In the UK we call it a curriculum vitae or CV. In the States, it’s known as a résumé. This short document summarises your qualifications, professional experience and abilities, and is an essential requirement if you want to land your dream job.
Or is it?
According to Seth Godin — the guy who told us we need to be indispensable back in Lesson #2 — “if you’re remarkable, amazing, or just plain spectacular, you probably shouldn’t have a résumé at all”:
If you’ve got experience in doing the things that make you a linchpin, a résumé hides that fact.
A résumé gives the employer everything she needs to reject you.
Once you send me your résumé, I can say, “oh, they’re missing this or they’re missing that,” and boom, you’re out.
Having a résumé begs for you to go into that big machine that looks for relevant keywords, and begs for you you to get a job as a cog in a giant machine. More fodder for the corporate behemoth. That might be find the average folks looking for an average job, but is that what you deserve?
(Seth Godin – Linchpin, p.71-2)
If that sounds a little unrealistic, have a look at creative director Ben Terrett’s advice to design graduates looking for their first job:
Never, ever, ever, ever send anything in Word (on paper or electronically). If you think this is OK you should not be working in design.
Harsh? Maybe. Unfair? Not if you ask me. Ben is basically saying he wants to receive applications from people with the flair and initiative to surprise him by sending him something original. After all, that’s what he’ll expect you to do if you work for him. So why would he give the job to someone who’s content to colour inside the boxes and send in a corporate-style CV?
Bosses like Ben are fairly common in the creative industries — they are less interested in qualifications and fancy job titles than in seeing solid evidence of spectacular work. Here’s Mark Whelan of the agency Cake, on what he looks for when recruiting:
I like people who come to me and say things like ‘We did a club at university and here is the flyer and the poster and this is the PR we got’.
(Mark Whelan, Cake, quoted in Marketing Your Creativity by Matt Perry and Ant Mulder)
So before you send in your neatly wordprocessed résumé, you might want to pause and consider whether someone like Ben or Mark is on the other end.
Don’t just write a résumé — build a reputation
If you’re an entrepreneur or freelancer, you might take it granted that actions speak louder than résumés, and it’s down to you to build a reputation that precedes you and attracts business opportunities. But as we’ve just seen, even if you’re looking for a job, the most creative and inspiring employers (i.e. the kind you want to work for) will expect you to be doing the same.
How can you build a reputation that precedes you?
Here are some of Seth’s suggestions:
- Three extraordinary letters of recommendation from people the employer knows or respects
- A sophisticated project an employer can see or touch
- A blog that is so compelling and insightful that they have no choice but to follow up
I know several people who have landed fantastic jobs because of their blogs. Not only does it signal their intent to establish themselves as thought leaders, it provides a great platform for networking with influencers within the industry, who also happen to be writing blogs.
One person told me “I’m being invited into agencies because they’ve seen the quality of my thinking and they know what I’m capable of. The meetings aren’t really interviews, more like friendly discussions about whether I’d be a good fit within the team.” This person was clearly not staying up late fiddling with the formatting on their résumé or rehearsing ‘killer answers to tough interview questions’.
The availability of easy publishing tools on the internet means that some employers will believe there’s an really no excuse if you don’t show enough initiative to create a dynamic blog, portfolio, video or podcast site as a showcase for your work. At the very least, you’ll be competing with people who are doing this.
It doesn’t have to be online. Even better if you can point to a gig, conference or exhibition you’ve put on, a team you’ve led through a successful project, or a product you’ve created and sold.
Whatever it is you want to do for a career, start doing it before you try to land a job. If you want to work as a writer, start writing and publishing. If you want to be a film-maker, make films. If you want to be a musician, make music. If you want to be a designer, design something and get it built. If you want to be a marketer, sell something or spread an idea that inspires action.
Once you’ve made something that you can point to, you’ll have plenty of confidence going into an interview. You’ll have something interesting to talk about that sets you apart from the other candidates. You’ll be a refreshing change for the interviewers.
Four alternative résumés that worked
The Wannabe Ad Man
I first met Will Humphrey in 2007 at an informal coffee morning for creative types. He was looking for a job in advertising, and had started a blog, Confessions of a Wannabe Ad Man, as a Trojan horse to infiltrate the London advertising scene. Because he had shown the initiative to put his opinions out there in a credible format, and network with industry thought leaders on their blogs and in person, it wasn’t long before he landed a job. These days, Will is no longer a Wannabe Ad Man, he’s a real Ad Man – and I’m told, a damn good one.
