Why Functional CVs Don’t Work

November 23, 2015

In all the years I’ve been working in the field of careers counselling I have never been convinced that functional CVs help candidates.  People don’t get them, and don’t want to get them.  We are just too used to the reverse chronological CV.

Glossary time:  functional CVs are the ones that are set out in terms of your various skill sets, reverse chronological CVs are the ones that are set out in terms of your career history starting from the most recent job and moving back in time.


Reverse Chronological, Functional or both? Do you have one CV or 2CVs? (See what I did there? Come on, this is a much better picture than a stock photo of a piece of paper with a pen casually placed upon it, isn’t it?)

So what’s to be done for people making career transitions where their career history is irrelevant?

Well, their career history is often not irrelevant.  The vast majority of what an employer is, or should be, looking for is whether the candidate fits in.  The technical stuff of the job can usually be taught, except in obvious situations where long term training and qualifications are required.

The trick, therefore, is to communicate relevance in ways other than through the body of the CV.  The point is that the CV itself is of very little use for people making a career change.  CVs are for recruiters and employers who want to compare candidates for a job, but you are unlikely to be able to compete for a job in a field you have little knowledge of, against people with experience, so don’t try it.  Don’t apply for jobs through the normal channels.

If you want to move industry or function then you need to build relationships with people in those industries or functions, and talk to them about why you want to change and why you think you have what it takes to be successful, even if you don’t have much experience.

This is the proactive approach, and people who are proactive about their careers are impressive, and are often given a chance to prove their worth.

CVs and application based job searching does not work in these circumstances.  You need to establish the relationship and explain the situation. Then you can offer the reverse chronological CV, the format everyone loves, and the fact that it does not look relevant won’t matter so much, because you will already have explained why it doesn’t look relevant.

Disclaimer:  If this makes it sound easy to change careers just remember it isn’t.  It’s hard, but it’s easier if you do it the right way than if you keep failing while doing it the wrong way.


How much work do you do for nothing?

November 16, 2015

Here’s a viral that’s going round…

If the amount of time and work that goes into trying to win business makes the endeavour so uneconomical for small suppliers that they stop pitching, the outcome is that they miss out on business, and the client may miss out on the best supplier.

When I first saw this I thought it good that the advertising industry is fighting back on behalf of creatives and consultants.

Then I showed it to a friend who works for a consulting business and he thought otherwise.

Of course the film is ridiculous in many ways but the idea of whether a supplier should be expected to put time and intellectual know-how into a proposal that will likely not result in a fee is worth considering.


Now it’s possible that this self-selection is a good thing, after all, a big project will need significant resources. It would be a disaster if half way through an important change programme the consulting business was forced to admit that they were not well enough resourced to continue with the project.  But is it fair for a freelancer with limited time and resources be expected to make an up-front gamble like this in the hope of winning even a modest amount of work?


Let’s accept that the resources expected to be put into a pitch reflect the size of the project. Should we be worried about the losses incurred by those who are unsuccessful?  The question is, are clients expecting more than necessary from suppliers at the pitch stage?


This is where my friend and I differ.


His view is that this is simply a cost of sales – marketing.  Any agency or individual consultant will expect to win some and lose some.  If they lose too many then they are doing something wrong and need to improve.  Furthermore, they absorb the cost of pitches in the work they successfully win.  The model I have always used is that a third of my time goes on marketing, a third on working and about three quarters on cycling (maybe that’s where I’m going wrong).


My concern is that clients expect too much and encourage potential suppliers to compete at too high a cost to themselves for work, thus making it a much riskier proposition for small agencies and individual freelancers.


What do you think?  Are clients expecting too much and raising the barrier too high for small businesses at the pitch stage?

Linkedin: Get with the program.

November 9, 2015


Having a Linkedin profile and actively using it is a critical component of the job search strategy for just about everyone looking for a new role.

Why? Two main reasons: It’s how almost all recruiters search for candidates and it’s how candidates proactively find opportunities.

The recruitment market has changed enormously over recent years.  It’s far more fragmented as people set up as sole traders, specialising in searching for senior candidates for a handful of clients, and it’s a far easier way for recruiters in large agencies to manage their database of candidates.  You have a profile, your recruiter connects with you and in an instant they have your career history and more at their fingertips.  Much quicker and easier than in the old days when they needed to fill in a database with a whole load of information.

As a candidate, you don’t want to be relying on recruiters to find you.  Linkedin is the perfect tool to build your network of contacts in appropriate companies, sectors, locations, and job functions.  Once you have those connections you can start to build relationships and ultimately engage those people to help you with your job search.  Note the important point here:  Joining Linkedin and making connections is not networking.  That’s collecting. Networking is when you meet people and get to know them.

Don’t be intimidated.  There are a few simple steps to get up and running with Linkedin.

