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Give tangled CVs the chop

By Jim Bright
The Bright Side - MyCareer

Recruiters will most likely toss an application that resembles a "word salad", writes Jim Bright.

Sally from Victoria is looking for a job in the sustainability field. She writes: "I've moved into the sustainability sector over the past years and am keen to continue ... As you will see from my CV, my background has been in marketing, communications, business development, project management, community engagement, stakeholder management, but not at managerial level, more operational."

Sally's letter was long, and so is her CV - seven pages in all. I had difficulty following the CV, which is littered with a range of contract roles, some fairly short-term and some held simultaneously. Unfortunately, it is not possible to discern which jobs were held simultaneously, which were bigger and which lesser.

In short, the CV falls marginally short of being a "word salad" and busy recruiters are likely to quickly give up on working through and disentangling Sally's story.

The central problem for Sally is that her story is confused and obfuscated, buried under a plethora of contract roles. No sharp, purposeful narrative emerges and, more to the point, there is no compelling story to back her desire to work in sustainability.

Rather, the impression is of a person who is looking to translate personal values and a life lived according to sustainability principles into a viable job. Unfortunately, to be considered for the more senior jobs to which she aspires, Sally will need to be a more substantial proposition.

Most of her work history lies in marketing and the links to sustainability are somewhat tenuous. The rambling nature of her CV undermines these credentials as well.

Also included is a bizarre document titled "External Review" that is full of third-person references to Sally and includes her Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality code "INTJ" with an off-putting commentary that includes the statement: "They ... like to run as much of the organisation as possible".

This document contains vague remarks about her style and "evidenced" (yuk) achievements, amounting to a lot of assertions and not a shred of evidence to support them.

Sally needs to go back to square one, take her resume apart and rebuild it around a carefully thought-out narrative that serves to highlight how her varied marketing jobs have been laying the foundations for a career in sustainability.

I've no doubt she has much to offer and her passion for the field is evident from her letter. However, this is just not coming through in her resume.

In fact, when I searched for the word "sustainability", it first appeared halfway down page three. This is a huge mistake. Sally needs it to be in the first paragraph and mentioned as often as possible throughout her resume. She has to build the story and make the links between her experience and sustainability and cannot rely on generous-minded recruiters or employers searching through the verbiage and joining the dots.

Sally needs to thread together all her jobs that had direct relevance to sustainability. These should become the core of her resume and her story.

Other jobs and experience can be listed after this in descending order of relevance and some jobs can probably be summarised or removed altogether.

When you are looking to make a career change, the onus is on you to make a compelling case and to rearrange your career history and credentials to lead to the door of the area in which you want to work. Simply laying out everything you've ever done and hoping people will spot the inherent quality is unlikely to be successful.

Jim Bright - Jim Bright is a professor of career education and development at ACU and a partner at Bright and Associates, a career management consultancy.   
Send emails clearly marked "FOR PUBLICATION" to Follow him on Twitter @TheFactoryPod.

Published: 17 March 2012

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