Top Ten CV Blunders

When I say, “My Top Ten CV Blunders”, I don’t mean the obvious blunders – the phone number missing, the spelling mistake, the dates that just don’t add up.

I mean those blunders that make your CV OK – OK enough for your friends to say it looks good, OK enough for you to feel confident as you put hndreds of them in the post, OK enough to make it into a that big pile of CVs that are the long-list for the job of your dreams.  But the problem is, it’s just OK. And it is going to end up in a pile of a 100 CVs, which are all mostly OK.

It’s so totally just OK that the bored HR Assistant will drift off as he reads it, get to the end, remember nothing about it, put it in the “no” pile and move on.   HE will go on reading that long-list, that pile of over 100 CVs that are mostly just OK.  And most of those OK CVs will end up in the bin.

Because if you are applying for advertised jobs, you are competing against 100s of other applicants.  Your CV needs to be more than OK, it needs to be stand-out fantastic!  And these are the hidden blunders that you might not even know you are committing:

1. Failing to link the CV to the job description. If the job description asks for experience with spreadsheets, experience of interviewing people, experience of managing a diary and experience of report writing, then this is what should be in the first half page of your CV – all these skills, with examples of how you have used them.

2. Writing about your employers and your job description, rather than what you actually brought to the job role and your  achievements in the job. Anybody can work for an interesting employer with an interesting job description, but describing what was in the job description doesn’t tell the reader if you were any good at it.  Most people fail to extract the maximum impact from their achievements when they write their CV.  Graduates, for example, often fail to make the links between the skills they developed (maybe through writing a dissertation or carrying out practical work) and the jobs they are applying for.  And many people describe themselves using really weak action words like “assisted with, helped, sorted out, reviewed, completed, collated, inputted, talked to” when surely they should be using more dynamic words like “responsible for, organised, re-designed, led, managed, co-ordinated, marketed, researched, analysed, interviewed, consulted” instead (don’t be afraid to use these words – everyone else will be!)

3. Hiding the best bits on the back page of the CV. The employer will read the first half page of your CV with full attention, but if the first half page doesn’t grab them, they may never make it to the second page.  Use a CV format that allows you to put your best achievements in the first half page.  This might be a profile (a few lines about what you have to offer), an Achievements section or a Skills section.

4. Not putting your name and the page number as a footer on every page of the CV. It’s really easy for pages of a CV to get mixed up, and having a footer means that if this happens, the hapless work experience student doing the photocopying will be able to reunite the pages of your CV rather than hide them in the recycling box.

5. CVs that are too long. Remember that poor HR Assistant with 100 CVs to read…  A CV should not be more than 2 pages long (unless you are an academic or techie geek with a lot of research/projects to list).  Anything that happened more than ten years ago can be summarised.  You don’t need to repeat your skills when describing each job you have done – once you are back a few years, only list skills that are relevant and that you haven’t used in more recent jobs.

6. CVs that are full of tiny font and dense text – it’s not very inviting to read, especially if you are that bored HR Assistant. Use headings, font size 12, Arial, and leave plenty of white space between the sections and columns.

7. Writing Curriculum Vitae at the top of the CV, and then emailing your CV with the file titled “CV”. What if everyone else did this too?  That HR Assistant would have a folder full of files titled CV.  Use your name and the job title as the file name, and put your name at the top of the CV.

8. Putting lots of irrelevant personal information on the CV. You don’t need to put your date of birth, your ethnic origin, your photo (unless you are an actor), your marital status, your health problems, your age, your sexuality, the number of children you have, where you were born, your wedding date or when you plan to have children.  All of these things are potential reasons why an employer might discriminate against you, so don’t give them the opportunity.  However, if you have spent time outside the UK, you should state that you are a British Citizen or that you have the right to work in the UK.

9. Failing to use key words in an electronic CV. If you have been asked to send your CV electronically, the company may well do an initial search electronically, with the computer simply looking for key words from the job description or person specification.  If you don’t use these key words, you won’t make it past the first sift.  Some naughty jobhunters even type loads of potential key words in white text in all the blank bits of the CV just to increase their chances (although I wouldn’t recommend this strategy, as an employer may not feel kindly disposed towards you if they spot it).

