category Archives: MBA CVs

Resumes: Dazzling or dull?

Career coaches and search consultants spend inordinate amounts of time encouraging job seekers to dazzle and to stand out in the candidate crowd.   However there is one area when it’s OK to be the diamond in the rough,  unexciting and utilitarian, and when dull is completely OK if not advantageous.  That is in the context of CV formatting.

I mention this in every workshop I do, but I am pretty sure  as all the  sophisticated CVs flood into my inbox , that most don’t take this seriously ! Every job search tool box should include one CV in bog standard, Word format. In my whole, somewhat long career I have never heard anyone suggest that they are seeing a candidate exclusively because of a pretty looking or creatively designed resume.

Many large organisations retrieve candidates’  CVs from their data bases via  A.T.S. (Applicant Tracking Systems) or H.R.I.S.  (Human Resource Information Systems) which  strip resumes of formatting when the information is imported into their own systems.

Some ATS systems are sophisticated enough to complete this process without difficulty.  Others are not.  Very often recruiters have to copy/paste information from a CV,  into a client  template to forward to the HR or hiring manager.   I very often replicate contact details and if I have to retrieve those embedded in a header or  PDF format, that only takes time. Others dealing with hundreds of CVs per  day with a wide field of candidates,  have the luxury of not needing to be vigilant.

Additionally, many companies have rigorous anti-virus software  which are especially punitive of attachments. I had one client who failed to get any  CVs I had sent  in connection with a search for an International Tax Specialist position. We found out that their firewall blocked all mails and documents which included the letters  “cialis”  (a male drug).

In general,  although very popular PDF format is not advisable because it’s quite often incompatible with some systems which require additional software to convert back to Word,  or to align with their own company templates.  Candidates use PDF because they fear that their CV will be modified. Honestly – no one has time and if it is tweaked it’s usually for their benefit.  Other  bells and whistles which may also cause your CV to slither into the ether are:  graphics  (tables, charts) section divides, columns and even photos.

Think small
Importantly,  most CVs are now read on a screen,   frequently a phone, tablet, or  laptop,  not even a full size desk top.  It’s important that your CV, particularly the top half of Page 1 is very clear and where the punch is packed.  Even then, the reader might be accessing it via a preview or cached version when complex formatting will not produce the best results.

If you do have a story to tell that requires a sexier look or illustrates a more creative side of your personality or career, fear not you still have a number of options.

  • Include your LinkedIn url and use the slide share function in your profile
  • Add a hyper link to your website
  • Take a hard copy of your fancy CV with you to the interview

The most important goal is for your resume to be easily retrievable. This is when dull not dazzling works in your favour.  Resumes don’t get you jobs – interviews do and  what you need is the opportunity to shine in person.

Will there be an end to copy/paste selection?

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Is having a Plan B a compromise?

No not at all
One interesting debate is always centred around having a Plan B. There are those that think that this is a fallback position that softens resolve and dilutes ambition. It’s a compromise. There are those who believe that having a plan B is absolutely necessary. Or even as James Yorke says ” The most successful people are those who are good at Plan B.” I fall into the latter camp. In fact I would take it one step further and say that failing to have a Plan B can be problematic.

Times change
I tell anyone who I coach and both my daughter and son, to always have a Plan B, plus Plans C and D if necessary. It is obviously great to have passions and everyone should strive towards achieving those dreams, but I would still advise them to review those passions regularly. Why? Because times, circumstances and people change. They might change. Their skills might change.

I know of many instances where individuals have focused on one goal exclusively. When something happened along the way, they were not prepared with a thorough understanding of their transferrable skills and what options could be available with their talents. The blows to their self-esteem and life plan were significant. These might be the actress who failed to get a break, who eventually trained to become a drama therapist. Or the injured athlete who became a sales executive. The doctor who found dealing with death was too much for her and became a teacher. The Sales Director who was laid off and eventually became a landscape designer. The lawyer who had a heart attack and became a Consultant.

I am frequently approached by the parents of young adults who have not obtained the “right ” grades in school or university or even older experienced individuals who are totally unprepared for changes that come their way. Never was this more obvious when so many people were let go during the recession.

Why do I advocate for Plan B ?

  •  Technology is changing at a rapid pace. We have no idea what careers and jobs will be available in the next ten or twenty years. Those opportunities don’t exist yet and we don’t know what they are. If someone had told me 10 years ago I would be running workshops on social media and job search, I would have looked at them blankly and asked what’s social media? Or perhaps something we always dreamed of doing, will no longer be found in the workplace as a career or even a function over time. Perhaps it will be downgraded, outsourced or made totally redundant by technology.
  •  The structure of workplace is changing at a more rapid pace than ever before. We all need to be multi-skilled
  •  We all have transferrable skills. Plan B doesn’t have to be a fallback position, it can be simply be about being open to other opportunities, understanding what we’re good at and how those talents can ben adapted. A great example of this is British particle scientist Professor Dr. Brian Cox, who grew up wanting to be an astronomer. At 15 he became diverted into rock music, going on to underperform in his A levels ( AP or IB equivalent) in his final year in high school. I have no idea how Mr. Cox Senior reacted to this development, but for many parents I have come across, this would be a nightmare scenario and send them into a tail spin. Dr. Cox pursued a varied career in rock music ( with a number 1 chart topper,) and didn’t go to university to study physics until the age of 23. He is now a leading BBC science presenter, successfully combining that role with an outstanding academic career. Pretty good Plan B!
  •  Occupational roles are no longer as rigidly defined as they used to be and once again we all need to be multi-skilled.
  •  Organisational loyalty is very tenuous. As we saw many high calibre, excellent employees lost their jobs overnight for reasons beyond their control. We have learned that there are no guarantees in life and we have to take responsibility for managing our own careers and personal development. With first hand exposure I saw that those that struggled most to cope were the ones who in pure Darwinist terms, had difficulties adapting to change. They had no Plan B and struggled to come up with one.
  • Passion doesn’t always pay the bills. Plan Bs can.
  • Passion isn’t always aligned with skill set. I am passionate about tennis but my ability to earn a living out of was always zero!

