• Diana Costa

We’ve Been Writing Our CVs The Wrong Way All Along

I remember like it was yesterday. It was past midnight and I was sitting in our living room in downtown Asuncion, trying to remember the list of subjects I had managed to conclude successfully in a course I had taken two years before. I needed to know that, because that was the first time in two years I had even glanced at my CV, and I knew I was going to need it looking pristine soon, when I would be applying for my dream job at Mindvalley - a company whose mission is to change education in the world by offering content on topics that should be taught in school but aren’t. 

At this point, I had browsed through dozens of Linkedin profiles of current Mindvalley employees, and each of them had a glorious work experience to show for themselves. Their list of accomplishments was vast and far more impressive than I believed mine was. 

I remember being so angry at myself. "If only I had seen these CVs years ago, I would have used my time better. I would have proactively searched for ways to make myself stand out more through my own experience". Don’t get me wrong. I was and am grateful for the opportunities and adventures that my life has procured, but I remember feeling really disappointed at myself, seeing all of these people - some much younger than me - with such remarkable experience, while I felt so green.

I was inundated with negativity when it occurred to me of how really hypocritical I had been. Back then, I had been working as Director of Human Resources and Outgoing Exchange for leadership development non-profit AIESEC in Paraguay, and that work entailed hundreds of interviews and CV analysis, as well as coaching the exchange participants our office would send to work in companies and non-profits abroad. And I was the obnoxious person sending them harsh feedback on their CVs and demanding diligence and commitment from them, because I knew how that could considerably increase their chances of getting hired. How - after being so pushy and committed to ensuring their success - had I managed to completely neglect my own?

Up until that point, my own CV updating process went like this:

I get a promotion or change positions at work > I learn new skills > I update my CV

And this cycle would repeat with small variations of new references, an article or a new course I happened to find. It was then that it hit me.

I had been working on my own CV - and advising people on theirs- the wrong way all along! 

Determining the benchmark by studying the best CVs in the field should have been my first move. Updating a CV shouldn’t be a reactive process, it should be a proactive one. It should be done before any career move, any big time investment on courses and not as a response to an event, but a prediction. 

All of the sudden, the negativity turned into a huge rush of excitement. I felt like I had stumbled upon something really valuable. What if I could design my CV exactly the way I want it, with all the skills, competencies and experience that will make me stand out, THEN work to make it true?! Wouldn’t that be a much more purposeful and focused effort than to just react to the career changes happening for me?

It seems obvious, doesn’t it?! Throughout my life I had been told to never stop growing, and to have goals, to be driven professionally and learn new skills. But somehow it had never occurred to me, to just sit down and design this ideal version of myself, then go out and make it a reality. So I sat down, opened my CV and started the most epic edit I had ever done in it. All the skills and experience I felt I lacked, were now in there. New references, courses, volunteering, you name it. 

I knew I could never send that CV to a company as part of my application package.But I could use that as a goal to focus my efforts and do my best to make it true with the 6 months I had between then and the application deadline for Mindvalley. 

The first step to turn that awesome CV into reality was to create clusters of abilities. I looked at the fake skills, and grouped them together. For example, logistics, public speaking, agenda management, sales and budgeting all went into a broader skill of Event Management. Content Marketing as a macro skill included social media management, lead generation, writing, etc. And just like that, I mapped the skills (real and fabricated), and that allowed me to understand what I really had and what I was lacking, to then search for courses and opportunities to develop those skills. 

I don’t think there has ever been a time where developing skills was easier or more accessible than today. Of course, there is still a long way to go when it comes to making education truly accessible to everyone, but if you have a computer and internet access, turning your dream CV into a reality is easier than ever. 

In my fake CV, I included knowledge about Meditation - a topic I thought would be valuable to know when applying for a job at Mindvalley. So, I started looking for courses on Meditation and Positive living. Ended up taking a great course by the Art of Living foundation, and had the chance to volunteer with them for a couple of months, to really immerse myself in the practice. Two birds with one stone: I obtained the knowledge I needed and got a new volunteering experience to add to my CV. 

I had also included knowledge about Advanced Training and Learning Techniques (since Mindvalley develops the curriculum of most of the courses it makes available). I had a vast practical experience with developing and delivering trainings through AIESEC, but I lacked the theory. So I started looking for courses, and a friend recommended an excellent course on Gamification, the theory on how to learn, teach and motivate behaviour through “gamifying" the process. The course was considerably long, so I focused on the introductory parts just enough to be able to apply the basic principles and maximize the effort. I then prepared a gamified training for my AIESEC team, to solidify the knowledge and, to some extent, test the validity of the new methodology I had just learned. It was great! 100% of my team members -16 people at the time- voted to make that the standard way to get trained! So, another innovation from my ideal CV that I had managed to turn into a reality.

So, little by little, I managed to considerably improve my real CV, by using the fake one as a compass to drive my efforts in a more focused and optimal way. Of course there was still a lot that I couldn’t accomplish in time for the application process, so I still had to take out the parts I couldn’t quite get done in time. But this showed me how this isn’t just an effort to make right before a job application. It is a constant, steady self-improving process, and, had it not been for it, I would have continued to update my CV in a reactive manner. 

An ever bigger benefit that I wasn’t really counting on was the remarkable increase in my confidence as the deadline for the application approached. I felt better prepared, more aligned with the Job Description I was applying for, and the process helped me outline great real life examples of the applicability of my transferrable skills.

I was successful in my application, and in July 2014 I packed all of my stuff and headed to Malaysia to help change education in the world. There is no doubt in my heart that without that fake idealized CV, I would have continued to be complacent and simply listed the things I had accomplished. This process helped me envision an upgraded version of myself, and work towards making it a reality. Since that realization, I was fortunate to be able to help dozens of people improve their chances at the job of their dreams and that is the most rewarding thing ever. 

Now, if you are a parent or a teacher, a school counsellor or maybe you just know someone who is preparing for a career move: share these ideas! No ego involved and no credit needed. But let’s make this process a mainstream practice in schools and at home to create more purposeful and goal-oriented career growth methodologies, specially to the people who are just now preparing to enter the job market. 

Here, in bullet points, how to create your ideal CV, then work to make it a reality:

Create a benchmark:

Go to Glassdoor, Linkedin and the About Me sections of the companies you would like to work for. Reach out to the people working there and tell them your story and why you feel motivated to work there. Ask them what skills you should invest in having, and what experiences you should pursue. 

List ideal skills, values and experience:

After doing your research, list the common skills the people who have the career you envision normally have. What values guide their behaviour? What experiences have they had?

Look around! You can fabricate those experiences!

There are hundreds of NGOs and projects in need of people willing to put their skills at the service of a good cause. Go, learn new skills with them! Go on Coursera.com and find the courses that will teach you the theory of the new abilities you want to learn. Talk to a university professor and volunteer to give a lesson on a topic you learned. Create those opportunities for yourself, in a focused and ethical manner, and you will accomplish great things.

Ask for feedback: As you are purposefully creating opportunities for yourself to gain practical experience, do your best to connect with the people around you. Be of service to them and ask for their feedback. Not only will you get good material to work on in order to be an even better professional, you can gather references that can go a long way in the process of getting hired. 

Now, there is still a lot I can tell you about this process, and I will. Do let me know in the comments if you have other tips on how to continuously improve your CV or if you have any feedbacks on this article. 

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