In 2011, the UKCES (UK Commission For Employment and Skills) found that 38% of ‘hard to fill’ vacancies were due to lack of candidates with the required skills, and year on year this problem has been growing (by 2015 it was reported to be 69% of the ‘hard to fill’ vacancies). And last year it was stated by the LGA (Local Government Association) that Brexit could exacerbate this issue by as much as £90bn in our economy. It is a known problem – part of the LGA’s frustration is that there are too many different initiatives to help people learn the skills that are needed that it is now “confusing, fragmented, untargeted and ineffective”.
I suggest we are looking at the problem in the wrong way. Instead of focussing on the skills that you can add to a CV (that will then get ignored by employers who are looking for experienceas well as skills), put the focus on teaching people howto learn new skills, howto adapt their learning to keep up with changes in the world and in business. It is guaranteednow that any knowledge-based skills that you have are out of date almost immediately, given the rate of change we go through as the world becomes more and more online. When I was a trade floor support engineer, I had to be able to support hundreds of different software applications, both in-house (written by the organisation) and third party software such as Microsoft Word or Powerpoint. If I had to list every piece of software I have ever supported and all of the different versions I’ve supported, the CV would just be a long list of applications – and if you look at the CVs of a lot of support engineers, that is what they all do. But, the reason I was good at my job was my most under-represented skill on my CV – that of troubleshooting. I knew roughly how all applications worked, because the defaults of many applications are essentially the same (there is a menu, there is a settings option, you can make changes via an edit function etc.) so my real skill was in deciphering what I could from what I was given. Then as a hiring manager into those teams, I didn’t want someone who knew the last three versions of Microsoft Outlook – I wanted someone who I could put in front of a customer and who could fix their problem right there and then, without thinking that because it was a different version, they didn’t know it.
These holistic skills – troubleshooting, customer service, rapport building, analysis – are incredibly difficult to put on a CV in a way that truly reflects how proficient you are at them. The nearest thing we have is the “Key Achievements” section that lists out all of what we achieved using those skills – but the emphasis remains on what you didrather than howyou did it. Ask many recruitment agents and they will say that, based on the job descriptions given out by organisations, their ‘keyword search’ is based on skills not aptitudes.
The skills gap is not going to be filled by focussing on how we have done the jobs in the past, we need to focus on how we help people do the jobs of the future, and that is not going to come from looking at a CV to tell you the best person to hire.
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The CV was born as a consequence of the Industrial Revolution, the point in history where manual jobs were taken over by huge machines with even bigger engines to run them. The production line mentality of the factory translated over into all manual and non-manual work, with the concept of having a machine that ran with a particular set of cogs (roles) that were shaped in a particular way. If a cog broke (or resigned), you simply tried to locate another one that looked and performed exactly the same – maybe if you were feeling ‘innovative’ you would select someone who had slightly ‘more’ experience, or even better, had been that cog at one of your competitors, and they could tell you how they had run their machine.
Now engineering and technology has moved on – we now have tiny machines running huge production lines, and robots taking over the roles that many humans once did. Yet our concept of how to hire for the humans we dostill need hasn’t updated along with it. We still look for the cog that fits. We use the CV as our way of assessing whether they can do the same job they did for someone else, but do it for us in the way our particular machine works.
This has left us with a few issues which we will cover in subsequent blog posts.
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As I applied for my university degree, I had a problem. Although my academic work was at the required level for the subjects that I wanted to study, I was struggling with my ‘Hobbies and Interests’ section. I had spent so much of my time studying to make sure I got the grades that I didn’t have time to do anything other than lounge around in front of the TV, sometimes read a book or maybe go out to the cinema. And I’ve read enough CVs of other people to know that this sums up a lot of our shared experiences: ‘Reading and going to the cinema’ appear on nearly all CVs that I have read! I say nearly all because there is that otherset of CVs, those who somehow also managed to do really exciting and adventurous hobbies – water-skiing, mountain climbing, ultra marathons, trekking the Inca Trail, swimming with dolphins. AND they managed to get the grades. How was I ever going to compete with that?!
The need to make your details on application forms and CVs stand out has never diminished, throughout my post-University career and beyond. We tell school leavers and graduates that these show a depth of character, it reflects a broader representation of their personality – I tell them (along with many other recruiters and agents) that nobody even reads them. For many of us this is a relief, as we don’t have to come up with exciting ways that we don’tspend our time; but think about anyone who took up those activities, who were encouraged to take up those activities, because “it would look good on your CV”. I’m not saying its everyone, some do actually like skiing, mountain climbing or lacrosse, but I suspect there is a large proportion of people who have interests on their CV that they really hope the interviewer doesn’t spot and ask questions about. In fact I know this – and I know many interviewers who deliberately look for the ‘awkward pause’ question – usually lurking in this section – that makes the interviewee squirm.
This section forms such a small part of your CV, why am I referencing it in an article called ‘The CV is Dead”? Well, I happen to believe that the ONLY part of a CV that is useful for anyone is the part where you talk about what you do outside of work – the rest of the information looksimportant until you actually pick under the skin of it and you realise that it has no relevance, no importance and no indicator of how well you will perform in a role.
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