The challenge is for career changers who would like to explore a number of options to manage a consistent message.  MBA students often ask me about this. This is about being clear about your core skills, raising your visibility to drive traffic to you and limiting your range of options to possibly three to avoid appearing confused and diluted.

So is having a Plan B a compromise , or simply keeping an open mind to an ever-changing world? Does it necessarily mean compromising on your dream or about embracing multiple goals and multiple facets of our skill sets and personalities?  There maybe  times when pragmatism rather than passion is required. It’s obviously perfect when both are aligned.

What do you think?

When length matters

CVs: One page or two?

“The golden rule is that there are no golden rules.” said Mr George Bernard Shaw and nowhere is this more applicable than the job search sector when it comes to CV creation. We loves rules. The sector is heavily populated with books, articles and blogs dealing in absolutes, usually including “always”, ” never” and ” how to” tips. Many people invent these rules, some globally famous, some only famous in their own coffee breaks. Large numbers of rules fizzle out just as soon as they are created, others endure from one decade to another.

Technological change
Back in the day, a hard copy CV was the norm. Today, as the triage of candidate applications increasingly uses sophisticated technology and software, new guidelines are required for job seekers, as old assumptions become outdated. When there is human interaction most of the golden oldie rules are clearly still valid. Although times and technology may change, generally people don’t, so strong basics will always have relevance. Now job search needs to be strategic and flexible and each situation viewed on its merits. That’s why it’s called job search strategy! This doesn’t make the job seekers task any easier, because the answer to any situational question will frequently be “it depends on the circumstances”.

Ideal length
One of the most hotly debated questions is on the ideal length of a CV. That also depends! The two most common situations that job seekers will encounter with regard to their CV are: uploading it electronically on to a company data base, or sending it by email to a central HR department, where it will be subsequently uploaded. At some later time, your opus will eventually be screened by ATS , before a human being ever claps an eye on it. Here keyword-searchable content is mandatory to avoid slipping into, and remaining in, resumé oblivion. The second occasion will be where a CV is emailed or given (printed) to a known contact.

One page CVs
For many years having a one page CV in one’s portfolio was considered to be the major weapon in the arsenal. Where this rule came from I have no idea, but I see many people reducing text to size 8 font and eliminating all margins to cram their career content onto 1 page of A4. Today, when most resumés are read on a screen (even a phone) and are uploaded onto company databases and accessed by keyword searches, resume length takes on a new significance. Short in these cases may not actually be sweet.

Much confusion can be eliminated with a clear understanding that the purpose of a resume is generally considered to be the instrument necessary secure an interview or meeting. The purpose of a meeting is to get the job.

Entry level
This poor group is possibly the most beleaguered of all. College and MBA graduates are very often counselled to ensure their CVs are one page only. This definitely depends. Many individuals in this demographic have significant achievements, have worked in multiple internships or volunteer roles, have gained international scholarships, travelled globally and excelled in extra curricular activities. Those success stories are all worthy of succinct mention with metrics, so don’t worry about spilling over into two pages. However, beware, this is not to be confused with listing mundane activities by rote.

In his new resumé, a client detailed the metrics of a student bar/restaurant job, specifying the nightly headcount, staff managed and the number of covers served per sitting. They were extremely high and it takes special skills to deal with that kind of volume. Sufficiently impressed, a hospitality management company called him for interview and offered him a job. The hiring manager factored that experience into the decision-making process. I have also coached entry-level candidates who have represented their countries on national junior teams or started their own businesses, some with pretty good turnover. They are worthy achievements and speak volumes about their talents, discipline, commitment and energy.

A couple of weeks ago I emailed Lee Cooper , author of the Recruiters Little Black Book who has also penned his own thoughts on the subject. He told me he believed that a one page CV involves a risk ” .. you end up being considered as lacking in experience / content / depth”

Two pages
For most of the job seeking population a two-page resume would be considered to be a good average in which to show case any skills and achievements. Everyone should be able to do this and the discipline will encourage focused thinking. There should be no need to pad a resumé out with extraneous and repetitive vocabulary. Font size should be 11/12 points, with adequate margins to create enough white space to make it readable. Recruiters take on average 15 seconds read a resumé and focus on the mission statement (quite different from the old-school personal objective) for an estimated 8 seconds.

What about longer?
Some C level executives at the highest levels, worry that two pages may not contain enough information to fully detail an extended career history. Once again this will depend on the circumstances. If the search to fill the position is being managed by an executive search consultant, a two page resumé would be best to score the initial interview. Following that , the executive search consultant will write an extensive brief for the client, based on one or even more detailed interviews and perhaps psychometric testing. However, if the candidate has been approached directly via a contact in his/her network, with a face to face meeting as the first step, then a lengthier CV may be completely acceptable. Clare Ireland, Senior Partner at Hansar International suggests ” .. at a senior level, with some highly complex especially technical careers, a more detailed CV can be helpful.”

In general , the best advice I can give is to assess each situation on an individual basis … not forgetting the real basics: no typos and no lies! And in the words of the wise “A few strong instincts and a few plain rules suffice us” Ralph Waldo Emerson

With special thanks to Anne Perschel, Lise Moen, Wally Bock and Tanveer Naseer. Sages all!