Sometimes the best way to sell yourself is to be sold. That’s why the recruitment industry exists in the first place. Most job applications are exercises in social capital, and the most valuable social capital is finding people who know you, have worked with you and know your work to speak on your behalf. That’s part of what we’re building with Juggle; a network of professionals – and businesses – that have already been vetted and evaluated, so that everyone has the information they need to make confident decisions.
We’d love to see a world without CV applications. The idea that a CV is genuinely representative is a myth that we all tolerate because job-seekers’ perceived worth is so inextricably tied to that piece of paper. The concept of condensing a person’s history and personality into two pages of A4, then stacking it in a pile with dozens, perhaps hundreds of others, to be glanced over by overworked talent staff or impersonal and inefficient ATS software, it all seems so… clumsy. Inefficient. It’s not going to find the best candidates in every case – or even most cases. In many careers the more senior you become, the more you can rely on social capital, and the less you need a CV. Which means an impressive CV is most necessary at the start of your career… the only time you’re pretty much guaranteed not to have one. Something’s backwards about the whole concept.
But. BUT. As a culture we’ve spent about a century “perfecting” the CV. That seems like a lot of work to just chuck out because we’re slowly moving on to better things. It’d also be a bummer, frankly, because creating and CV maintaining a CV can be laborious (is yours completely up to date right now, or are you putting it off till tomorrow?)
So, in celebration of a possible future where you never have to touch it again, we’d like to take a quick – and potentially final – look at what makes a good CV effective, and what lessons you might keep in mind as you adopt different tools and platforms to help you find your dream role. And because a truly great CV should be representative, these lessons should help you represent: to Juggle Talent Specialists, to interviewers, even to yourself in the mirror.
Thing is… comparing a dozen standard CVs sounds pretty boring. We’re also worried that we’d fixate on what we hate about them, and why we want to move past them in the first place. So instead, we’re going to take a look at some of the most amazing creative CVs of the past few years – you know, the ones that go viral – then focus on what they have in common, and what that says about how to really sell yourself.
Some incredible CVs…
This bit is going to be fun and diverting but it might leave you feeling a little… inadequate. Don’t worry, us too. The good news is that you don’t need to produce technical masterpieces like the examples here – you just need to pay attention to what these incredible CVs have in common.
We’ve started with our favourite, and it really has to be seen (and played) to be believed. Guide Robby’s cute little cartoon avatar through the fun and slightly surreal adventure that is… his own career. On the way you’ll learn everything you need to know about his skills, experience and achievements (as if the fact you’re playing a CV wasn’t telling you everything you needed to know). Off you go!
…and he’s prepared. Brandon’s achievements are truly impressive, but he knows exactly where to put them to really make them stand out. His recap contains a list of skills that might seem both sparse and a little glib/audacious in another format, but by the time you’ve got to them you’ve been presented with so many examples you can’t help but agree.
Two things will be immediately obvious. 1: Florian can make himself a good lookin’ website. 2: Old Facebook looks super weird now, right? We’re almost nostalgic. This has the advantage of being able to include a LOT of information without becoming crowded, and it’s peppered with fun details and facts about Florian that both give the website personality and flesh out Florian’s.
There’s two things that really stand out here. The first is obvious, but the one we’re actually most impressed by is Eric’s experience… managing a deli at 18 years old. Maybe not the most relevant to a design gig at Google, you’d think. But none of the experience Eric lists really pertains to the day-to-day responsibilities of a deli manager. Instead they show that he’s an outside-the-box thinker with a great grasp of management priorities.
When every path leads to an interview
Craig Baute didn’t even apply to Apple – someone else forwarded the company this flowchart CV and he scored an interview. The question and answer format allows him to both pack in the information and ensure that it comes off as relevant. Asking a question and then answering it yourself is a sneaky rhetorical trick, but the flowchart design makes it seem coy and fun instead.
…and what they have in common
These inventive CVs are hugely distinct, even from each other, but they share a couple of key elements:
- They’re targeted – to the candidate. They represent a unique job-seeker, not a collection of keywords. Although they all display a deep understanding of their target audience, the personality, attributes and drive of the candidate is what’s really important here. They’re incredibly distinctive because people are distinctive, and therefore a CV that’s truly representative can’t help but stand out.
- They provide tangible evidence of skills. This is easy to spot in the design-heavy or web-related examples, but every single one of these CVs either demonstrates the key skills through the chosen medium itself or gives concrete and creative examples.
