Cutting the right jib: how will the next generations of CVs look?

It’s fascinating to watch the arc of an idea, from the murky origin or “eureka” moment that launches it into the world through the stages where it gets observed and toyed with through the perspectives of groups of people with differing agendas, and on to the stages where the idea flirts with real life, gets mutated a little or has consequences no-one quite predicted. Was iTunes designed as a new way to buy albums, or to destroy the idea of albums by allowing us to buy just the tracks we like and create our own playlists? And was it the keen pricing and instant delivery that drew us in, or was it the novelty or the ego-flattering proposition of being in a position to have a better idea about sequencing a set of 12 songs than the people that wrote and played them? (Games that let us ‘play at god’ always seem to have a following, it seems.)

One of those ideas that’s been out there in the ether is The Death of the CV. I’m not claiming credit, but I remember raising the topic at an HR Unconference last year, having just encountered a group of unemployed graduates with qualifications and abilities a-go-go but a dearth of employment in which to apply it. What struck me at the time was the absurdity:

Tailoring many hundreds of variants (as some of these graduates had done) to submit to recruiters who then read many hundreds of them (or receive a selection filtered through online application processes where score-carding and box-ticking are applied to a highly condensed snapshot of a life) would, I suspect, strike the proverbial visiting Martians as odd. The debate that the idea triggered may have been inconclusive, but it was certainly interesting: most of graduate recruiters’ energies are spent not on recruiting, but on rejecting. And the rejected, who all too frequently receive no explanation or reasoning – if they receive a response at all – are not helped by the process either. We might be forgiven for concluding that the whole process is geared towards keeping people out of work, not in it.”

In times that combine climbing unemployment, high rates of youth unemployment and significant numbers of the well-qualified starting their working lives ‘under-employed’ (I always knew someone would come up with something that sounded better than ‘waitressing’ or ‘burger-flipping’), recruiting can easily turn into an opportunity to receive a mountain of CVs that leave you wondering if the process you’re trying to satisfy – finding the best candidate, hiring and nurturing them – is designed with its own ends in mind. But I suspect that the CV will not, like the album, die at its own hand. I suspect a million remote hands, idly tapping on keyboards and tablets, will be the ones to seal whatever its fate turns out to be.

Social media will, as in so many spheres, probably be instrumental in determining the fate of the traditional CV. Indeed, it seems people have been saying so since 2008, when Matt at Digital Recruiting published a post that acknowledged that LinkedIn was starting to look like it was gaining mainstream acceptance:

Is LinkedIn the beginning of the end of the CV? I’m already starting to see people sending links to their profile rather than their CV for jobs in the digital / technology space. This a trend that is only going to continue and jump to other industries as LinkedIn becomes even more mainstream. After all why bother digging out, updating and resending a word file continuously when you can have your career history in one place, update as you go and just drive potential recruiters there when the time is right for you. Makes sense doesn’t it!”

Hours of slaving over word-processors, positioning this strength, concealing this or that weakness, emphasising this particular slant …. or ‘link and go’. It’s recruitment’s equivalent of ‘Why take two bottles into the shower?’ For those whose memories of advertising aren’t as … er, mature, the ad was not for discount sherry but for a combined shampoo and conditioner. It certainly saves time, plays to our sense of being time-poor as a status indicator and cuts down on packaging; let’s just hope it’s not doing disastrous things to our hair. Split ends and unmanageable tangles are equally unwelcome in recruitment and hairwashing, and the nagging worry that stripping out and replenishing simultaneously is a good strategy in neither should not be ignored. “It seemed like a good idea at the time” is never a good phrase to find yourself using in a strategic review meeting.

But doubts won’t be enough to turn the tide. Enough people are using LinkedIn to headhunt (or, more likely, to be headhunted) and enough HR and recruitment functions and agencies are aware that they are. The genie is not just out of the bottle, its updating its Facebook profile, tweeting its ‘friends’ and firing up the webcam. It could, at this very moment, be updating its blog, sat in Costas with its iPad and a large flat white. (The genie is, if nothing else, remorsely on trend.)

There are arguments for (here, here and here), against (here, among others) and both for and against the ritual slaughter of the CV as another relic of a bygone era, but I can’t but think it’s a bit like a bunch of engineers on the deck of the Titanic, arguing icebergs, compartmentalisation and force of impact calculations.  The Grand Competition Of The Rationales has its time and place, but once the bulkhead’s been breached surely it’s time to survive events rather than roll them back? “What if?” is a not a retrospective game.

