“What are those things they put on racehorses, the eye things? CV’s are like that”
A good friend said that to me earlier this week, and it made me think (the things are called blinkers, btw). I’ve been chewing a lot lately over why I didn’t start offpaper 5 years ago when I had the original idea. The truth is, I never really believed that I could. For a few reasons, the concept of actually being able to do something like start up a business wasn’t even in my field of vision. I was doing pretty well in my career, and nothing on my CV remotely said “Entrepreneur”. Also, I hate that word, but more on that another time.
There’s a real confusion between “what I’ve done” and “who I am”
On paper (I’ll only apologise for that pun once), I had great A-Levels, I’d been to a good university, and landed at job at BMW which was awesome. I’d done a few things at BMW in Sales/Marketing and enjoyed it, but 6 years in I was feeling pretty sad on a daily basis. For me the environment just felt stifling.
I’d been lucky enough to have accessed coaching through BMW. One output was that I knew I needed a change of pace with work — I needed an environment that was positive, fast, and where I could have a real impact. That meant smaller, probably a startup.
I applied to quite a few startups in London, usually speculatively because I didn’t know exactly where I’d fit — again based on my CV. I reached out to founders with the usual CV + Cover Letter (ugh), probably doing about 10–15 without any response before I thought about it a little more. To a startup, I’m pretty sure I looked a bit too ‘Corporate’. In terms of what I’d done, it had all been relatively vanilla without very much to say I was creative, pacey, and could get my hands dirty. The reality of who I am and how I work wasn’t even a little bit reflected by my two bits of paper.
I started scratching around for how I could show more of me from the off
So, when I wrote to James at carwow I tried something a bit different. I included my ‘DISC’ psychometric assessment and ‘Gallup Strengths Finder’ profile, in an attempt to show I could do more than the CV said. I was a bit torn at the time whether or not to do it — these psychometrics can feel a bit boxy and I wasn’t sure if I looked right I guess. But in some ways, given the context change I was trying to make, the psychometrics seemed like a stronger sell for me than the CV — it felt like someone else giving me a stamp to say I’m ‘Visionary’ and ‘Competitive’ or whatever. Almost like proof that I’m capable of more than someone might think.
Now I’m not sure whether James read those profiles so I can’t claim they landed me the interview (actually knowing him well enough, I think probably not) — but it definitely fed the idea for offpaper. There are some amazing tools out there to help people understand themselves and showcase their potential beyond the limitations of a CV.
We need to interrupt this vicious circle
The rubbish irony in all of this is that I was unhappy at BMW because of who I was, and the fact I didn’t feel fulfilled in that environment. But on the flipside I couldn’t get a job in a different environment because of what I’d done on paper. Having spoken to a fair few people at varying stages of their careers, I know I’m not alone having felt trapped like that. It feels to me like a pretty shitty circle, where it’s easier to focus on enhancing our CV and growing what’s there, than to widen our context and grow ourselves. It seems messed up.
And as far as recruitment goes if that status quo continues, and we keep the narrow context of a CV as the ‘first pass’ — we’ll only exacerbate the problem. The outcome could be another generation caged in “this is what I’ve done” and not “this is who I am” when it comes to work. Using a person’s past to define their future is a concept that will flaw meaningful societal progress on a much higher level.
In reality the value of “what we’ve done” and “who we are” are two very different things
But right now, with CV’s and cover letters, they’re not. Michelle Obama’s ‘Becoming’ said “I asserted we’d have to look more holistically at candidates… The point wasn’t to lower the firm’s high standards: It was to realise that by sticking with the most rigid and old-school way of evaluating a new lawyer’s potential, we were overlooking all sorts of people who could contribute to the firm’s success”.
Substitute the word ‘lawyer’ for anything else, and the point lands hard. We need to take the blinkers off the horse for people and for companies. Push companies hard to elevate the value of “who” and not just “what” — and give people the tools they need to shout about their strengths and find a happy workplace…
*Picks up flaming pitchfork*… Because we’re more than what’s ‘on paper’.