There’s one final learning that we’re going to save until the end, partly because it makes us look smart and partly because it’s a great overall conclusion. But in the meantime, how do we apply what we can see in these CVs to whatever comes after CVs? Here are our key take-homes:
Catch their eyes ears sensibility
This is the least intuitive switch because we’re moving from a visual concept to a social one. Because most CVs are only glanced at – the most regular stat we see is about 8 seconds for each unsuccessful CV (which makes us feel a little queasy) – being visually distinctive is/was important. But “standing out” is basically the core of any job search – other candidates are likely to have comparable experience or skills, so your discourse and demeanour is just as important. Being distinctive is still crucial, only now you have to do it in ways beyond the page.
- Be yourself. This cliché might make you sceptical (“surely I should try to be exactly what they’re looking for instead?”) but the main reason we think it’s important is that it will make everything else we suggest much easier. Putting the best version of yourself out there is tough enough without having to also suppress your natural style of communication at the same time. Sounding “unnatural” is often interpreted as sounding unenthusiastic, unconfident or stilted. It’s hard to relax when you’re already playing a part.
- Be self-aware. You don’t need to put out a facade of perfection. Honesty and candour about yourself give credibility and weight to what you say. Acknowledging a weakness and talking about how you plan to improve (or how you personally don’t see it as a weakness) stands out more than dodging the question.
- Think about what makes you truly unique. What do you do better than anyone else? Can you focus when all around you is noise and chaos? Can you speak fluently and cogently even in a charged environment? Can you spot the diamond idea inside a whole heap of rough? Articulating relevant but genuinely personal skills will make you distinctive almost by definition.
Demonstrate your skills
You’ve heard this a thousand times by now, probably. When the spotlight falls on you, you should be ready to show that you can do the job. Whether that’s a portfolio of previous work, an aptitude test that you’re totally ready to knock out of the park, or examples of your achievements with figures backing them up. The big problem with CVs, in our eyes, is that the format is just too bloody restrictive to let you do this adequately. They’re not fit for the most important part.
- Don’t be passive in describing goals, challenges – even setbacks you might have faced – priorities, achievements, things you made. Quantify your successes where you can. You’re showing that you can do the job you’re applying for because of how you work, not simply where you’ve worked at in the past.
Take careful aim, then target
A generic CV was always likely to get you lost in the shuffle, and you’d always be advised to target your CV to the specific job – or at the very least the sector – you’re applying for. Moving away from static CVs allows us more opportunities to contextualise our skills and experience based on what we know about our audience… and ourselves.
- CVs are in reverse-chronological order because that’s the logical way of laying out information on a literally flat space. But the skills and relevant experience that you acquired from your various jobs (or education, or hobbies, or non-work responsibilities) are not applicable in strictly chronological format. You’ll take knowledge from different points of your past career to succeed in the present. How this works in practice will differ in every application, but try to get out of the regimented order that CVs have ingrained in everyone. Instead order your successes in the way that’s most understandable for the potential employer.
What this all really means: you are your portfolio
All the CVs we’ve looked at in this article are both a portfolio piece and a mini-portfolio in themselves.
Maybe designers have it easy. It already seems crazy to employ a graphic artist based on a couple of pieces of paper with their places of work written on them, rather than a portfolio of their actual work. A concrete demonstration of skills should be enough to get you to at least the interview stage.
Not everyone is a graphic designer. Most people’s work is less simple to quantify. But as we peer into our crystal ball of future hiring tools, a professional’s log of their skills and experiences looks a lot more like a portfolio than a traditional CV.
Concrete examples of skills – either project-based or simply fleshed-out explanations of particular challenges and solutions – supercede your chronological work history. Tangible evidence of what you actually did is much more valuable to employers than what is essentially name-dropping about where you worked.
The narrative you weave – the things you focus on, the way you link and relate your projects, the lessons you learned and what you demand from the future – all say more about your transferable skills and personality than even the most finely crafted personal statement ever could. Ditching the reverse-chronological thinking of CVs lets you clarify and group your strengths in a way that employers can instantly understand and evaluate.
Focusing on unique attributes – stuff that won’t be in anyone else’s portfolio – is the best way to stand out. Tailoring your medium to the one that’s right for you (or your audience) shows self-awareness, understanding and diligence.
This doesn’t have to be laid out on pictureboard, or on a website. Internalising this way of thinking – that you are your own portfolio – could lead to more valuable interviews, a better understanding of what you bring to the table and, perhaps, a greater understanding of your career’s trajectory. This entry leads to that entry. These projects, when finally grouped together, show what you really care about. Making it representative gives clarity about exactly whom it’s representing.
We’re not quite there, so don’t bin the CV just yet. But whatever platform you use to sell yourself – even if it’s two bits of A4 paper – try envisioning it as a portfolio of your work, the real stuff, the important stuff. See if that makes it more effective.
We’ll be busy building a future where you can chuck your CV away.
Where everyone is their own portfolio.