10.  Dodgy email addresses, like or  Keep it professional!  And while you are at it, keep your answer machine message professional too.  And google your name to see what comes up (25% of employers will do this, you know!)

Help! Job Interivews Just Make Me Go To Pieces…

Q.  I get really nervous in job interviews, and I just go to pieces.  My mind goes blank, my voice shakes and I just can’t think straight.  Consequently, I never get the job, even though I feel I’m well qualified for the jobs I’m applying for (and I am getting interviews).  Help!

A. Job interview nerves are very common, and you need some strategies to get them under control.  Many people hate job interviews, and few people look forward to them without any nerves at all.  However, a little adreneline can be a good thing, prompting you to prepare properly, think fast and rise to the occasion.  Your task it to get your anxiety levels down to the level where they are working for you, rather than against you.

What sort of conversation do you have in your head about job interviews?  Chances are, it goes along the lines of “I’ll never get the job, I’ll make a fool of myself, I can’t do it, I’m going to mess it up.” Well, it’s time to change that, because this sort of negative talk just puts you in a very unresourceful frame of mind.  It’s the perfect excuse for messing up.

You need to replace this negative conversation with something more like “I’m well qualified for this job, they must think I can do it because they’ve invited me for an interview, I’m just going to go in there and do my best, and I’ll show them all the skills I’ve got and why I could do the job really well.” It’s not enough to say this to yourself once, you have to say it consistently until you believe it.  Whenever you catch yourself thinking negative thoughts, replace them with positive statements.  Put reminders to yourself around – post -it notes on the mirror, an elastic band on your wrist, so you do this consistently.  This way, you can use your “self-talk” to put yourself in a more positive state of mind.

The other key thing is to prepare really well.  Read all the information you are given and research the company to get background information.  Think about why you want to work for this company, and what you could contribute.  Look at the key skills and experiences that the employer is looking for, and think about how you can demonstrate that you have these attributes.  Finally, think of three key reasons why you are the best person for the job, so you can be absolutely sure to weave these three things into your answers.

Practice talking about your skills and experience with a friend or in front of the mirror, so you are actually saying it out loud.  As you practice, pretend to be a more confident version of yourself, who doesn’t suffer any interview nerves.  Then try recording your answers and play them back to yourself until you do sound like this more confident version of yourself. It’s really important to say things out loud so they become real to you.  The more often you practice, the more likely it is that an answer will come to you even if your mind is a bit blank.

Put some care and attention into how you dress on the day.  You should dress a little smarter than you would actually dress for the job (so smart casual for a nursery nurse, suit for an office job).  You want to feel smart, but comfortable, and if you do, it will add to your confidence levels.  A good haircut and a new suit that fits you really well might earn their keep.

Practice relaxation exercises in the run up to the interview.  Try deep breathing – slow and deep breaths will calm your body down and reduce the physical feelings of anxiety (the shaky voice, the butterflies in the stomach).  Sit in a quiet place, and breath long and slow for a few minutes a day until you get used to this way of calming yourself.  Another relaxation exercise is to lie comfortably (perhaps on your back) and then tense and relax each part of your body in turn.  Then lie quietly for five minutes, with your body fully relaxed (remember the muscles in your face!).  There are also many relaxation and self-hypnosis CDs that you can relax to.

On the day, you can use deep breathing as you travel and while you wait to be called in for the interview, and this will reduce your physical feeling of anxiety.  You could also do a full body relaxation before you leave the house.

Once in the interview, smile and greet the interviewer/panel.  Remember they are only human too. Some people say you should imagine the interview panel naked, but I wouldn’t recommend that – too likely to lead to a fit of the giggles, and no good at all if the panel are unexpectedly attractive!  But it is worth remembering that the panel may be as nervous as you are, if they don’t have much experience of interviewing, and you should think about how to put them at ease.

If your mind does go blank, it’s absolutely fine to ask for a question to be repeated (better than answering the wrong question).  If your voice is a bit shaky, stop and take a deep breath, then start again.  Remember to speak slowly.  It may not be the end of the world if you do confess to being a little nervous, as a good interviewer will try to put you at ease.  Afterall, almost everyone gets nervous about job interviews, so you are only being honest.

