Many people seem to regard their CV like the rings of a tree: every year’s growth is set out meticulously in equal measure from sapling to mature oak. Far better to omit irrelevant or ancient history, focusing only on more recent jobs, or roles directly relevant to the role you are applying for.
Let’s say I’m a car salesman, and I’m trying to sell you a Volvo XYZ 2.2. Let’s say this car has a list of features as long as your arm, some of which will be of interest to you, and some not – depending on where you are in your life. Now, in an ideal world, I would ask you a few questions about your current situation to try to find out what you priorities are, and also to get a sense of the types of problems you might have with your current car that my Volvo could solve.
So, to kick things off, I might ask if you are married and/or have children. Let’s say you are married with two children, and another on the way.
This opens up several fruitful areas to investigate relating to size (can you fit 3 car seats in your current car? Is there room in the boot for all the luggage? Have you got roof rails for a top box?); safety (have you got ISO Fixers to lock in the child seats safely? Have you got side impact bars and airbags? Is there an assisted braking system?); entertainment (is there an in-car DVD system?), etc.
A good salesman would then start niggling away at those problem areas, exploring the implications of not having these things on your driving satisfaction and life in general, before explaining how the Volvo neatly addresses all these needs, to get you to sign on the dotted line.
Now, clearly, if you are single and childless and I start banging on about the exciting features of ISO Fixers for child seats, or the space available for storing prams, or the child-friendly back of the seat DVD systems, your eyes will soon glaze over, and you will probably choose a different car more appropriate to your singleton status.
But there are plenty of features in the Volvo WYZ 2.2 that could be of interest to singletons too. For example, if you like surfing or cycling, the roof bars would come in handy; or you might like going to festivals, in which case the spacious boot would easily fit a bell tent and all the kit you need for a few nights camping. And the surround sound HiFi with ipod dock might come also come in handy. Or the fact it has a 2.2 litre engine, capable of going from 0 to 60 in 5.5 seconds, might also appeal. Or the fuel consumption figures if your budget is tight. And so on and so on.
Obviously, for a Volvo, I would be a little bit limited by the overall brand image and its perception as a safe family car. But, by focusing only on the features which might interest a singleton, I have could create some wiggle room.
This is a sales technique called ‘SPIN Selling’ as devised by Neil Rackham of Huthwaite International, whereby SPIN stands for Situation, Problems, Implications and Needs Payoff. I highly recommend you buy this book if you are in any way involved in high value, complex sales. But, the point Rackham makes is that when you are trying to sell something to someone, you should only talk about the features which satisfy their expressed needs. Otherwise, at best, you risk diluting your sales pitch and, at worst, you can turn them off your product altogether by talking about features which they see as irrelevant or even a turn off. So an ideal sales pitch should address all and only the features which meet their needs or requirements.
To put this in the context of your CV: most people seem to regard their CV in the same way you might regard a brochure listing every single feature or specification in a car. But in fact, your CV is your sales pitch. The way you sell yourself is similar to the way large value sales need to be handled.
This means that, rather than listing everything you have ever done, you should ideally restrict yourself to detailing all and only the things you have done which are relevant to the requirements of the job which you are applying to.
If you are currently a Fund Manager and are applying for another Fund Manager job, then this is pretty straightforward. But if you are trying to make a slight career change, then you need to:
Clearly, to some degree, your CV is a historical record of your career, and so you cannot just leave out the parts that do not fit.
For example: if, over the course of your career, you have had four jobs as an estate agent, and only one as a stockbroker, but you want to apply for a stockbroker job, what do you do? You cannot just leave out the estate agency jobs. But the point is that you can choose which parts of your CV to flesh out detail in, and which skills you highlight, and which achievements you document. Just as with the Volvo salesman, you can chance the emphasis of the discussion to the parts that are relevant to your particular counterpart. This is where the value of Skills-based of Competency-based CVs can come in, as described above.
Persuading someone that you are really a Stockbroker when you have spent most of your time as an Estate Agent is no different from the challenge a Volvo salesman has in overcoming brand perceptions when selling Volvos to young 20-somethings. But, with the right approach, it can be done. It’s about highlighting the bits which are relevant to Stock Broking and glossing over the bits that are irrelevant, by including minimal details on the irrelevant bits.
The bad news is that this means you ideally need to have different CVs for different job types – which of course involves more work than a ‘one size fits all’ CV. In the example above, you would need to have one CV for Estate Agency jobs and another for Stock Broking jobs.
You probably ought to keep a ‘master CV’ somewhere, which lists all your jobs and achievements. You can send this to headhunters to keep on file. But this is mainly for your own historical record only. When you produce a CV for a specific job, you should copy and paste only the bits which relate to that job (or cut out the bits that do not apply).
It will be worth the extra effort, as it will make your CV a lot more interesting to readers, and so increase the chance it gets read at all.