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The Bright Side: Tell a good story

By Jim Bright

Start planning your CV as a narrative to make it a real page-turner, writes Jim Bright.

Eleanor wants advice about starting again after a business failure. She writes: ‘‘We placed our company into voluntary liquidation last week and as a result, both my partner and I are unemployed. One of the hardest things has been to write a CV and figure out what roles to apply for.

I have seen several roles advertised that I could do with my hands tied behind my back; however, I have been unable to convince recruiters to interview me. I do have a lot to offer, ama hard worker, intelligent, learn quickly and need someone to giveme a go.
I would appreciate any assistance you can offer, particularly how to introduce my role and company failure (PS, I was NOT the financial officer).’’

Losing a business at any time is traumatic and, for Eleanor, I imagine it is a terrible blow not only to be out of work but to lose a business she helped to build. She has identified one challenge she faces, how to explain why her business collapsed and why it was not her fault.

However, there could be another challenge for her in overcoming the (unfair) perception that she may not readily fit into employment with someone else after having been a part-owner of her own business for so long.

Will she be able to take direction from others?
If I were coaching Eleanor, I would start by encouraging her to develop a narrative that summarises her work history, highlighting her personal qualities and painting a picture of what she offers a potential employer.

Eleanor’s CV and cover letter attempt to do this in a rather piecemeal fashion with lots of bullet points such as ‘‘organised’’,‘‘excellent communication skills’’, ‘‘team player’’, ‘‘strategic thinker’’ and ‘‘lead by example’’.

However, listing these qualities without providing examples or evidence to support them undermines their impact. Furthermore, that list of qualities goes straight to the issue of whether Eleanor sees herself as a leader or a team player. A sceptical reader that is, a lot of recruiters) may see some contradictions in that list. Eleanor claims to be a team player but also ‘‘leads by example’’ and is a ‘‘strategic thinker’’.

So, is Eleanor really a leader who would get frustrated taking direction from others?

Eleanor’s CV and cover letter currently look like a good first pass of getting down her relevant achievements, experience and skills.However, it is unpolished and does not tell a coherent or convincing story. Without knowing Eleanor I cannot be precise but for the sake of illustration, let’s suppose the following were true.

‘‘My real interest lies in providing exceptional administrative support to senior management. With significant operational experience in contract management, sales and marketing and human resource functions, I am looking to make a key contribution to effective operational management of . . .’’

Once Eleanor has a sense of her purpose as set out in the above career objective, it will help her shape her CV in a way that emphasises and supports the claims made in that story. This, in turn, will help make her CV tell a more coherent story. Framing it in this manner also addresses the problem of blame for the company collapse, as it is clear that Eleanor’s role was supporting the senior management team, not leading the team.

Eleanor is probably still somewhat dazed, confused, upset and embarrassed about what has happened to her and it is understandable why her CV is currently looking a little confused. The good news is that Eleanor has a lot to offer and with a little judicious editing, she can pull all of her impressive achievements and experience together to make a compelling case for employment.

Jim Bright is professor of career education and development at ACU and a partner at Bright and Associates, a career management consultancy. Email marked clearly ‘‘FOR PUBLICATION’’ to

Published: 02 April 2011

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