Perfect CVs
don't necessarily make
perfect employees

23rd August 2017

This year’s A level results were published last week, resulting in the inevitable flurry of activity across Britain’s universities, as students accepted undergraduate places or weaved their way through the maze that is clearing.

Some students may have decided not to go to university at all, opting instead to find a job or maybe an apprenticeship. Others may be lucky enough to still afford a gap year, where I’m told you "find yourself" after ten pints of beer whilst recreating scenes from Leonardo DiCaprio’s The Beach in Thailand. And no, I’m not bitter I never had the pleasure of joining in. Honest.

But the prospect of new adventures and all that lies ahead got me thinking about how – as individuals - we all approach that perilous journey along our career paths and how – as employers – we respond.

The job market is an ongoing challenge at any stage of life, not just for those about to start out on the road, but how we present ourselves on paper is often our first foray into the recruitment world. Call it a resume, call it a CV, call it what you like – it represents your life story and is a measure of what you have achieved for others to be impressed by or to scrutinise. In today’s age, social media has amplified its use. An online profile is now the property of everyone who has internet access.

For many, the CV is a simple history of jobs past and present. It shows commitment, dedication, experience, knowledge and ability. It shows us at our very best. But an increasing number of people don’t necessarily possess those steady career histories – they don’t fit ‘the mould’ – so what happens then? Is it game over?

By taking a more innovative approach to candidate selection, companies are able to develop unique competencies that stand them out from the crowd and ultimately boost business, making the need to review talent recruitment strategies an economic – as well as a moral – imperative.

These questions are ones I grappled with on a personal level, earlier in the year. Having taken time out to reflect upon my own pathway, I spoke with a number of colleagues in the field. One resourcing manager told me to "ditch the doctorate" if I wanted to progress down a commercial route. My jaw hit the floor, but it also reaffirmed my gut instinct.

Those who know me will be aware that I have a PhD and my career to date has been a blend of academic and commercial HR roles. I am what some refer to as a 'prac-academic' - and no, I didn’t invent the term. The manager explained that I was perceived by senior managers as "socially awkward" (I’m still talking about my degree here, not my personality). A Masters degree demonstrates educational robustness - but anything higher and it does you no favours at all.

Now, I must point out that not everyone agreed with this piece of advice. However, I can’t deny that the whole "nutty professor" stereotype doesn’t contain a kernel of truth (sorry, profs) and in any scenario it’s hard to shrug off preconceived views of who you are in whatever sector or role you’re trying to move into.

A friend of mine who has recently endured a brief spell of unemployment is also seeking a new role. She is deliberating whether to iron out periods of absence, in a quest to find work. In her defence, she claims employers can no longer handle the reality of the gig economy and flexible labour market. A bit of embellishment goes a long way . In a post-truth age is it now fair game to smooth out the cracks or withhold information, just to be in with a chance?

A report by the online careers service, Glassdoor, crowned "What on your CV is the closest thing to a lie?" as the toughest interview question of 2016, posed by software company, The Phoenix Partnership. Perhaps evidence that we’re all desperate to tell the perfect story and build a convincing narrative.

It’s easy to see the realities of the labour economy in play. Zero hours contracts, portfolio careers, timeout for family, even mental heath issues. They all combine to make for a not so perfect CV. But as HR professionals and line managers, do we still expect to recruit those who demonstrate solid and safe career paths? Or are we being a little bit hypocritical, demanding the benefits of a more flexible workforce on the one hand, but unprepared to take on what – or who – it throws back at us as a result?

There is of course good reason for seeking out not so perfect candidates. Those familiar with Barney’s resource-based view will know that, when it comes to beating a competitor, playing to your employee’s differences can be a firm’s biggest strength. Moreover, that every employee should be cut from the same tried and tested cloth, flies in the face of HR’s call to build diverse and inclusive workplaces.

In Jayne-Anne Gadhia’s autobiography The Virgin Banker, the CEO of Virgin Money describes a point in the company’s start-up history when she asked some of her former Norwich Union (now Aviva) colleagues to leave their existing roles and join her. Norwich Union backed the Virgin project and so this wasn’t exactly poaching. She recalls how the HR Director was unimpressed by her choice of recruits, telling her they weren’t right for the roles. Reflecting on the business later, Gadhia realised that the people she’d taken were perceived to be the ‘troublemakers’ by HR. However, within the nonconformist, ‘can-do’ attitude of Virgin, these employees had become rising stars. They had realised their potential and made Virgin Money a success.

By taking a more innovative approach to candidate selection, companies are able to develop unique competencies that stand them out from the crowd and ultimately boost business, making the need to review talent recruitment strategies an economic – as well as a moral – imperative.