The shape of CVs to come?
By Gill Hardy, WPP
I love reading CVs which, given my role, is probably a good thing. There’s a sense of privilege in that brief glimpse inside someone’s life story, shared through a carefully curated series of achievements and the occasional setback. Uncovering the stories behind the words is often the best part of an interview and, unsurprisingly, a reason why I find working with human capital to be the most stimulating part of business life.
What I hadn’t acknowledged until recently is just how much CVs reflect broader social changes: how the words of a CV tell not only an individual’s story but the story behind society at that time too.
For every culturally enriched, book-reading, wine-owning, opera-loving baby boomer, there’s a food-foraging, house-renovating, clean-eating, tough-mudder Gen Y-er to match. Oh, and that’s not to forget Gen X - still trying to have it all!
Happily, today's CVs also seem to reflect a refreshing and much-needed breakdown of societal prejudices and barriers.
Only ten years ago practically no one mentioned their children on a CV. Now, reflecting the place that children have at the very centre of life, it is commonplace to name and number them, maybe also detailing their triumphs too.
More broadly, family units, life choices and partnerships of all kinds are making their way onto CVs - showing that individuals are ready to be exactly the person they are, in and out of the workplace.
Length: hemlines are down again! Short is not sweet – well at least not currently, when storytelling is the art and a compelling narrative is the backdrop of a CV.
The biggest story to tell, though, is one of shape - one that shows the biggest change with the past, and highlights some really big challenges for business. And, given WPP’s proclivity for shape-based analogies, an appropriate place to end.
For decades, a typical CV shape for a seasoned executive was an inverted triangle – the sharper the point, the more senior the individual: reflecting the relative scarcity of the most senior roles.
At entry level and for the first tranche of a career, a series of jobs, often with different organisations, were designed to gain a range of experience which would help to calibrate the direction of a future career.
After that, roots were laid down with substantial periods of time spent either with one business or with a much smaller number of companies. Here the focus moved to specialising and becoming more expert - and being able to demonstrate that success with clear advancement and promotion.
Now, for the first time I am starting to see a proliferation of what I describe as the hour-glass shaped CV.
The inverted sharp point of the triangle is opening up again, and starting to mirror the shape at the beginning of the career: many more jobs, not for very long, and often very similar to the last one without evidence of advancement.
So what reasons might lie behind this?
Businesses now evolve constantly and people’s skills can be well-matched or mismatched in a relative blink of an eye. The desire to have the ‘right’ set of skills and a fear of being out-of-date drives some away from their expected career path.
The long recession and its effect on almost all in the workplace must also play a part. Unwilling to leave their careers in the hands of others as they had in the past, many felt compelled to take a more self-directed approach to protecting their futures.
And, for businesses like ours, there’s been an explosion of new opportunities from new sources – consulting firms, tech businesses, start-ups which seem to encourage people to feel they should leave to find new skills.
At the same time, thanks to sites like LinkedIn, people and skills have become ever more visible, helping to bring candidates and opportunities together (and perhaps with an element of succumbing to flattery?).
And, inevitably, once the Rubicon has been crossed, it’s easier to do so again.
There are lots of reasons why we might prefer our senior talent to stay within our businesses longer: de-stabilised client relationships, the loss of proprietary knowledge, the sense of confusion created when leaders leave, the erosion of a peer group which often sustains teams through difficult times.
If this seems rather corporately selfish, it’s worth pointing out that many people are finding that rather than gaining new, more current skills, they discover that the grass is much the same shade as it was, and find it hard to justify why (even to themselves) they left.
Although it’s been a long time since ‘a job for life’ was either desirable or realistic, perhaps things have gone too far in the other direction and the time is ripe to remind people about the value of staying. For a genuine, illuminating, and often surprising, view on the value of long roots, simply ask someone who has been with you for a long time to tell you the reasons why they stay.
About the Author
Gill Hardy is a Regional Talent Consultant at WPP London.
You can reach Gill at firstname.lastname@example.org