The question, I would hazard, is not “How can I carry on insisting on CVs from each candidate?”, or even “Should I search Facebook for tagged images before shortlisting for interview?”. (Although the latter can bring an element of surprise and entertainment usually not associated with the candidate trawling process.) I would have thought the questions – plural – should be more along these lines:

  • What’s good about the CV that we should try to retain?
  • What have we always wanted to be able to do – and now can, using social media?
  • If the source material changes, what about the criteria for reviewing it?
  • Are we reviewing ability, content or presentation: who does the use of different media advantage and disadvantage?
  • What information do we really want/need to make the best decision?
  • If we’re looking at them, they’re probably looking at us? How do we ‘look’ on social media from the outside, or who should be in charge of ‘wardrobe’ to make sure we’re maximising our best profile?
  • How can we scan social media in bulk? 250 blogs is a bigger read than 250 CVs. What do we make of people who lock down their online profiles? Shy, not interested, just plain sensible - or hiding something? (Or deliberately not playing the keyword games currently in use – as this article reveals)
  • What are we really trying to achieve? Better recruitment or just staying on top of technology-driven change?

The last point hasn’t escaped the attention of Rob Jones, although he seems puzzled by some of what he sees going around him as his chosen metaphor for recruitment is the record company A&R function: find the hottest young talent, sign it and develop it – not something that can be abandoned the signature is on the proverbial dooted doodah:

The other aspect of A&R that matches my notion of recruitment is that A&R are measured by the success of the artists they sign – hence my conversation last week about measuring the quality of hires brought into an organisation. Whether my job title involved Resourcing or Learning I’ve always seen it as part of my role to ensure that not only did they get signed but also they got the best chance to succeed once they were in the building.”

And given that we’re assessing a whole flock of hopeful little digital genies, what about the effect of all this on them? We change things by the simple act of looking at that, and all that … Milkround, in one survey, found 65% of them would be happy to put their place of work on Facebook. I didn’t see a figure for the percentage of employers who would welcome this publicity, but I did wonder if the genies might not also be ‘toning down’ their use of social media to fit their working profile. Darker colours for the harem pants, perhaps; ditching the turban and the curly-toed slippers, and wearing rather more navy blue? Or possibly worse, pumping it up: recruiting for an IT company once, I was struck by the percentage of possible PAs that described themselves as ‘bubbly’. I can think of lots of things that bubble, but very few I’d want to share a small space with 40 hours a week.

And how can you make it clear on LinkedIn that you’re deliberately setting out your stall to see if a better buyer comes along without it being equally obvious to your current ‘customer’ that you’re using your profile with them to score yourself a more promising one with someone else. We’ve already seen a court case about leaving a job and taking your Twitter followers with you: in the future, your social capital could be subject to complex claims of ownership. And are we really seeking a world where the genies will have to use social media as if they’re at work the whole time ‘in case anyone from HR sees this’? (The holy grail of social media must surely be a platform that allows us to reflect our complex selves realistically online: that we’re not the same person at work as we are with family or with friends, and that we share different information with different people. As it stands, we’re approaching a scenario where applying for a job gives the HR department of a company you’re not even working for a sense that they have a ‘right’ to scour through your holiday snaps, Amazon wishlists and social network. If a company had asked if they could do that 20 years ago, am I the only one that thinks many of us would have been utterly horrified?)

Recruitment will always have an element of cat and mouse: the canny larger creature stalking and grabbing the smaller but more nimble. As more people use LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, blogs and the rest of the works, more people will make contacts through them that lead to working with/for them. Show us a channel and we will flow through it in all our human diversity and quirkiness. Just as the situation is dynamic, so is the most likely evolution of the CV in the short-term. As one commentator at Recruiting Future said:

At the moment and into the near future the CV [or dynamic Profile as it may become] will have the same job which is to reach out and be the tall poppy and may even include video, work examples etc – but really we want the call to action to be an interview request and only meeting itself will [...] satisfy clients – although I think it will be possible in time to be fully cyber! “

If the future belongs to those who are social media-savvy, live for and through online connections and networks, and are adept with blogs, short video and graphic presentations, then finding them may be about to get easier. They will, of course, be the ones with the slickest personal websites and co-ordinated Twitter backdrop and avatar, whose LinkedIn profile automatically pulls the latest carefully keyword-laden headlines from their personalised RSS feed. They’ll certainly stand out in the digital equivalent of the pile.

But if the future also requires the services of others for whom a way with widget placement, basic HTML, a grasp of fashionable fonts and colour palettes – or even, more broadly, with marketing and brand positioning – are irrelevant or simply a side-issue, then HR departments need to be mindful. Adopting the same channels as your candidates doesn’t mean that you’re speaking the same language: be clear what you’re looking for, make sure your own ‘broadcasts’ don’t send conflicting messages, and learn to ‘read’ the new format. HR shouldn’t be online to be cutting edge: it should be online simply to be HR in a new environment, and the real endgame hasn’t changed.

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