Overcoming Premature Rejection in Your Job Search


It’s time to move on and you’re shipping your CV out again. What sort of a person are you? Are you perhaps seriously ambitious? Maybe you’re a good people-person? Odds on, you’re analytical, results-driven, determined, open, honest, a solid team player and an excellent communicator, even if you do occasionally suffer with public speaking anxiety.

How do I know? You’re reading a careers article, you’re in work or job-hunt mode and almost every ad you’ve ever seen asks for those qualities, or some variation of them. In all honesty, your mum could probably write an introductory profile for you, using only a fresh ad and an old copy of your CV and for many people this is the root cause of their CV being rejected after barely a glance.

Peaking too early

So many CVs start with, “I’m a highly ambitious and results-driven flugelhorn marketing manager with a proven track record of achievement and excellent communication skills.” Yes, the ad calls for competence in those areas, but parroting the keywords back at the front end of your profile isn’t the way to demonstrate your unique capabilities. Whilst you congratulate yourself for ticking the main boxes, the recruiter silently screams as their own groundhog day continues to play out.

You remember that thing about first impressions? Well, you had your chance and you’ve just blown it. Worse, you’ve wasted four of the apocryphal eight seconds you hoped to get from the reader. Could you possibly make things harder for yourself? Actually, you already did. “… and excellent communication skills.” Who says you’re excellent? Was that your mum, because it might as well have been?

The ad may have been written by a corporate Neanderthal with the descriptive skills of a Sun journalist, but selection will be in different hands. Shouting, “Hey you, I’m excellent!” at a stranger doesn’t help you come across as competent, you merely look like the crack-head on the night bus, demanding to know whether anyone’s seen their camel.

Many CVs stagger on from there, crippled by a lack of depth, meaningless hyperbole and sufficient over-confidence to make a North Korean news reader blush. You most certainly do have to blow your own flugelhorn, so to speak, but you need to do it in a way that builds credibility, not crushes it.

Change your personality

Think about who you need to be and become that person, complete with an appropriate set of behaviours and language. That’s not a tall order. You shift personality, language and behaviour instantly and automatically several times a day when talking to your boss, your co-workers, direct reports, suppliers, customers, shop-workers, your partner, children, parents, friends, neighbours and so on. It’s all about relationship, environment and context.

For example, going home in the evening in manager-mode with, “Hello darling, due to an extended sequence of sub-optimal experiences during the latter part of the day, I need to reduce stress levels by utilising the repeated input of alcohol, diluted, chilled and flavoured with a vitamin C based supplement,” would see your partner reaching for a helpline. Instead, “Feed me Gin, now!” conveys the same message and fits in exactly with what is expected.

The same principle applies to your CV. Forget the ad, what would a safe pair of hands in that job look, sound and behave like? How can you show that you fit that bill? Stating, “I’m a lean mean marketing machine,” isn’t going to cut the mustard. Nor will, “Pick me, I was born selling the very milk my mother gave me,” nor, “I eat impossible projects for breakfast,” nor, “When I lead, people weep with gratitude.”

Sounds unlikely? If only I could publish the CVs people send me. Repeat after me, “The Apprentice is not real.” Okay, most people have more sense than to run with statements like those above, but many CVs contain diluted versions. Whole paragraphs consume space, but say nothing and do nothing. Go back over your CV and check whether you’re coming across with a personality that matches the role and company. Simply delete anything that detracts and see what you’re left with.

Show your capabilities

Once you’ve adopted the correct personality for the role and environment in which you hope to be working, use evidence, not emotion, and certainly not hyperbole, to show your capabilities. You cannot portray confidence by shouting, “Hey, I’m really confident!” but you can by outlining an achievement that clearly required some balls on your part to deliver.

Similarly, stating that you’re an “excellent communicator” in fact suggests that you’re shallow, desperate and anything but. However, an example of you bringing home a strong result, where it’s clear that your sound communication skills were an essential contributor to that result, will really drive your message home.

Check your CV to see whether you’re showing the way and letting the reader draw their own conclusions, or whether you’re hysterically blasting your virtues across with a blunderbuss. Try deleting any sentences that don’t evidentially support your claim to a required ability. If you’re left staring at a blank sheet of paper, think of the opportunity you now have for turning things around.

The money shot

If the reader of your CV decides you’re confident, a strong project manager and a safe pair of hands, then that is exactly what you are, plus you’ll have just secured the best endorsement ever. If they work out for themselves, “Wow, this person would be an excellent choice,” no longer are you just a legend in your own mind and you are in fact then excellent. You’re on the home straight to an interview and you’ve got one-half of your backside firmly on that office-chair already.

At the over-view level, capability is what will establish your credibility for a role and your perceived personality will determine the extent of your fit. Building your CV with those in mind will see you score more interview invitations.


Bio: Jon Gregory is an experienced management consultant, re-organisation specialist and recruitment professional. He currently works with both organisations and individuals, helping to get the right people working effectively in the right jobs. Jon tweets advice from @letsfirewalk and edits www.win-that-job.com


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