  1. Create a profile and make it 100% complete.  According to Linkedin you are 40% more likely to receive opportunities through the platform with a complete profile. Linkedin wants to encourage you to give them as much information as possible, and they reward you with pushing you up the search results lists if you do so.  The components of a complete profile are:
  2. Your industry and location

    An up-to-date current position (with a description)

    Two past positions

    Your education

    Your skills (minimum of 3)

    A profile photo

    At least 50 connections

  3. Ensure that the right keywords are featured in your profile.  Don’t be too wordy.  Keep it tight just like your CV.
  4. Connect to as many friends, relatives, former colleagues, suppliers, customers and other contacts as possible.  These are the key to you being able to connect to the people that you want to get to know because the larger your initial network the easier it is to grow through the networks of others.
  5. The point of Linkedin for you is to connect with other professionals who are able to offer you advice and more connections.  From those people arise the opportunities. The point of Linkedin is not for you to be noticed by recruiters.  That’s passive behaviour.  Networking is about proactive behaviour.
  6. When you’ve identified a person you feel may be able to provide you with sound advice and ideas, develop your approach. Why do you want to meet them?  How do you want to introduce yourself?  What do you want to tell them in the course of the subsequent conversation? What do you want to get out of the meeting with them?
  7. Ask them to meet you face to face.  A face to face meeting is the only way you are likely to build rapport and a relationship.  A telephone chat may get you some information but no more and it will take up just as much of their time as it would if you go to them, so go to them if you possibly can.

What happens in the meeting is for a future post.  The first step to using Linkedin as part of your job search process is to create your profile and make connections.

Businesses lack confidence in A levels.

November 2, 2015

I was delighted to read recently that some large firms are beginning to appreciate the depth of unconscious prejudice that goes on during the recruitment process. Not only are people disadvantaged if they have the wrong name, but they are also disadvantaged if they went to the wrong school or university.

Consulting firm Deloitte UK is at the forefront of implementing fairer ways to recruit graduates and school leavers and from next year its selectors will not know the school or university that candidates attended.  This is to help them to recruit for potential rather than results. The risk of recruiting by results is that they miss out on people who may have performed exceptionally well against their peer group, perhaps in a deprived area or poor performing school, but against the entire population cohort they may not have done so well.  An A grade from a school where nobody achieves lower than a B is less impressive than a B where the average is D.  Since this disadvantage carries through to the university a person is likely able to get into, Deloittes are making applications for their graduate scheme university-blind as well.

There’s probably an additional dynamic at play here.  Businesses no longer have confidence in the school exam system. Grade inflation alongside the suspected dumbing-down of curricula as well as an upsurge in middle-class tutoring over the years means that it’s hard to know just how bright a given candidate is. When businesses such as Deloitte UK, PWC and Ernst and Young decide to do away with minimum grades for applicants, you know they do not believe those grades are telling them anything useful.

It is alleged that A levels are so dumbed down that students are now asked to choose the grade they want.

It is alleged that A levels are so dumbed down that students are now asked to choose the grade they want.

This approach also recognises the value of diversity in the workplace. Long have I been frustrated that recruiters and employers recruit in their own image and from similar career backgrounds – in short, from competitor companies – thus the benefits of bringing in people with experience of different sectors are missed.  Yet if a business is to step ahead of the competition it really needs to encourage the recruitment of different perspectives and ideas.

Organisations are living entities.  Darwin tells us that adaptation is the key to long term success, yet most companies recruit to perpetuate rather than to adapt to changing circumstances, and at no time in history has the need to adapt to changing business environments been greater than today.

I have no doubt that this is why firms like Deloitte are changing their recruitment methods.  It’s not simply to avoid racial or educational prejudice, it’s because they also see the commercial benefit of diversity in the workplace.

How a balanced life makes you better at work

October 26, 2015

I was asked to give a short talk last week.  “What rest means to me”, was the title.

A number of years ago I developed a training session on life balance, not “work-life” balance – work is part of life, not something separate – and the thrust of the session was to look at the components of a healthy, balanced life.  It’s my strong view that the people who are most effective at work, both in terms of sustainable performance and in building strong relationships with colleagues and clients, are those who have acquired balance in their life.

The components of a balanced life are:

  • Healthy eating
  • Sufficient rest and sleep
  • Exercise
  • Spending time with those that love and support us
  • Exercising the brain in way other than through our work
  • Entertainment and pastimes.
  • Community or voluntary activity
  • Finding moments of peace, contemplation or spiritual nourishment.
Helping you work rest and play? It's a long time since this was the considered the key to a balanced life.

Helping you work rest and play? It’s a long time since this was the considered the key to a balanced life.

Making a life that includes as many of these as possible are, for me, more important that simply “rest” as a way of recharging.  I do not believe that someone who works incredibly hard, but has very little else in their life except for relaxation and sleep is likely to be able to perform well in their career over the long term.  External activity grows us and makes us more rounded people, and we bring all of that into our work.

Relaxation is important, but not less or more important than exercise. Volunteering for a charity enables us to do things that express care and valuing of others, while going to the cinema or a football match is a way of valuing and giving ourselves attention.  Being with friends and family is essential for a healthy life, but no more so that spending time alone.

Some of these components are to do with the body, some the mind, and some the soul.  I don’t want to get all spiritual on you here, but don’t underestimate the importance of ideas like inner peace and humility;  they are very grounding.