You might also think about doing a course or getting some one-to-one help, particularly if anxiety or a lack of confidence impact on other areas of your life:

  • Yoga, tai chi and mediation – all would help with reducing general anxiety levels and increasing your sense of calmness and wellbeing
  • Drama or public speaking – would help with confidence in making presentations and appearing confident in interviews
  • Hypnosis or Neuro-Linguistic Programming – would help you train your mind into a more positive and resourceful state
  • Careers advice – to help with preparing for tough questions and perhaps practicing in a “mock interview”

Good luck with this!  Remember, you are getting interviews, so you do have the skills and experience to do the jobs you are applying for.  An employer wouldn’t bother to interview you unless this was the case.


emotional intelligence in career guidance

The concept of Emotional Intelligence first entered the public consciousness with Daniel Goleman’s journalistic account of the research that neuro-psychologists were doing to identify a new kind of “intelligence” that seemed to be a better predictor of success in life than the traditional IQ.  Emotional Intelligence can be broadly defined as the ability to be aware of emotions (both your own and other people’s) to control them so as to manage your relationships with others and your own emotional life well.

A little thought soon leads one to the conclusion that Emotional Intelligence is a key part of successfully navigating our career decisions and working life.  Emotional Intelligence gives us the skills to aim high, to put our plans into action and to be successful in education, training and the workplace.

The ability to regulate our own emotions is essential in the workplace.  Without some self-control, we would soon end up in conflict with others. Many Careers Advisers will have seen clients who cannot sustain a job or training place because they always end up having a row with the boss or with colleagues.  Those who have the ability to put themselves in a positive, cheerful mood are better team players and find it easier to stay motivated at work.

Many people suffer from “job interview nerves”  or worry about going into new and unfamiliar situations.  Being able to manage our own anxiety so that it does not prove an insurmountable barrier is another very useful skill.

Managing emotions is also key in managing larger transitions successfully – leaving school, redundancy, promotions and retirement.  Although these transitions inevitably trigger feelings of anxiety and uncertainty, those who are more emotionally skilled may move through these negative emotions more quickly and suffer less, managing the transition with greater ease.

The best career plan in the world isn’t much help if we don’t have the motivation to follow it through.  We can all think of people who are “stuck” in unfulfilling  jobs because they lack the motivation to do anything about it.  Motivation is also a key issue in working with many young people and unemployed adults who have lost the motivation to seek work or more fulfilling activities.

The ability to defer gratification (do something unpleasant now in order to achieve something better in the future) is necessary when we choose to study at a higher level or take on an apprenticeship, and delay the day when we can enjoy a higher standard of living.  Those who are able to delay gratification are also more likely to apply themselves to study rather than give in to the temptations of surfing the net!

Hope and resilience give people the ability to bounce back from the inevitable setbacks when things don’t work out the way we planned.  Those who are optimistic and hopeful tend to try harder and persist in the face of barriers and difficulties, rather than giving up at the first hurdle.

Self-efficacy (our belief in our ability to be successful in a given task) plays a key role in career decision-making.  We are more likely to set ourselves goals and apply ourselves to tasks that we have high self-efficacy beliefs for, which leads to a positive cycle of increasing skill and success, followed by growing interest.   We are all more likely to choose careers in areas where we feel more self-efficacious.  There is a potentially negative cycle here too, where someone may have poor self-efficacy beliefs for a particular task, and therefore does not set goals or develop themselves in that direction (for example, girls may get into this negative cycle if they lack confidence with maths and science, despite having high ability).

