How to Write a Modern Resume

How to Write a Modern Resume

I think it was Sherlock Holmes who said that there is no such thing as coincidence (but then he also said that the answer is never about twins!!).

For my part I pay attention to emerging patterns, some of which can initially appear to be coincidences. One such pattern has emerged in the last couple of weeks and inspired this blog. It follows conversations with two old friends who are looking for work and feeling increasingly frustrated.

These are two experienced individuals who have many years of work experience and have delivered a number of important and valuable changes. I am sure that each would be a boon to any client/employer, yet they are struggling to gain even initial engagement.

We discussed what they were doing to find work and I had a look at their CVs. It struck me that one big problem was that they were a little out of phase with what I see as the current recruitment market. Their CVs and their personal presentation screamed "I can do ALL this, what do you want me to do?" When I say "all" I mean they tried to present pretty much everything they have done in the hope that a recruiter will pick on something from it. This becomes more of an issue when you have many years of varied experience that you are trying to leverage.

Looking back I was guilty (if that is the word) of the same practice in the past. I think it came from exposure to outplacement advisors during the 80's and 90's - I was made redundant on two occasions. In part I think the advisors were looking to bolster a candidate's self esteem, but also back then recruiters (or at least permanent ones) tended to look past the initial reason for hiring and considered how a candidate could grow and develop in subsequent roles. To be fair I found roles in both cases so it can't have been a bad approach, at least not for the market then.

Of course my perspective and memory could be faulty, but I would characterise the style as being one focused on presenting the whole candidate and letting them be selected from the wider resource pool. Golden nuggets could be hidden almost anywhere in the CV.

In contrast today's market seems to much more particular. Recruiters are very much focused on the "now", the immediate role. With increased employment mobility they probably doubt if they or the candidate will be worrying about developing the role 2 or 3 years hence as one or both are likely to have moved on.

These recruiters and the gatekeepers who screen CVs and present short lists are often presented with a plethora of candidates, but only want to present or interview fewer than 10. It is not surprising that they then pick the ones that can clearly and easily be seen as most relevant. A general, broad CV stands less chance of making it through this selection process, hence the title of this post.

I also noticed that both were more focussed on what they didn't know than what they did. This is a second change that needs looking at.

As business moves faster and in general training budgets have been cut, employers/clients are looking more and more for newcomers to bring expertise. The common terms are Domain Expert or Subject Matter Expert (SME). In conversation with my friends both denied being SME's, yet it was clear that they had definite expertise in relevant subjects. While they may not know 100% of a topic, they almost certainly knew more than 99% of the population, but were making little of it.

This self-deprecation and focus on what they did not know more than what they did know may be a British thing, but being an SME is not a bad thing especially during recruitment, when it is critical to the employer.

My advice to my friends has been two-fold and I will share it here:

1) Make sure your CV appeals to what the market is looking for at the moment. In my case regulatory change is a big area and one that has funding so that has been my direction. There are others and each person has to work out their target.

Write your CV so that the key information is towards the start and easily accessible to the average reader. In essence talk to the interests of the potential recruiter and don't distract them (at least in your headlines) with 99 other things you have done, but are not distinguishing features or relevant to their current needs.

Make sure you CV clearly says "Here I am and this is why you need me" and not "What do you want me to do, I can do anything".

It is better to be in contention for some jobs than be out of contention for anything. Recruitment is a numbers game and unless you have an inside track you have to play those numbers to stand any chance of success.  

Fundamentally your CV is not about you and only you - it is a tool to persuade a recruiter to meet you - never lose sight of that.

2) Be proud of what you know. Work out where you have expertise and let your contacts and recruiters know about. If in looking at the market you feel you are lacking in some area, do something about it. Read. Join interest groups. Talk with people you think are experts.

Personally I think that blogging is a good way of bringing focus to an area of expertise.

I am minded of the difference between a teacher and a student. The answer is one lesson ie the teacher only needs to be one lesson ahead of the student to retain his role as teacher. Likewise a recruiter's knowledge is often limited, so cynically you only need enough to convince them and then be able to build on that as matters progress.

As I said before, being considered an "expert" is rarely a bad thing when it comes to job hunting, so don't shy away from being one.

The modern employment marketplace is a very different from the one I entered in 1980 and requires candidates of all ages to adapt if they want to maximise their chances of success. We all need to evolve with it. 

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  • Cody Henaire

    Thanks for the tips !!

  • Joe Elliott

    Never lie, they can spot any nonsense

  • Ryan Bowman

    Well said

  • Dave Turner

    So helpful, thanks for sharing !!

  • Lewis Howie

    We all need to evolve by getting more degrees.

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Ian J Sutherland 

Business Change Expert

Ian J Sutherland is a highly skilled director with expertise in governance, partnerships and regulation and almost four decades of experience serving as a powerful catalyst for change for organisations of all sizes and sectors. He thrives on identifying areas for innovation and improvement, forming effective strategies to drive efficiency and create bottom-line results. He has a proven capacity to serve as a bridge between organisations and functions, creating unity and operational coherence. A personable and creative leader, with a unique insight and the ability to see the big picture and provide constructive challenge, he writes on many matters including the delivery of change in today's world and is an opportunistic photographer who seeks to capture images that interest him. He enjoys good beer, good company and good music - not necessarily in that order.


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