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In a previous blog post, I wrote about setting your priorities straight to dive into your next job search. If you haven’t done it, go through the exercise at the end. It should help you with this next step.
Once you’re comfortable with what you’re looking for in your new job, you have to see how your past experience can support and help you get where you want. Again, let me remind you that like most of you, I have a non-linear career path that led me to try many different things in life. From publishing and literature to financial services and now the tech-industry, there’s always a way to wiggle your way through. And I’m not talking about illegal or fraudulent stuff here!
To achieve this, you’ll need your CV. A CV is an interesting tool, because it lists out your whole life and experience in very short bullet points that people briefly look at and either discard or get hooked by. It’s a bit like your online dating profile. I like this parallel because with the advent of Tinde and the likes, we all kind of know what it’s like to promote oneself with quirky words and snapshots!
So, let’s get back to the topic. Just as with any online profile, you need to give enough information to hook the person, but not too much so as to bore them or look like you’re bragging. We all find it reducing to not tell about ALL the things that we are proud of, but here again, follow the saying: less is more. But in order to convey a compelling story to your potential date/employer, you need to know your story and tell it well. Follow along to see how to achieve this.
First of all, list all your previous jobs and weed out everything that is not related to your immediate job search. For example, if you want to work in a corporate setting, unless it has to do with managing a team or mastering important technical skills that have to do with the industry, forget your student job at McDonald’s or at your dad’s business. If this is the only thing you get to work with, then try to turn it into something of value, but if you can’t, better leave it out. Again, depending on where you apply, this can change, as you want to tailor your skillset to the job offer. These job you are leaving out are still important in your life path, though, so it’s still a good thing to identify them.
With each experience, list the skills you honed and the value you brought to the company. For instance, if you worked as an assistant to the director, think about your writing and organizational skills. Did you learn to make beautiful PowerPoint Presentations? Did you organized meetings? Were you in charge of something that nobody else in the company was and that you mastered? What did you get out of that experience?
That is what I call mastering your own personal story. It’s not about where you worked, but how this work opportunity brought more value to who you are and made you a very special asset with very distinct skillsets. You don’t need to lie or exaggerate, just stay in touch with what you learned and the reasons that brought you there. It is not the moment to write everything down, but owning your experience is an important first step before being able to present it in a good light.
Just as with your job experience, you need to be ready to speak about how your education brought you where you’re at. The education part of your CV is tricky, because some people put a lot of faith in diplomas while others are rebuked by too much “schooling”. When I was in school, I only studied things I liked. I have a Masters thesis in comparative literature, a diploma in copywriting and one in Business Administration, I majored in Art History and Psychology and, in my free time, I teach myself about e-marketing. Some people might think it’s all over the place and that I’m probably confused, that I don’t know what I want to do with my life. I personally believe that it makes me a well-rounded individual that loves to learn and can get interested in basically anything. It makes me a generalist rather than a specialist and that’s a strength that not everybody has.
Needless to say, I used to feel ill at ease when I would apply at an engineering firm, for example, and have to admit that I had a Masters in Comp. lit. At first, I tried leaving it out completely, but I soon realized that I would silence a huge part of my life by doing so. Done in the right way, I could turn it into an interesting part of my story and an asset. Yes, I did study comparative literature because I had a plan at the time of becoming a professor, but I decided not to pursue that road. And that resonated with my future employers because it made me sound real. Who has never changed their mind? Kudos for realizing it and pivoting, as they say.
Moreover, my M.A. shows that I am a good analyst, I am able to write and read properly (and understand what I read) and also that I am able to pursue long-term projects from an independent standpoint. This part of my life is not useless, it just shows different things that made me who I am today and why I am pursuing different things as of now.
Bring this all together and add some cohesion to your story. When you’re able to tell your personal story and understand it properly, uncovering the reasons for doing some things, changing paths, starting over, you’ll be able to feel more authentic when branding it to someone else. Again, if you already have a few graduate degrees, no need to put that irrelevant thing you did right after highschool in your CV. But keep it in mind, as every set of experience is unique, and that’s why you are probably a good candidate for the job you are interviewing.
What I suggest you do now is:
List your experience chronologically (don’t leave anything out), including your education and volunteering activities
Write a few words on what you learned, why you had that job or why you quit it, i.e. what you liked and didn’t like about it
Weed out the aspects that don’t align with your priorities or goals
Preferably, find a thread that links everything together. There was a reason why you were at that point in your life, and it’s important you know what it is.
Own it fully! Everything happens for a reason, so love every experience you had – even the bad ones – as they are part of who YOU are.
This exercise will help you gain control over your story next time you have to tell it. When you get a mastery of your past and a potential employer asks you a difficult question, you are prepared to answer in a cohesive manner. Now it’s time to get to work on that daunting CV! Follow my blog to learn more!
Did you like this post? Did it help? Let me know in the comments section.
This post was featured on my website introvertatwork.com