Emotional Intelligence is so key to career success, and the good news is that there is a lot Careers Advisers can do to help clients develop their emotional intelligence:

  • Tactics to manage anxiety about job interviews or new situations
  • Tactics to manage anger in the workplace
  • Challenging negative self-efficacy beliefs
  • Helping clients recognise the value of deferred gratification
  • Recognising the role of intuition in career decision-making
  • Giving support to clients to increase resilience, confidence and hope
  • Using role models to increase self-efficacy

I recently ran a workshop with Careers Advisers exploring these skills and tactics, and was really pleased to find that within days many of them could give examples of how they were already weaving these ideas into their guidance interviews.  Simply paying more attention to the role of emotions in making transitions immediately gives more depth to the work with the client and enables the adviser to give support and help the client build confidence and motivation.  The advisers also found it very useful to pay more attention to the sources of self-efficacy beliefs – relevant experiences, encouragement or lack of encouragement from others, role-models amongst friends and family (or lack of role-models) and to use this to challenge inaccurate beliefs about the client’s abilities.

The Advisers were particularly interested in the concept of differing intelligences – for example, most Careers Advisers are rather Word Smart (good at verbal and written communication), Self Smart (self-aware)  and People Smart (good at managing relationships), but a lot of our clients are more Body Smart (good with their hands), Picture Smart (good with images), Sound Smart (good with music and sound), Nature Smart (good with plants and animals) or Logic Smart (good at maths and logical problems).

The traditional careers interviews is very Word Smart (lots of talking and a written action plan at the end) and also People Smart (two people relating to each other).  It doesn’t necessarily suit every client’s preferred learning style.

Some of the best careers work caters to the client’s own learning style.  For example, taking young people out around the shops with their CVs is more Body Smart than writing CVs in the careers centre.  Using more diagrams and pictures is Picture Smart.  Helping young people write a rap song about their skills is Sound Smart.   A lot of Labour Market Information is Logic Smart (as are lists of Pros and Cons).  Once you start to use your imagination, the possibilities are endless.

If we want good outcomes for clients (as opposed to knocking out large numbers of interviews with good written plans), we need to be more creative and not be afraid to enter the world of the emotions, to help our clients develop the motivation and the emotional skills to put their plans into action.

The Decisive Moment

I’ve just finished reading a fascinating book by Jonah Lehrer, “The Decisive Moment”, which I would recommend to anyone who is interested in how people make decisions or wants to make better decisions (about anything from shopping to playing poker to career planning).

“The Decisive Moment” summarises all the latest research from neuroscientists, who can now track which parts of the brain are being used in different types of decisions, and mixes this with really interesting anecdotes about good and bad decisions made, taken from sports, gambling, airlines, firefighting, shopping and financial planning.

It’s clear from the evidence that he presents that there is an important place in good decision-making for both intuitive “gut feelings”  and the more  rational decision-making processes, and they work best when used together.

Our intuitive responses to situations and decisions are based on the analysis made by the unconscious mind, which can compute thousands of factors, consider all our previous relevant experience and learning and put it all together, communicating this to the conscious mind with an emotional “gut feeling”, which we can then choose to follow or ignore.  This unconscious mind is an amazing thing, and we ignore it at our peril!

However, it is vulnerable to making certain kinds of mistakes and is easily taken in by clever advertising or sales techniques.  It favours instant gratification over long-term benefits.  It also looks for evidence to support beliefs already held, rather than being open to the unfamiliar.  It’s also rather “loss averse” so when a decision is framed in terms of loss (e.g. the money you will lose if you buy something) it tends to avoid the loss.  Intuitive decision-making works best when the decision-maker has a lot of relevant experience for the unconscious mind to draw on.

We can either act immediately on our intuitive feelings, or we can choose to stop and use the conscious, rational part of our mind (the prefrontal cortex) to analyse them further, looking at the pros and cons of the decision.  The rational part of our mind is very good at logical and mathematical decisions, and is less vulnerable to being taken in by advertising or pressure from others.  However, unlike the unconscious mind, which can analyse unlimited factors, the conscious mind can only look at a limited number of factors (about seven), so is less able to deal with very complex decisions.  It also finds it harder to put a value on how important certain factors are (for example, in buying a house, the conscious mind might not know which was of more value – a short commute or an extra bathroom).  Using the rational brain for complex decisions can lead to poorer decision-making.

