I reached out to my network this week for help with my resume. I have a good track record at interview (the structured approach, 1-2-1 format, need to build rapport quickly, is a setting I excel in), but I struggle to get through a formal application process.
This is ironic, because I spent 3 years working in executive recruitment, so I know a good CV when I see one. And in the last couple of years, I’ve been a volunteer on the CV review team with a national charity, helping senior people back into work after they’ve been made redundant.
Even so, I still found myself at the beginning of my recent job search lacking real confidence about how I explain my experience on 2 sides of A4.
Peter from the charity CV team spent his career in marketing. He offered to help me and I jumped at the chance. He reviewed, we had a chat and his verdict was clear: I’d made a rather dull attempt at selling myself.
Summed up perfectly
He was right of course. I knew it, and I’d been going around in circles on this for years, wondering why in silent frustration.
Peter’s philosophy wasn’t new to me – a CV is a sales tool, designed to get you an interview. But what I hadn’t really grasped before was that it needs to make me stand out, not just meet the criteria.
There’s an episode of Master of None where Dev is making contact with people on a dating app, using the line “I’m going to Whole Foods. Need me to pick you up anything?”. It was totally unique and landed him lots of dates. Unique hooks people and gets them wanting more.
Peter said I needed to do the same.
No more Senior delivery manager with a track record of…
Pack a punch right at the start with My core strength is…
But what about the rules?
I come from a god-fearing family. We play by the rules (well, most of the time). So I’ve always done the same with my CV.
I’m not supposed to talk about myself in the first person though Peter, right?
Nonsense Jonathan – it’s your resume, you do whatever you like with it. Just make it catch people’s attention and get you an interview.
I felt like a weight had been lifted. Someone challenging my assumptions and giving me a firm nudge in a different direction.
So we overhauled my CV and I sent it out with faith that finally, it can hang together in a way other people will appreciate.
This exercise got me thinking. Where can I apply a marketing lens to other parts of my life?
Here are 3 ideas I came up with
- Tell people what you’re good at and how you can help them
I’m a modest guy. I’d rather ask questions about other people than talk about myself. And I deflect attention relatively quickly if it comes my way.
But that means I’m missing out on opportunities.
I’ve also done a lot in my life that I’m proud of and I have a combination of skills not many other people do. You’re the same too!
I need to learn to be able to say to other people: I’m good at this, let me help you with it.
The positioning of this is crucial
- It has to be at the right time – telling people you’re amazing at sales when they’re trying to fix a flat tyre will get you a well-deserved middle finger
- It has to be about the other person – you’re an experienced salesperson and can help them improve how they develop leads for their business. Not just that you’re great and want them to swoon
- But it also has to be about you. You have the experience. Give the advice by all means, but also say it, tell them you’re good at this – make it clear! Don’t be shy 😉
2. Learn to tell stories
We seem to be hardwired to respond to stories.
Think about movies you’ve seen, books you’ve read or maybe even someone you know who tells a great story.
Not just someone who can waffle on and keep people’s attention, but someone who can build your intrigue and excitement, work you up to a crescendo and then leave you there hanging on their every word, while they twist and turn on the way to a memorable finish.
To me, it’s one of the highest forms of entertainment.
People who can do this are so notable, because they’re so rare. Most people have serious flaws when they regale you with their tales. They don’t introduce the context, they overexplain, they don’t have a punchline, or create any tension, or they talk about something so banal (like the time they had the foresight to buy enough pasta while it was on offer) that you want a speedy exit.
But those who can do it properly leave a lasting impression.
And what better way to market yourself, than to leave an indelible mark in the minds of people you come across?
(NB I struggle with this and have done for years. Story telling doesn’t come naturally to me. If you’re the same, check out Storyworthy, by Matthew Dicks. You’ll be glad you did).
3. Make the most of your uniqueness
For years I shied away from the fact that I’ve had two career changes and worked as a contractor, someone others think doesn’t take their career so seriously.
In reality, I’d created a narrative that helped me undermine myself on a daily basis.
Peter helped me create a great statement around this that brought out my adaptability and unique mix of skills.
And in the process I realised that politicians, entrepreneurs people in the media and all sorts of other walks of life have all had squiggly career paths.
I need to wear this like a badge of honour, so people understand who I am.
And one for luck
I went for a walk before sitting down to write this and as I ran through the ideas above, there was one I couldn’t shake.
If you could only do one thing for the rest of your life to make a good impression on people and market yourself, I’d recommend this.
It takes 7 seconds to make an impression. How can you make that positive?
Make eye contact, give a big Duchenne smile and say ‘hi’.
Not as easy as it sounds, but worth trying to achieve.
So my resume is now out there in the wild and I’ll see how the reformatting works.
I was already grateful for the support Peter gave me, but the whole experience has the potential to be a turning point in my career.
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