One of the Christmas traditions we have with our kids is looking at the Christmas lights and trees around our town (and beyond if we're travelling). There's something about the way the lights twinkle and shine. I love seeing how people use the same lights in different ways to get completely unique effects.
My friend Rachel told me a story last year about standing out by being yourself using a Christmas tree analogy and it reminded me about how we create and showcase our career.
A Christmas CV
We all know that people look for jobs in the new year, after the slight lull in job adverts around December. But, December is the perfect time to get your CV ready to send out when you see a job you want to apply for. Why not create a Christmas CV?!
What kind of CV do you need?
Rachel's Christmas Tree analogy uses choosing and decorating your tree as a way to think about how you present yourself to the world. If we consider it in the context of your Christmas CV:
When you choose your tree, you consider the size, shape, colour etc, just as you would with your CV format:
- Do you want to go traditional? (For a similar career move)
- Skills-based? (For a career break/change)
- Academic (for PhDs, postdocs and HE teaching staff)
- Is your CV even more unique? Like an online CV, portfolio style or teaching CV?
Note: This is also true for your career more generally and is useful to consider before you start applying. Do you want to work for a big or small organisation? What kind of salary are you looking for? How far do you want to commute and how?
What does the recruiter need to know about you?
One of the things I like most about Christmas is seeing people's trees. Some folks go big, others small. Some folks like to change the decorations every year and others prefer to hang the same decorations each year. Lots of people I know buy a new decoration to add each year.
These rituals are the things that people ask us about. They are the story of our particular tree and what makes it important to us. This is where people might ask questions about your tree. It's the same on your Christmas CV - what questions might the recruiter have and/or what answers do they need to know that they don't have a question for?
- How do your skills match the role?
- How do you work?
- What are the results?
What information needs to go on your CV?
Once you have the tree (foundation) sorted, you need to decorate it! Unless you're my children you probably have a system to decorate your Christmas tree? (The analogy for our own tree would be a master blaster CV - everything is on it!) Maybe you have some key pieces that are really special to you and your family? These likely have pride of place on your chosen tree.
Key Skills and Experience
Your treasured possessions are the things that are important to you; the things that are integral to your career. Think about this question: What do you want to be known for? These are the key skills and strengths that you have and want to use. They should match the job description but should also be things you enjoy about your job... no point in highlighting the stuff you hate! They are the key things you want to show to the recruiter. Some people put them as a highlights section on the front page of their CV.
Relevant day to day activities
Then we have the baubles. In Rachel's analogy, she talks about the things we do that add colour and fun to our lives. In our Christmas CV analogy, these would be your responsibilities in a role, your education, any volunteering you've done, training courses and hobbies. These are the things that make your career unique. They're also the things you forget about and say "well I was just doing my job" and I reply *but not everyone would do that". This information doesn't need to be extraordinary, it's the everyday stuff you did to get you where you are. The things your colleagues thanked you for, the activities you did that made you feel like you did a good job.
Remember though that you need to put your baubles somewhere they can be seen - no hiding them at the back! They should give strong examples of how you work e.g. instead of “I’m an excellent communicator” you might write “Communicated complex data to a working group of x who were able to…XYZ” or “Set up weekly half-hour sessions with each of my team to actively listen to them. This built rapport and trust in the team and has resulted in xxx”
Can I tell you a story?
When I did my coaching course, the final module was held between 11-14th December. One of the activities we did was something called Derivé coaching. We walked around the village and had a conversation in twos.
The coach I was working with asked me what I wanted to talk about. I said I didn't know yet. He asked me to look around and see if anything inspired me and I saw this huge Christmas tree. I remember them saying on the course ‘a metaphor arrives when you need it’ and it was true for me.
In my metaphor, I saw myself as the Christmas tree. I wanted to be more bold and daring and so my decorations were bright and bold. As I described it to my coaching partner I said I would add new decorations (skills) and build on them year on year so I could look back at my tree and see how far I had come. I remember saying that 5 years previously all I had needed was a £7 tree because I had lived by myself and spent Christmas away from home so a little, cheap, fake tree with a couple of decorations was good enough. But on that cold December day, I realised I wanted more. I wanted a star on the top to show that I dared to be different, to shine bright in the darkness and inspire others. But importantly, when you stripped back all of the layers of decorations, you found me, the real me, standing tall and proud all year, not just at Christmas when I have my lights on.
Your CV is a marketing document
The same is true for our CVs. They are a marketing tool, designed to show us at our very best self - shining bright like our tree on Christmas Day. Lots of people tell me they don’t recognise themselves on their CV - I know I don’t. That’s the whole point, your CV only has one job, to get you to interview by intriguing the reader into wanting to find out more about you.
What other gifts do you bring that might be hiding under the tree?
As I start wrapping gifts and placing them under our own tree at home, I think we all have gifts that we hide in our careers. These wouldn’t necessarily be things you are explicit about on your CV but the things that come across in your application or how you work. They might be the values that underpin your career choices or your leadership style. It could be your resilience, drive, enthusiasm. These gifts may be given to you in the form of a recommendation on LinkedIn or someone recognising your work. They are likely to be the things that you brush off or hide or even don’t believe are true. These gifts can’t be learned, they are innate within you, and, if you choose to, you can share them with the world.