So what is the best way to make really complex decisions?  Lehrer suggests that we should first do some work with the rational bits of our brain – listing all the options, listing the important factors, researching the options, gathering all the relevant information, doing the maths.  Then we should go on holiday, or do a relaxing activity that allows the conscious mind to forget about the decision, and let it “marinate” in the unconscious mind, so that an intuitive feeling can come to the surface.

Lehrer doesn’t mention any career decisions in his book, but there is clearly lots of relevance for career planning.  Most career decisions are very complex.  Choosing a university involves choosing the right course (both interesting, realistic and leading to the right career), choosing a good environment and making financial decisions.  Changing jobs involves a new job role, new colleagues, a new journey to work, changes in pay and conditions.  These are certainly complex decisions that the rational part of the brain would find difficult to accomplish alone.  To make these decisions, we need to make good use of our intuitive feelings and let the unconscious mind to a lot of the work for us.

However, that is not to say that we should unquestioningly go with our gut feeling, because intuitive feelings can lead us astray.  If intuitive feelings tend to prioritize short-term gratification over the long-term, we should be aware of this.  For example, if you are sixteen and you are offered the choice between a job in fast food place, paying the minimum wage, and an apprenticehsip with a mechanic leading to a qualification, but only paying a training allowance, you may  intuitively favour the instant gratification of the job and the better money.

The intuitive mind is also “loss averse” and if taking on a new job role or going to college is framed in terms of loosing friends, the intuitive mind may not go for it, preferring to keep the security of existing friends rather than leaping into the unknown.  Lehrer doesn’t talk much about peer pressure, but I am guessing (from his descriptions of how we respond to sales and advertising) that peer pressure may influence intuitive feelings about a decision, and again, this is something we should be wary of.

Lehrer suggests that if we want to get better at decision-making, we need spend more time analysing the decisions that make, so we can become better at knowing when to trust our intuitions and when not to.

A key part of a careers interview is often looking at past career decisions made, to see what can be learnt from them.  Were they made on the basis of gut feeling?  Was it a logical, pros and cons analysis?  Or did the client just “go with the flow” or follow advice from others.  If previous decisions haven’t worked out too well, the careers adviser may ask the client what they would do differently next time.  Typical answers include finding out more about a course or subject before choosing it, or paying less attention to what friends say, which suggests that some poor career decisions (particularly from younger people who have less experience to draw on) are based on using gut feeling without enough rational analysis and research to draw on.

However, many adult clients are very satisfied with “gut feeling” career decisions, perhaps because they do have more life experience to draw on and use.  The most common flaw that adults seem to find in their previous decisions is too much “going with the flow” rather than taking control of things.  This may be because the intuitive mind favours the instant gratification of the familiar rather than plunging into the unknown.

Another aspect of the book which I found interesting is the research into how the intuitive mind handles complex tasks well, when the performer is very experienced ~(Lehrer uses the example of an opera singer) – and when that experienced performer starts to think more consciously about what they are doing the performance goes down hill.  Inexperienced performers, however, do better when they use their conscious mind.

This got me to thinking about the training of Careers Advisers, and why it is that when experienced Careers Advisers start to analysis what they do in Careers Interviews, they often do less well than when they just get on with it.  In contrast, trainee Careers Advisers (and Careers Advisers learning new skills) do need to use the rational, conscious part of the their brain to introduce the skills and tactics they are taught, because they are not embedded in the unconscious mind.  It’s a bit like driving a car – once you start thinking about parallel parking, you just can’t do it any more!

I found this book really thought-provoking and it got me to thinking about all sorts of decisions I have made – from moving house and changing jobs to the more trivial shopping choices.  It should be required reading for Careers Advisers and anyone who is interested in making better decisions.

I wonder if anyone has done similar research specifically on career decision making (if they haven’t, then it would be really interesting area for further research).

Pressure of University Clearing

As a Careers Adviser in Further Education, I would look forward to Clearing day with a mixture of trepidation and excitment.  It’s one of the busiest days of the FE Careers Adviser’s calendar and a day of high drama: tears, triumphs, hugs and quick decisions to be made.