Gwen Yip’s Blog
If you’ve ever dreaded taking your creative portfolio in for a creative director to appraise, check out Gwen Yip’s blog. When she arrived in London in search of a job in advertising, Gwen hit on a brilliant way to stand out from the crowd of would-be creatives: after every agency meeting, she posted a drawing of the people she met on her blog. When the London ad bloggers got wind of it, they had a great time discussing the likenesses and Gwen’s accounts of the meetings. Even some of the subjects were flattered, and linked to the drawings from their own blogs. So it wasn’t long before most of the local creative departments were aware of Gwen – and I’ll bet a few of them were even a little apprehensive when Gwen cam to call.
I Hired Jeff Clark
In February 2006 Seth Godin wrote this blog post about an unknown graduate called Jeff Clark:
Jeff Clark is right out of school. Rather than making average resumes to send to lots of companies to get past computer screeners so he could get an average job, he built a website.
The website IHiredJeffClark.com turned the tables on the usual job-hunting relationship, by giving potential employers the opportunity to say “I hired Jeff Clark” and explaining why they would be pleased and proud to do so. It worked. A few months after Seth Godin’s post, IHiredJeffClark.com had changed – it featured Jeff’s achievements in his new job and glowing testimonials from colleagues. (It looks like the site has been taken over by someone else now, which is why I’m not linking to it. I guess Jeff doesn’t need it any more.)
Susan Hires a Boss
A similar concept to I Hired Jeff Clark – Susan reversed the usual job application process and announced that she was inviting applications to be her boss. Her site is no longer online but you can read some of her website copy here. She attracted a fair amount of criticism for her stance – as well as quite a few applications from bosses who liked her attitude. The story had a happy ending – she hired a boss who was so thrilled he wrote a blog post titled “She picked us. She actually picked us!”.
The networked portfolio
Scott Belsky, founder of the Behance Network for creative professionals, has this to say about the demise of the résumé and the rise of the interactive, networked creative portfolio:
Great talent must be more efficiently (and honestly) displayed. The time has come for the classic Microsoft Word resumé to be replaced with something more interactive, credible, and connected. A resumé should have hyperlinks to show rather than tell, and be fact-checked by community scrutiny. The power of live testimonials connected to one’s resumé will become as important as interviews. LinkedIn has already provided a glimpse of what an interactive resumé would look like.
For the creative professional community, the situation is similar. We must transition from the stand-alone portfolio site to a more interactive approach to showcasing work. Personal portfolio sites are great for friends or existing clients, but it’s an uphill battle to get prospective clients and employers to visit your individual website. Your work is much more likely to be found if you showcase it where people are already looking.
As some of you may know, we are working hard to address this challenge with our own platform for creative professionals, Behance.net. The purpose of Behance Network’s recent integrations with LinkedIn, AIGA, MTV, and others is to help creative professionals efficiently display their portfolios across the web from one central hub.
The Behance Network is a great place to display your work to prospective employers, network with your peers and check out your competitors. There may also be a specialist portfolio site frequented by influencers in your industry — make it your business to find out. And as Scott says, a LinkedIn profile featuring recommendations from former clients, colleagues and bosses is more transparent and credible than the average résumé.
N.b. This is in addition to your own website, not instead of it. In many sectors, this kind of portfolio is becoming a minimum requirement.
Even if you need a résumé, don’t depend on it
But the company I want to work for says I need to send in a résumé.
Fine. Write the résumé. Make sure it ticks all the boxes. Spellcheck it, format it and send it in. But whatever you do, don’t rely on it.
Instead, do your research — on the industry, the company, the people conducting the interview. If an interviewer has a blog or social networking profile(s), this is gold dust. It will give you a window onto their thinking, their likes and dislikes, pet hates and enthusiasms. Checkout this information, not to pander to them, but so that you have some idea who you’re dealing with and how they are likely to respond to you and your work. (But don’t stalk them! Adding them as a Facebook friend the week before the interview is probably a Bad Idea.)
If there is a formal request for applications, read the instructions carefully and follow them to the letter. If you’re making a speculative application, then research is even more critical.
But there’s one way of finding out about job opportunities that is more powerful than scouring the classifieds or making a ‘cold’ approach — which we’ll be looking at in the next lesson …
The following episodes of The 21st Century Creative Podcast touch on the themes of today’s lesson:
Written by me, unless otherwise indicated
Welcome to the Era of Creative Meritocracy by Scott Belsky
Create a Great CV 1 by Ben Terrett
The Wannabe Ad Man Blog by Will Humphrey
Tune in next week …
When we’ll investigate why opportunity seems to land in some people’s laps – and how you can become one of them.
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