I’m not advocating that people incorporate all of the above into their lives.  Not everyone wants to get involved with a charity, not everyone is able to pursue a sport or exercise. I simply invite you to think about what you do to keep yourself physically healthy, engaged with those around you outside work, and mentally agile.

A full, varied life is a life that stimulates.  Recharging the batteries does not simply come from being passive.  A change is, as they say, as good as a rest.

Why Volunteer?

October 19, 2015

It’s five thirty am and I’m writing this from a thronging Luton Airport departure lounge. It strikes me that if I picked any house at random in the south-east of England, I’d almost certainly find it empty, the occupants being here at the airport with me. If only I’d chosen to be a burglar rather than a coach, I’d be minting it.

I’m travelling for a few days in my capacity as a trustee for a small charity. I must stress that this is not a glamorous task, in fact I’d really rather not be doing the travelling, but volunteering for the charity more generally is important and fulfilling, and as with most activities, there is good and bad. You just need to make sure that the good outweighs the bad.

I'm looking for a volunteer. Hands up!

I’m looking for a volunteer.  Hands up!

Volunteering is one of my recommendations for a healthy, balanced life and it’s good for work on a number of levels.

No job perfectly matches our skills, interests and values. Taking on the right voluntary role allows you to derive satisfaction where work may not offer it. As a sole trader, my charity role allows me to work with others and to take on leadership opportunities.

For someone in employment or looking for a job, having an alternative source of achievements can certainly enhance career prospects. A recent example was that of an accountant, qualified overseas who was struggling to find work in the UK owing to a lack of local knowledge and experience. My suggestion was to find a charity that would allow her work on a part time basis. She gets experience, they benefit form her expertise and skills.

If we’re lucky our job allows us to learn about something we are genuinely interest in, but that’s not the case for everyone, and even if it is, most people have wider interests than their job caters for. Working for a charity allows me to develop my interest in this other area.

In a similar vein, there are activities we enjoy doing, but opportunities for those activities are not always available in the job we have. Charity work may be the answer, enabling us to do some of the things we like outside of employment.

Ideally our values would be shared by our employer and in the work we do, but that’s not always the case. While a charity usually stands for clear enduring values making it easy to support if you share those values, a company’s values are often less clear, and they change depending on economic circumstances and the beliefs and ideals of its leaders. It’s common for a person to join a company whose values in terms of purpose and behaviour they share, yet after a period of time those values diverge and the person finds their beliefs at odds with those of their employer. Finding a charity that allows us to live more authentically according to what we feel is important can solve that problem.

I know many people reading this will be thinking, “that’s all very well but if you have a busy job there’s no time for volunteering”. They’re right, not everyone can or wants to give their spare time away, but if you are one of those people, I encourage you to think about the wider benefits you might derive from voluntary work, not just for your personal well-being, but also for your longer term career goals.

What we can learn from The Intern about work

October 12, 2015

Hollywood is not great when it comes to portraying the real world of business.  It tends to focus on extreme characters in extreme situations, as you’d expect.  Just occasionally, though, a movie tells a story that most of us with an interest in the world of work can enjoy, and even gain something from.

The Intern is one such film for me.

First of all, I love the idea of senior interns.  This idea taps into my concerns about how experience in the workplace is largely undervalued.  I’ve never heard of this actually happening except, I suppose, in the voluntary sector, but Robert De Niro’s character, Ben, demonstrates exactly what is lost when older employees are written off.  He brings calm and offers wisdom because he’s seen it all before and he’s not overwhelmed by change. To think that when you reach a certain again you are no longer capable of adapting has always seemed ludicrous to me. Some find change easier than others, some embrace it while others resist it, and it doesn’t matter how old you are.

Ben (Robert De Niro) and Jules (Anne Hathaway) learning from each other in The Intern.

Ben (Robert De Niro) and Jules (Anne Hathaway) learning from each other in The Intern.

If you are aware of any senior intern schemes I’d love to hear about it.  Please leave a comment.

Another point made by the film is that it’s not specific technical knowledge that is needed, even in a high-tech business.  Obviously, this depends on the role, but so many times have I read job descriptions asking for industry experience when clearly it is not required. Often it’s used as a tool to reduce the number of applications, but I would argue that it’s a bad way of doing so, because there’s something lost when organisation exclude those from outside their sector.  Inbreeding is not healthy.

However, the really important message I thought the film made was to do with the way women entrepreneurs, and for that we can assume all senior women executives, often feel they are making a sacrifice to fulfil their business dream.  What man would worry over his right to be committed to his work the way Jules (Anne Hathaway) does? The movie asks why women are even in a position where they question their choice to be the hard working mum with the stay-at-home husband.

Finally, another point the film makes that is relevant to everyone at work:  eat well, sleep well, exercise and make time for friends and family. That’s how to ensure you perform at your best at work.

I very much enjoyed The Intern and if none of this has persuaded you to see it, then I’ll just add that there’s a very nice neck massage scene too.


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