Which is better: a career plan or a good CV?

Mon, 30/07/2012 - 12:13 -- nick

This is one of Richmond Solutions' series of blogs that aims to support people to develop winning CVs. This one is particularly helpful to students who are about to complete their degrees and to those who have recently graduated. A jobsearching strategy is vital if you want to get in to a competitive vocataional area rather than simply get a job, and the excellent tips below will help you work out how to combine strategy with a CV.

'I remember one day in the autumn term of my final year meeting a fellow languages student leaving the university careers service. "All I want is a job," she moaned, "but all I ever get when I go in there is more and more leaflets."

What the careers service were hoping we would do is not just apply for jobs but consider our futures and plot the path not only into being taken on, but for the years ahead. However, with graduate recruitment programmes being shut left, right and centre in the early 90s' "white collar" recession, what most of us began to aspire to was getting a job. A decent, graduate job which made the days and nights of studying seem worth their while. And consequently, any thoughts of career planning gave way simply to getting our feet on the first rung of the ladder – especially for those of us who didn't actually know what we wanted to do.

As a rule, the tales of my generation were not ones of getting a lucky break which put us on the path to happy and fulfilling careers. We did not fall into jobs. The graduate schemes with big employers were oversubscribed; and smaller employers had no difficulty attracting talent either. Those who had the connections to do so networked ferociously. The quality of your application took on greater and greater meaning. This was the puzzle to crack and so I can date the point where I started to learn my craft back to this time.

The point of the story is not to say a good CV is better than a career plan but that both have their place. A strategy is necessary so that you can work out the path to where you want to go next. Furthermore, if your plans include a career change, you are far more likely to be successful if you have taken steps to gain experience and knowledge of that new sector. Otherwise, your career is likely to be summed up by "life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans" (apologies to John Lennon).

However, in tough times, as the story illustrates, you're unlikely to get far unless you make strong applications, especially if you don't have connections who can help you. Furthermore, in such straitened times, it is far more likely that you will apply for jobs which are not directly in your own line or career plan (i.e. outside the scope of your usual network), especially if you have financial obligations which cannot be met without a steady income.

How do you write yourself a CV which puts you ahead of the pack?

  • Start with a concise and engaging summary. Tell people what it is you do. Show them why they should employ you. Finish by stating a clear objective so that they know what you want to do next.
  • Provide the reader with a quickly scannable list of your skills. Lead on those that are most relevant to the job that you're going for.
  • Highlight your professional achievements. Choose the ones that are likely to be of most interest to the prospective employer and support them with metrics and examples.
  • Don't clog up your CV with irrelevant information. We often come across CVs which contain incongruous factoids about the writer which should not make any difference to whether or not they are hired. Interests can make you seem like a more rounded person but they are deployed best on a CV if they add to your suitability for the role you're applying for rather than sit there simply for information.
  • Tailor your CV. In an era when virtually all of us has access to a home computer of some kind, there is no excuse for a static CV. Once you have a strong CV in place you can take that framework and edit it relatively easily.

Of course, I mentioned networking too. Today we have social networking to help with that, not just "death by canapé". But then that's another story entirely.'

Heidi Nicholson

Via Richmond Solutions