The day would start with groups of students hanging around, waiting for someone to come to the noticeboard with the list of obscure codes and letters that would prove to be life changing.  As the notice went up, a group of students would cluster around, pushing for a better view.  We would watch from the windows of the advice centre, as students hugged and congratulated each other, phoned parents and celebrated.  And a trickle of disappointed students would appear at the door.  Before long, the trickle would swell, and we would have twenty or thirty students consoling each other in the waiting area.

Our task was quickly assess their situation, and put them to work on the clearing process.  If they had only just missed their place by one grade, the first task was to ring the university they had applied to.  Many of them would still secure a place with this one phonecall, and could quickly be despatched with a smile on their face.

The rest were put to work, hunting through the newspapers and the UCAS website for courses that they were interested in.  We sat by the students as they checked prospectuses, phoned universities and put their case to admissions tutors.  As each one found a place, the rest would hug and cheer them.  By the end of the day, most had secured some tentative offers, and were reassured that they would still be going to university.  There would be a few who were considering the alternatives.  Job well done, we thought.

Later, I worked as a University Careers Adviser and saw for myself the results of these hasty decisions.  It was all too common for students to feel that they were on the wrong course.  It was only now that they were realising how much Maths was involved in that Business Studies course.  Or how their Psychology course wasn’t recognised by the appropriate professional body.  Or that there wasn’t any practical work in their Media course.  All things they could have found out before they accepted their university place, but didn’t.

Many (but by no means all) of these decisions were made in the rush of the clearing process.  The pressure to just “get a place” makes it hard for students to coolly assess the offer, check the course content and visit the university to see for themselves.  They may not think to ask about drop-out rates, career destinations or student satisfaction ratings.

This week, thousands of students will go through a very similar process in clearing.  The process hasn’t changed all that much.  The most radical difference is that now, students can receive all this information online.  The noticeboard is obsolete.  Many students will receive the news of whether thay have a place at university in the privacy of their bedrooms.  It does give them the chance to absorb the shock of not getting a place before they face the world.  It saves that awkward moment between friends, where one recieves three grade As, and the other receives 3 grade Es and they don’t know what to say to each other.

But with this privacy comes isolation. There are no friends on hand to give a hug and console.  There is no group of disappointed students, in it together, and giving mutual support.  Teachers and Careers Advisers are not on hand to calmly guide the student.  Parents may be as disappointed and confused as the student themselves.

The pressure has only increased to secure a university place, as many school and college leavers fear there will be no jobs for them to go to.  The pressure to get a university place sorted before facing the world will lead to many students accepting places on Any Old Studies at University of the Back Of Beyond, just so they can say they have it sorted when they finally see their friends.  And yet it will be harder than ever to do this, as the number of university applicants has increased and funding for additional university places has been cut.

It’s a brave decision to step out of the clearing process, and make the decision to have some time out and re-apply.  No-one wants to be left behind as friends go off to university.  No-one wants to have to tell the world that they failed to get a university place.  But maybe this is better (and braver) than spending three years (and a lot of money) on the wrong course.

There are lots of things that can be done with this time out:

  • Getting relevant work expereince, whether in a paid job, an internship or just a few days of unpaid work shadowing, can give  something to talk about and write about in applications.  It’s essential for many careers – Media and Law, for example – and can give a UCAS application the edge.
  • Voluntary work, either at home or abroad, is looked upon very positively by universities, and can give the chance to develop new skills, confidence in dealing with people, going to new places and operating in a different culture.  Helping others with their problems and issues is a really effective way to take your attention away from your own problems.
  • There may be apprenticeships available in your area that would provide an alternative route into the career you are interested in, as well as additional qualifications
  • To some extend, any work is useful, even if it just convinces you to work hard at university because you never want to work in a chicken factory again.
  • Some people will choose to re-sit A-Levels, and this can open up a wider range of courses.  However, it should be remembered that some of the more competitive univerisities don’t look so positively on re-sits, unless there is a good reason for not doing well the first time.
  • Gaining new skills though practical courses, such as IT, Business, Care, Construction, Art or Mechanics might open up new doors or give new ideas

If you do find yourself (or your children) in Clearing, please don’t sit alone in your bedroom trying to figure it all out!  Go into your school, college, Careers Service or Connexions and get some professional help.  Don’t make your decisions in a rush without thinking it through.

