On Corporates, Recruitment Agencies and CVs

Tuesday, February 28, 2012 / Posted by Luke Puplett /

Word Format

I don’t know about you, but I seem to remember that a digital format for a cross-platform, virtual hard-copy of a document which pretty-much guarantees the integrity of the original was invented in 1993. I believe it to have been popular, too, possibly adopted by most of humanity, and that this technology goes by the name of Portable Document Format, or PDF.

So why, after elegantly crafting and kerning my CV to look and feel tip-top, do I have to disseminate it in the format of one particular writing tool and, in doing so, lose control over its look, feel, and more importantly, what I wrote and thus my professional identity?

For me, a CV needs to arrive unfettered by anyone other than the person that wrote it. To do otherwise is to do a massive disservice to the recruitment process.

If a candidate feels they would gain from having their CV titivated by someone else, then so be it, that’s between them, but under no circumstances should anyone touch my intellectual property without my consent, even if they think it is in my best interests.

A CV works both ways. It’s a filtration system that works for the author as well as the reader. When you go out on a date, the best policy is to be yourself. The reason is simple: masquerading as a different person might mean you end up on a second date, or even in a relationship, but someday soon you’re going to have to drop the act and upset everyone.

Companies need different types of people and personalities, just like good muesli needs fruit, oats and some whole nuts. A CV can communicate fruit, nut or that powdery filler stuff, very well. Your CV not appealing to a person looking for a particular skillset or personality isn’t necessarily a bad outcome.

If a creative, flamboyant person puts a CV together in Notepad.exe, then they’re misrepresenting themselves. They may appeal to the hiring manager, bowled over by the simple clean layout and monotonic palette, and land up with a job at the Institute of Writing Boring Policy, but they’ll be surfing the Internet job boards again before you can say cornflakes.

Agencies that have a standard format for all their candidates are the very worst perpetrators of this obstruction of justice.

Your CV shouldn’t have to appeal to the hiring manager. If you think demonstrating that you can layout information or that you can string sentences together and not choose 19 different fonts in the process is important for the job, then do it. If the recruiter then tells you that they want to just see a list of acronyms, then find out if this is because they’re new to the job and following process or whether it’s actually coming from the people hiring, and then run very fast.

Often recruiters are just telling you what their clients are saying. But sometimes they’re not. Remember that recruiters don’t do the job, and this inhibits their ability to know what their client wants to see. They’re not creative types, they not copywriters, they not designer-developers, they don’t read your industry magazine; they’re sales people.

I’m a computer programmer working in an age where the boundaries between jobs are blurring. People are increasingly straddling creative aspects, a sea-change that has been driven by tooling which, in turn, has been driven by higher expectations and an increasing care about software usability and design. Corporates are waking up to the fact that sexy software doesn’t have to be expensive, its more efficient and can even impact staff retention.

Meanwhile, I’m going to continue to write my CV in a way that best reflects my abilities, and secures it from meddling middle-men in the process.

Not reading the CVs.

In my industry, IT, there tends to be a general antipathy towards reading a person’s CV. The inclination not to bother putting in the requisite, and I must say polite, effort to reading these highly important documents, is prevalent throughout the entire hiring pipeline.

My dictionary says that a company is “a number of individuals assembled or associated together; group of people”. The sum total of a company is its people. So any prospective new member of that group is a potentially highly important asset that deserves some time to evaluate.

It seems that big business hasn’t got this time to give. They certainly have no time to invest in recruiting directly, so they pay head-hunting companies a not-insignificant fee to do it for them. The interesting thing is that these companies don’t actually read the CVs either. It turns out that they receive too many to read properly, which is understandable given that they’ve exposed themselves directly to the firehose, but surely, they should read those that they’ve short-listed, I mean, it’s their main job right?

But it’s not the recruitment consultants that worry me. Why isn’t the hiring manager at Big Corp. reading your CV? Why didn’t your boss read your CV?

It’s no surprise that most corporate intraware is, well, not quite the standard you get from the wacky company that’s renowned for its weird interview process, or the little shop in Brighton for that matter.

The whole approach of big business to hiring seems to be about getting the inconvenience of it all, out of the way, as quickly as possible. And it is quite inconvenient. For me, the reason it feels like a waste of my afternoon is because no official time is given to it and no allowances made in deadlines; it’s something we must fit-in just before heading out to reception to meet erm, whatsherface, did you print me a copy of her CV?

Outside of large corporations, in start-ups and the more boutique businesses, niche players and small producers of high-quality products and services - services that are often sold back to the big corporates - take a different approach to hiring. They often do it directly through recommendations or communities and networks, or using LinkedIn themselves, and they do it slowly, all year round, because good people, like good fortune, can’t just be dialed up on the phone.

Small businesses know all too well how important recruitment is because each person represents a significantly higher percentage of their total brain-stock. It’s only when the company reaches a critical mass does the impact of a person become less obvious and they no longer remember how important it was, and then standards drop as the old ‘inefficient’ hiring practices are streamlined, outsourced and then hidden and erased only to spring up an hour before the interview. Surprise!

The new standards with their urgency and importance appear to turnaround hiring much faster and ‘waste’ less time, time that could be spent on vital production matters. Then, because the smart people are too busy working on the smart new product, an average person is put in charge of hiring and then it’s definitely all over.

Mediocrity replicates fast and comprehensively, like bacteria. There may be a number of reasons for this, but here’s a few I’ve seen, both as insidious as each other.

1 – Mediocre people think interviewing is going all Alan Sugar on their wimpy little asses.

I can only blame The Apprentice, but since the show has been running, I’ve noticed a distinct rise in hostility and bravado coming across the table in interviews more akin to gang initiations than any assessment of ability and experience.

Not only does this stem from blunt-instrument employees being given hiring authority without appropriate training but also seems to be common in industries that massively over estimate how stressful their working environment is and how resilient candidates need to be. The, see if he can handle a good kicking for this trade-floor job, approach. I’ve work on trade-floors and they’re about as scary as a pub at a cricket match.

2 - Talent so bright is scares the hiring manager.

Once a person that’s not brilliant is in a supervisory position they become scared of being found out, an anxiety that is often relative to their pay. Protectionism is rife in well-paid, blue-chip corporate structures.

I once heard that brilliant teams can’t remember where a good idea came from. Talented people are comfortable in their skins and relish being in a fertile band of great people. They illuminate each other. The seek each other out.

3 - It takes one to know one.

Beyond ticking boxes and matching skills and acronyms like a dating algorithm, talent takes spotting, and that needs like-minded people. It is said that a rotten apple spoils the whole barrel, but they don’t have to be rotten: averageness likes to be all-pervading, too.

Talent can be subtle in its guises. By definition, the best people are different, but the differences are invisible to people operating on the narrow-band spectrum - they can’t see those beguiling new colours.

In each case, the answer is to have consistently awesome people involved in the hiring process to ensure consistently awesome people get hired, and then devote some proper time and training to it.

Good luck.


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