What Story Does Your CV Tell About You?

It was nearing the end of our winter term, our final year at university. My Chemistry friends were having their first “we need a real-world job” panic and applying to the first wave of graduate programs (whose recruitment deadlines were usually Dec/Jan). It would be a little while yet before I sorted myself out with the internship in Switzerland – though I was laying down the foundations for the application. CV drafts were circulating in the lecture theatre.

Around that time one of my Chemistry friends was having a cup of tea with me and commenting on the CVs she’d seen.

“It’s amazing how much of everybody’s character comes through in their CVs,” she observed. “M is all ‘leadership, leadership, leadership’. L doesn’t do many outside activities…but she does extremely well at them. E has all her volunteering with children…”

All of my wonderful Chemists had a selling point for their CV. You could summarise their personality and strengths from reading about their extra-curricular activities and previous jobs. I wondered what mine was: if I knew what my selling point was, perhaps I could use it to strengthen my CV…

Funnily enough, I had to go and read my CV before I came up with an answer to that. It was in what I’d chosen to include, the things I thought were most important to squeeze into a 2 page A4 resume.

PROGRESSION AND DEPTH.

I do quite a lot of extra-curricular activities compared to most people – a throw-back from the time(s) when I had a minimal social circle and sought to expand it/keep myself busy amongst like-minded people. But I don’t seem to like doing things by halves: I will always try to take my hobbies/jobs further or more seriously.

Take Debating. I took part in Debating society and competitions for much of secondary school and into university. Then I added “depth” by serving on the Committee, helping to run competitions and judging at secondary school level events.

Take my Housekeeping summer job. I spent a summer as a housekeeper…the next as a supervisor…the next with a month working as a management assistant to the housekeeping department.  Progression. You can see that pattern in most of my hobbies and positions of responsibility, which suggests that it’s linked to my character quite strongly.

So what are my implicit strengths, gathered through a read of my CV?

  • Good at Commitment. To get onto a society Committee you can’t just turn up at the AGM and get voted in – you need to be a regular, active, integrated and useful member of the society for about a year in advance. And if you don’t want to get booted off the Committee, you’ll need to keep up like that for another year or so.
  • Good at Forward Planning. It’s easy enough to resume an old job you did last year – if you want to go after a new job (and one with more responsibilities) then you have to think ahead. You have to apply ahead (I was interviewed for the management post at Easter for a job that began in summer – I had made my application several months before that, and it certainly wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment thing).
  • Good at Self-Motivation. The first step in seeking progression or depth is to convince yourself that you’re capable…then trying to convince others. I’m sure there were a lot of potential managers and Committee members out there better qualified/able than me…but they didn’t apply.

Within my CV is of course evidence for weaknesses. Perhaps I’m more likely to take the gamble that I’m going to cope with a role I have precious little experience of. Perhaps I rush through things instead of consolidating my skills/experience.

Perhaps. No one is perfect, after all. But at least I can see where concerns might arise and figure out a way to counter-example or nullify. If  and when it comes to interviews, I know how to present myself in a way that chimes with the CV they have in front of them.

Summary of Thoughts.

  1. Your CV is the most effective way to summarise and showcase your strengths and personality, without any explicit statements needed.
  2. Take time to think about what your CV is telling people, and if that corresponds to your strengths. Does your CV need tweaking? How can you highlight your strengths and address your weaknesses?
  3. If you know what your strengths are on paper, it should be easier to demonstrate them at job interviews and while networking.

As a final note. It should be mentioned that despite their diverse array of backgrounds, professional strengths and career ambitions…none of the chemists above had much trouble in securing the graduate-level job they wanted…

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