Problematic Advice to a Jobseeker


I know how lucky I am. By choice, I’ve had a year out of permanent work, spending that time writing, doing some more writing, writing a little more, publishing a book I wrote, and being choosy about which freelance roles I accepted.

But now that I’m looking to return to full-time work, I’ve had a number of interesting pieces of advice on how I can do that more easily. Some of them are interesting. Some of them are downright terrible. Some might seem unethical. But if everybody else is doing them, am I just losing out by not doing them, too?

“You could easily be a Social Media Manager,” one of my brothers-in-law said to me recently.

“I could easily do it but I don’t have any experience doing it professionally,” I responded, “and recruiters all seem to be looking for professional experience.”

“Just lie,” he advised. “Everybody else does.”

I don’t doubt he’s absolutely right. And I know I’m one of those idiots who never learned the value of little white lies, the ones that are only lies until you have that day, week or month of training or experience that means they’re not lies anymore. But I’ve also read lots of articles about employees who lied about their experience and were either exposed when they tried to do the job or it came out in other ways and they were fired anyway even when they were doing a good job. We’re not supposed to lie.

But if everyone else is doing it, if it’s how people get their CVs on the Yes pile while mine languishes on the Maybe pile, am I just being an ethical and idealistic moron?

Dumb It Down
Apparently the fact that I’ve worked hard, advanced my career and studied at the postgraduate level is the reason I’m not able to land a job immediately (or so my job agency has implied). In order to secure work (not appropriate work, just any work), I’ve been told I might have to dumb down my CV. Once I do that, my job agency told me, they can easily get me work packing boxes in a factory.

The problem is that once I take out my white collar work and tertiary qualifications, all I’m left with is some now out of date fire warden, fire extinguisher and chief fire warden training. It’s not exactly compelling. And surely an empty CV isn’t going to get me any further than my actual one? Either way, in fact, I think there would be hundreds of people with box packing experience who would get the job before me. I think I’d rather be perceived as smart and unemployable.

Don’t Include a Picture on your CV
Several years ago, I had a professional portrait taken to use in book and social media marketing (which is also my LinkedIn profile picture) and since then I have included it in my CV. But recently I was told by a recruitment specialist to take it out in case “someone doesn’t like the look of you”.

But sometimes I think we forget that our CVs can be a way of weeding out places we don’t want to work. And surely an employer who judges people simply on the way they look would qualify as one of those places?

Who am I to quibble? I did as I was told. But it hasn’t made a skerrick of difference to the number of responses I’m receiving to my enquiries.

Don’t Bury the Lead
I know, I know, it’s ironic that I haven’t put this at the top of the article. But unlike in a CV, in an article, you need to finish with a bang. So here it is.

Despite having quite a few more than a handful of recruitment professionals look over my CV recently and offer nothing more than advice to “remove the photograph”, I finally stumbled across somebody who had a piece of advice I was willing to follow: don’t bury the lead.

“A HR person who doesn’t have anything more than a cursory understanding of the job they are trying to fill will spend only twenty to thirty seconds reviewing your CV. So make sure any information you want them to see is on the first page. And make sure that includes a summary list of your experience with job titles, timeframes and companies only. Once your CV is on the Yes pile, the person who actually makes the decision will spend more time reading it to get the in-depth details.”

Finally, advice I am happy to follow without wondering whether I’m doing something unethical or counterproductive.

*First published on LinkedIn 17 March 2016


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