To Plan Or Not To Plan?

I recently asked a group of professionals how many of them had a long-term career plan.  About half said yes, about half said no.  Perhaps you would expect that the go-getting dynamic characters would be the “yes” group, and the plodders would be the “no” group, but it wasn’t the case.  There were plenty of able, ambitious people in the group who couldn’t really say clearly what their long-term career goal was.

Traditionally, career guidance assumes that having a long-term goal is a desirable state, progress towards vocational maturity.  We expect teenagers to be able to work out what they want to do for the rest of their lives.  We write action plans, detailing short, medium and long-term goals.  When a client doesn’t have a long-term goal, we struggle.  What should we write?  How can the client plan?  Is there a plan at all?  We feel there is something wrong with our guidance if the client emerges without a long-term goal.

And clients tend to book career guidance sessions because they feel they want a long-term plan.  The more high-achieving the client, the more pressure they feel to have everything mapped out.  Clients tend to leave a guidance interview with a goal.  But when you start to follow-up those same clients, you find them split, between those who have more or less followed the plan, and those who have ended up doing something different, perhaps because circumstances changed, perhaps because another opportunity presented itself or perhaps because when they started to research in a little more depth, they found out things that put them off.

I only need to look around at my friends and acquaintances to see that real life career planning is rarely so neat as identifying a long-term goal, a progression route and moving towards it in a series of logical steps.

Of the people who have planned in this fashion, many are now established in the more traditional, structured professions but complain that they are stuck in a “sausage factory”, moving onto the next step without ever thinking about whether it is the right one.  They diligently climb each rung of the career ladder, yet when they finally get to the top, will they like what they see?  Or will they just feel they put all their effort into climbing the wrong ladder?

A much more common pattern is to make decisions without much of a plan in mind.  Many of my friends chose university courses because they liked the subject, took a job because it sounded interesting, went travelling because they wanted the experience, had children by mistake and then went part-time, jacked in a job because they couldn’t stand the boss, got made redundant, found a better job through personal contacts, retrained because of an advert they saw in the paper, moved to a new city so they could afford a house.  It’s a random hotchpotch of decisions, each one seeming right at the time but not leading towards any long-term goal.  And yet some of my friends are extremely successful.  Most of them have jobs that they enjoy and pay the bills.  So they must be doing something right.

Modern approaches to career guidance are divided on the benefits on having a long-term career goal.  The  Neuro Linguisitic Programming approach (often used by life coaches, amongst others) is clear about the benefits of knowing what you want.  A common NLP technique is to visualise how your life would be in five years, if everything had gone as well as it possibly could.  What sort of work will you be doing?  What will you look like?  Where will you live?  Making this visualisation very clear, and returning to it creates a long-term focus.  And by focusing on what you want, you will pay more attention to things around you that could help you achieve your goals.  Your energy will be directed to where your focus is – your long-term goal.  The more you visualise your goal, the more you will move towards it.  It’s a positive self-fulfilling prophecy.

It’s certainly true that without any goals at all, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut, doing the same old things and never moving on.  Lots of people do the same job year in year out, feeling bored, but never finding the incentive to do anything different.  They get comfy, they enjoy the security and don’t feel motivated to trade this security for challenge, variety or fulfillment.

There is something very inspiring about allowing yourself to dream about what you really want to do – what you would do if the mortgage, the kids, the pension plan and the bills weren’t an issue? What you would do if fear of failure didn’t get in the way? What you would do if you had plenty of time and money on your hands?   A lot of the time, we don’t allow ourselves to dream about things that seem unrealistic, fearing that it will only lead to a sense of frustration and failure.  But sometimes, allowing yourself to dream can lead to small actions (or even big actions) that actually do take you in a new direction.  The challenge can be to find a manageable, bitesize action to get started with.

