The words "Curriculum Vitae" translated literally mean "the story of your life." Your CV is a very important document: With it rest your hopes and dreams for the future, that next step up the career ladder, a better position, more money, new challenges, etc. Therefore, if you do not want to miss out on that ‘dream opportunity,’ your CV has to represent the best you can offer. Writing a CV that has the potential to be short-listed and/or make a positive impact is a skill and requires expertise. Many brilliant professionals and top brains haven’t been able to make it to the top or get the desired results in their careers only because they couldn’t position their talents, skills, knowledge and experience positively.
Let’s look at the psychology of selection here. A recruiter or a hiring manager is a human being who, like all other human beings, is driven by emotions. It’s a well-established fact today that human decisions in any walk of life are more emotional than rational. The rule of thumb to help define the ratio explaining emotions vs. rationality in human decision-making is now agreed to be approximately 70:30. Dr. Daniel Kahneman and his team’s seminal Nobel Prize-winning work clearly establishes that we play in an “emotional” economy and not a strictly rational one. From consumer behavior to employee attitude to relationship health, everything is driven by human emotions. The science of behavioral economics has clearly upstaged the neoclassical theories of economics in explaining human decision-making processes. The same applies to building a CV. You have to learn to connect to the prospective recruiters/hiring managers. More importantly, you want their mind share in areas where you are sure you shine and possess strengths. The selection process is as much an art as it is a science. The element of human bias will never be completely eliminated. But that’s not always bad news. It, in fact, can be an opportunity if you are smart enough to crack this psychological code.
Let the biases work for you and not against you. This is where a CV built intelligently can help you. Why a powerful CV? Building a powerful CV is akin to building a personal brand. A good CV is like a positioning tool to position and promote your personal brand. It’s the first touchpoint with your prospective recruiters and needs to be handled smartly and with a great degree of care. A more basic benefit is that a powerful CV helps you get an edge in a highly competitive and crowded selection process. It helps you stand out and can definitely get you the right breaks, right career changes or upward career direction. Also, a good CV helps the recruiters peg you from a value perspective and, psychologically speaking, enhances your odds of getting a better remuneration/reward, even before you go to the negotiation table.
Last but not least, a smart CV will create a favorable mental predisposition with your interview panel and allow the interview discussion to be steered in the direction you want it to go. This can be the big difference between a successful or an unsuccessful interview. This, to me, is very critical for interviewers and interviewees alike, as too much time is wasted in trying to find faults/gaps, interrogate or indulging in a surface level show of one’s knowledge and capabilities. It's vital that the words used in your CV/resume really make the reader want to meet you and invite you to that all-important interview. Your CV/resume is your sales document to a recruiter/employer, and if it fails to sell you, then it will probably end up in the trash bin. A CV is like a brand statement. It does the rounds beyond the audience you expected to target, and thus builds a perception about you. It helps build your constituency, outside of your immediate network. It remains a potent and powerful tool to attract the right audience for the right reasons. If you are senior, and are doing well, your CV should be all the more powerful and should even be exemplary. So, what are the critical steps to build that "powerful CV?"
- Please spend quality time to research the organizations and the roles you are applying for. This is the most basic (yet most critical) step and surprisingly, the most ignored aspect of career management. The company web site and other public domain information do offer some important cues. They will help you understand some key themes that should show up in your CV.
- Build multiple versions of your CV suited to the relevant industry, organization, role, etc. It makes an immediate impact. A good CV should never be one-dimensional and you should never take a “single version fits all” approach.
- Ensure that you highlight the ‘right’ things and manage around the gaps/non-strengths. The first page of your CV should capture your profile highlights (educational, experiential and personality strengths) and major professional accomplishments (tailored to intersect well with the role/organization requirements). This is not a manipulative process but a subtle attempt to position your best self, authentically, while not concealing any important facts. Trust me, the interviewer will be better off knowing what you can do, rather than what all you can’t do. A key learning from the study of behavioral economics is that brand recall is not just a factor of the best features, price, etc., but the ability to build an emotional connection with the consumer. In this context, your personal brand needs to make that connection with the prospective recruiter
- Examine the job ad carefully. It usually contains some vital information regarding the role deliverables and the expected skill, knowledge and experience profile. Also, most ads will describe certain personality attributes that the organization feels will help the person succeed in the job environment. There is an entire school of thought which discounts the value of this information provided, especially regarding the personality attributes, and most CVs ignore this. This is an opportunity lost.
- Leverage this opportunity and differentiate yourself by weaving these themes/attributes into the way you are describing yourself and your experience, skills, etc. It is the least emphasized aspect and needs some skills and effort, but can pay huge dividends in creating strong brand equity.
- Explain your strengths smartly and clearly. A positive psychology-based approach offers you better chances of success. Understanding your differentiating strengths and being able to clearly articulate the same requires effort and skill, and this is very often the last mile that most people are not able to run, much to their detriment. Let’s not forget what Peter Drucker once said, “Most people feel that they know what their strengths are, and they are mostly wrong.” This is an aspect of self-awareness and introspection that matters a lot. You need to be able to master this piece, and soon. The best way to do this is to put down your thoughts around your key successes and the inherent strengths that enabled those successes.
- Write down your successes and strengths as an independent, introspective exercise and give it quality time. You can then add this just after the profile highlights. This usually is a tough process and my review of over 5000 CVs clearly tells me that most people do a pretty shoddy job of this. Finally, be conscious and intelligent about what you want to position and how you want to position it. Don’t over-position, don’t under-position--you need to "just-right-position."
The best way to do this is to weave your key skills, knowledge, experience and personality strengths while explaining your major achievements/successes. This strategy is a lot more powerful that just churning out reams of paper explaining all the great work that you have done and then somewhere in a remote, nondescript section of your CV, trying to explain your strengths, etc. Most CVs lack connectivity and alignment of perspectives. That’s what a great CV brings to attention, instantaneously.
The most critical success factor is around your CV’s ability to steer attention to your “best self” or, in other words, your key strengths. This is the most important aspect of your CV, and needs the most attention. It’s critical to understand that your CV is your brand, and helps a lot of people understand your “value proposition.” It definitely has a huge psycho-emotive dimension to it and hence needs to be managed well. Building a powerful CV needs effort, skill and some intelligent research. Let’s not oversimplify this process. The CV has to be authentic as it makes a “brand promise” which you will need to fulfill during the interview process and more importantly, when you start performing in your ‘dream’ role. Let’s accept its relevance and impact and consciously take control of the process, so that we can chart the career paths we set out to achieve. It can be the big difference between success and failure…
Executive coach for global leaders and a leading career counselor. For more information on career building and personal branding, contact email@example.com.