What job seekers can learn from the CIA

Mon, 14/05/2012 - 11:47 -- nick

This is one of a series of blogs on CVs and applications by Richmond Solutions. The CIA in America puts a lot of effort in to learning about its enemies, to make sure it understands who they are and what they are interested in, and you could learn a lot from this approach to jobseeking. Put your efforts in to learning about the company you are applying to, and change your CV to fit their needs and interests.

'Easily the single biggest mistake most people make when applying for jobs is failing to really consider what a recruiter wants to see. It's a lot easier, and far, far more natural, just to depict yourself as you wish to be seen. After all, you know what you've done in your career, right? That is what you have to sell. So dress it up a bit and present it, and keep your fingers crossed!

Well, don't. Do this instead.

The CIA, in fact all serious intelligence agencies around the world, spend a lot of time, money and thought profiling their enemies. They want to know their background, their aims, motivations, foibles and just about every other thing about them. The CIA even stages quite elaborate role playing events where selected officers "become" their enemies and try to predict how they would react in various scenarios.

The American intelligence community started using this approach during the Second World War. They scoured America, Prisoner of War Camps, neutral Switzerland and whatever information leaked out of Germany, to build a comprehensive understanding of Hitler’s background, personality and behaviour. Later they used increasingly sophisticated psychological techniques to build profiles of their Soviet and other Communist opponents in the Cold War. Today they analyse Islamic fundamentalist terrorists the same way.

So how does this help you get a job?

If you can build picture of the people you are writing your applications for, or about to see for an interview, you will benefit in two ways.

Firstly, you can tailor your CV, LinkedIn profile, or interview preparation to what they are likely to want to see. Rather than relying on the "here I am, please like me" approach, you can select parts of your career that are likely to be appealing and show them in the best possible light.

Secondly, you will be a lot more prepared psychologically for the likely course of your application. As an example, if you know your application is likely to be read first by an agency recruiter, and not the hiring officer, you'll know the whole process is going to rely less on acute, knowledgeable analysis and much more on luck.

Analysing recruiters is never straight forward, especially if you've never been one. But you are very well advised to try. Ask yourself the following questions:

1.      Who is going to see my application first?

2.      What can I find out about them?

3.      How well are they likely to understand the role they are trying to fill?

4.      What are the current challenges facing their organisation?

5.      Given their background and career path, how are they likely to react to me, and how can I manage that reaction?

6.      How many applications are they likely to get for this role, and how can I stand out from the crowd in their eyes?

7.      Is there likely to be at least some structure to this process, or is it going to be a lottery?

There are probably 20 more questions you can ask. There are also numerous parts of the process that are not really answers to questions, but more a feel for the situation. Having recruited for hundreds of clients and thousands of roles, I'm pretty good at this. You may not have that background, but use whatever skills you have to come up with as an accurate a profile of a recruiter as you can.

It could be the most valuable analysis of any situation you will ever do.'

David Welsh (with apologies to Miles Copeland)