An alternative approach is “Planned Happenstance” (see, an approach to career planning which encourages people to plan without having long-term goals.  The “happenstance” is a reference to the role of chance and luck in real careers – jobs found through acquaintances, random adverts responded to, life changes that we have no control over, experiences stumbled into.  However, there is an acknowledgement in this approach that we do “make our own luck”.  And this is where the “planned” comes in – we can consciously seek out experiences that we enjoy, network with interesting people, research things that interest us, develop our skills and interests, do plenty of the things that we enjoy most.  By doing all of this, we put ourselves into situations in which opportunities are likely to come up.

There are a lot of advantages to this approach – by concentrating on doing things we enjoy, we are likely to be moving into fulfilling and enjoyable work.  By networking and seeking out new experiences, we are putting ourselves in line to discover the “hidden jobs market” – the 70% of jobs that are never advertised.  It’s also approach that is more likely to lead to being “in the moment” – just enjoying the present, rather than deferring happiness until some distant goal is achieved.

I’m not sure that NLP and Planned Happenstance are entirely inconsistent.  It depends on how specific you are about your dreams.  If you use NLP to identify that your dream job is to be the HR Manager of your company, that is pretty specific.  But if you use NLP to identify that you want a job where you can be an expert, have good work-life balance, have enough money for a bigger house or help others to sort out their problems, your goal is pretty broad and there is plenty of room for Planned Happenstance in there as well.

Both approaches encourage people to move in the direction of things they want and enjoy, to seek out people and experiences who can help them.  Both approaches encourage a proactive stance, looking out for opportunities and making the most of them when they present themselves.  Both approaches encourage a focus on developing skills – in research, networking, managing emotions and communication.  And afterall, the world of jobs and careers is always changing, and surely it is these skills that will enable people to better manage their careers, to find themselves doing work that they enjoy (and also paying the bills while they are at it).

CVs for Different Sectors

I recently ran some training for experienced careers advisers working with adult clients, on job search skills.  Most of the advisers were very adept at producing CVs for unemployed clients, young people with little experience and low-skilled employed people. Helping a client to identify skills when they have been out of work for some time (or never in work at all) is a real skill, and one they had developed.

However, where they lacked confidence was in helping professional clients create CVs.  They knew all the standard rules about layout, fonts, headings, what to include, what not to include and whether to use functional or chronological formats.  But they suspected there might be hidden rules and expectations for particular professions and sectors.  So here I share some of my findings (and I would be very interested to hear reader’s comments on how they create CVs for particular sectors).

More “Conservative” Professions (Law, Accountancy, Civil Service, Medicine)

CV writers should stick to standard guidelines for these professions.  All professional CVs should include qualifications, professional training, CPD in the workplace, membership of professional bodies and specialism/skills gained in employment.

Creative Professions – (Graphic Design, Architecture, Marketing etc)

CVs for these professions should show evidence of good design skills, so might include a wider range of fonts and graphics.  The CV might include a photograph of a piece of the candidate’s work.  Some candidates might even use coloured paper or fonts.  These days, many CVs will include a web link to examples of the candidate’s work.

Some job hunters have notoriously found jobs by sending in quirky CVs – iced on a cake or printed on a beer bottle, for example.  It’s a high risk strategy – your CV might end up in the bin because it won’t fit through the photocopier, but on the other hand, it might just catch someone’s eye and stand out from a huge pile of paper.

Technical CVs – IT, Engineering, Science

These CVs can be longer than the standard two pages, because they should include all the projects the author has been involved in.  A  list of technical skills (e.g. programming languages) should be prominent on the first page.  Technical CVs need to appeal to the technical reader, but also need to be understood by a non-technical reader (e.g. HR Manager).

Academic CVs

Academic CVs are also longer than the standard two pages, because they include a list of all the author’s publications (books, conference presentations and research papers).

Performing Arts CVs

The only people who should include a photograph on their CV are the performers.  Performers should also give details of their range – for example, musicians would list the instrument played, while actors would give details of appearance and accents.  Finally, the work history will include all the performances they have been involved in, the company they worked for and the part they played.


It’s actually rather comforting to the generic Careers Adviser to find that the differences between CVs for the various professions are not so great as you might think.  No matter what profession your CV is for, the key is to highlight your achievements, your skills and to demonstrate to the employer that you can meet their needs.