I really don’t like the “what do you do?” question. I don’t like to be asked it – and I try not to ask it of others (although when my limited smalltalk dries up, it has been known). However, I realise that these days before we meet, I might have “googled” you – and you might have “googled” me.
So, it’s likely that the “what do you do?” question is already being dealt with on-line. Is our on-line presence making the right impression? Is it telling our story?
I read a review of the official biography of Steve Jobs in this weekend’s New York Times. His story is amazing on so many levels – but if you ran his resume in CV format, it might look quite dull.
“I founded a computer company, they sacked me, I got involved in cartoon animation, then another computer company – and for the last few years went back to the first computer company for a second try at running it.”
It’s not the list of jobs – it’s the achievements and the world beating stories that put us in awe of Steve Jobs.
Why then, do we present ourselves with our jobs and roles in a boring list formats? Have we just been brought up to fill in forms?
Why do people judge us by “what do you do?” – without asking us to tell our story?
It’s great to get the regular formatting and all those dates in chronological order. Computers like them, LinkedIn can build a business around them – and HR departments can sift hundreds of candidates more easily. But what does it say about a person? What’s their story? What have they done that they are most proud of? What makes them special?
I’ve mentioned DJ Patil on the blog before. He was the LinkedIn Data Scientist who led the InMaps project. DJ – in his new role as Data Scientist in Residence at Greylock Partners – last week spoke about the information that LinkedIn process around CVs. Here is a telling statistic:-
“Unstructured data is harder to work with. Open text fields in forms can cause issues. There are between 4 and 8 thousand variations of IBM and “Software Engineer” in LinkedIn’s database”
So even that doesn’t work! For unstructured data, read the real you!
As you will have seen from my website, I’ve tried to get around this “dull CV vs story telling” issue by adding a “Projects & Tales” section. It hopefully defines me more through what I have done – not the list of jobs I have worked at and for how long.
I’m a big believer in trying to present things visually. It got me wondering whether there was the opportunity to solve the problem of dull CVs visually. I wrote a while ago about a start up in Singapore called Identifii. They had come up with a very simple psychometric test that gave a visual report. I like this type of format to get the “headline” of a person. Much better than the “what do you do?”.
A friend also pointed me in the direction of a new service called VisualizeMe. Just a few clicks and permission to access my LinkedIn account gave a graphical overview. This has potential – but not sure it tells a story.
Fast Company magazine reported on an interesting hiring strategy brought in by News Corp to find great coders who had not followed a conventional path. The sub-text of the article was “Why hire a PhD, when a self-taught kid is just as good?” News Corp are having to compete with some major players in Silicon Valley. They decided they would literally take anyone who had the “right stuff”. Their project was named “Code Foo” and their recruitment campaign said “Flipping burgers to scrape together enough cash to buy Portal 2?” and “Blow our minds while you’re here and we’ll hire you.”
They brought in 28 students – with the aim of taking on 4. They took on 8. Roy Bahat, the ING (Division of News Corp) President said:
“It’s not like if you looked at their résumés, you would have said it’s impossible that they would be qualified for the jobs. But if you only looked at their resumes and said, ‘Should we interview this person based on this résumé?’, there wouldn’t necessarily be a reason to say yes. They’re the kind of people we would have overlooked.”
An innovative approach – and the six weeks allowed these candidates time to tell their story!
As we approach a very different world, where individual presentation will be so important – it’s important that we try to find the tools that tell our story. The “what do you do?” is the old-world equivalent of today’s google search for your name. We need to pay attention and be ready to tell our story when that google search button is clicked!
You’ve hit the nail on the head again, Phil. I’m in the middle of rewriting my workshop ‘curriculum’ – and an effective personal story is exactly what I’m trying to help people create.
Putting words and ‘visuals’ to the story of our strengths and skills is tricky – as is breaking out of the old-school thinking about how resumes ‘should’ be done.
I spent 4 weeks recently facilitating a local job retraining program – and at the end of 4 weeks of self-discovery and focus on pulling out transferrable skills and putting killer words to them we still had fairly standard cookie-cutter resumes. The difficulty is in navigating the chasm between taking all of the inventories and in using the results to create a story. People have significant difficulty seeing the similarities in the skills they use when doing different jobs. It takes time and concerted, repeated effort to drill down to the core of what drives you and then put it into words. Writing a skills-based resume proved to be one of the most difficult aspects of the workshop – even with reinforcement from real-world examples and a really peppy college recruiter who showed how she ‘sprinkled awesome dust’ all over her skills-based resume and explained how that helped her get a variety of jobs that moved her closer to her goals.
You’ve also hit on the other side of the job hunting equation: employers who are using outdated criteria and methods for defining and sourcing employees. I like the ‘Code Foo’ challenge idea – thanks for providing that link.
Thanks for your kind words, Beth. It’s really interesting to hear your hands on experience of this. I tend to write this stuff from a philosophical point of view – so can sometimes be all thought and little experience.
Like the sound of your workshops. It must be a real challenge for young people to undergo this exercise. As you get older you have a few more tales (some of them boring admittedly – at least for me). It’s hard to get a point of differentiation across. You can understand why a CV has become the de facto standard.
I did find the VisualCV service just after writing this article – http://www.visualcv.com/. I don’t think it adds the story telling – but gives you a lot of tools to liven up a CV. Might be worth seeing if it’s a tool you could use.
I live the “Code Foo” challenge too. It’s great to see a corporate doing this (bizarrely in this case a Murdoch company!).
Thanks again for popping by and commenting. P
Just read your post,
It made me remember that when presenting yourself to others stories do engage and are better than dry facts, (as you point out) but the web gives potential for theatre and maybe thinking in terms of putting on a “production” of yourself could yield the solution?
Hi Dan. Really like that idea of “putting on a production of yourself”. Off to register CV-Theatre.com 🙂