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Why the standard CV hides what we really need to know

Microblogger @oshinity3 tweeted an arresting thought recently. To paraphrase, she asked people whether they still stated on their curricula vitae the fact that they were skilled in MS Word/Excel/PowerPoint, etc. Most people do. Why, asked @oshinity3, does this still matter?

What she’s pointing out is that people have an ingrained tendency to freeze into one position and then stay that way for years, oblivious of the changes in the world around them. Back in the 1990s, it made sense for people to point out that they were proficient in standard software packages; most people weren’t in those days, and it added an element of distinction to one’s resumé.

These days, you aren’t going to get any job higher than shelf-stacker if you can’t operate a computer. It’s a given, a minimum requirement, a standard skill. It doesn’t help you land any kind of job higher than clerical level. Yet I have seen it mentioned even in the CVs of chief executives…

This is a symptom of a larger malaise, one that I cover increasingly often in my interactions with management teams. The way we recruit is out of date, misplaced and redundant. Yet the recruitment process has not changed since those days long ago when I drafted my first-ever CV.

A CV is just an arrangement of pre-set boxes into which people insert their life to date. These days, anyone can write a good CV. There are professionals who do it for you; and you can even get an automated one off the Web merely by inserting your personal bio-data. A CV no longer differentiates anyone. And it can have the reverse effect: an unusual, different-thinking, fresh candidate can end up looking like everyone else in the pile of resumés. The CV’s sterile format forces uniformity and homogeneity.

The world has moved on. These days, we understand that success comes more from character and attitude, than it does from skill-sets. These days, we understand that great organizations are built around highly motivated, highly driven individuals, not around armies of clone workers. These days, we understand that the things we are really looking for are actually very difficult to gauge from a piece of paper, or even from a standard-format interview.

The search for talent should be a thoughtful, intuitive and empathetic process. It requires flexibility, ingenuity and tailoring. If you need to get a certain minimum set of skills ticked – by all means, deploy an online electronic data entry system. After that, be different. Have interactions with your candidates that unearth what you really want to know, not what your tired old selection process will tell you.

Talented individuals, too, should rethink. If you’re a maverick, do you really want to hide your light under a bushel? Do you wish to negate all your differences and become indistinguishable from the crowd around you? Why? Organizations with outmoded thinking and fossilized processes aren’t really for you.

Connecting talent with organizations needs fundamental retooling. The companies that really matter today don’t have that CV/covering letter/two dull interviews/references box-ticking scheme. They look for people who will matter, and who will help their organization to be outstanding, at all levels. In many ways, what we need is to uncover the real person hiding behind the staid CV and suit and scripted responses.

My advice to organizations as well as to individuals is the same: don’t get suckered into brainless conformity. The future belongs to those who can stand out, not those who do things exactly the same way. We need fewer people who slot into pre-arranged holes, and more who can think for themselves and imagine alternative futures. How will you find them in that pile of CVs?

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