The CV Holy Grail

What’s the one thing that every prospective client or employer should know about you? It’s unlikely you will have an immediate answer to this question, because it’s a bit like the Holy Grail, something we seek but doesn’t seem to exist and always feels just out of our grasp. It is possible to get close though, and once you do, it should be the core, essence and focus of all your self-marketing.

So what is the CV Holy Grail?

Some will say it’s your unique selling points (USPs), and of course that’s true, but then the question is, what are USPs? Mostly people define them as the sum of your unique skills and experience. This is an accurate definition, but you can go much deeper. Your USPs are really the essence of you, and what you care about.

When creating a CV, you can gather up your experience, layout your qualifications and add some juicy stories about how you delivered exactly what the role you are currently pursuing requires, but how do you find and highlight the heart of your CV, or rather the heart of you?

Where should you seek it?

On our CV workshop, we attempt to make a start on this task with an exercise we do where we ask participants to interview each other to identify some of their achievements. We ask for two examples - work and a non-work. This tends to be a magical part of the course, and people have come up with some amazing experiences, many of which they thought they had forgotten, and most not mentioned on their current CV’s.

Achievements uncovered in this exercise range from the extraordinary, like climbing Everest (yes, really), playing rugby for England, interviewing the Dalai Lama then finding the funding to have it broadcast and writing about religion in a country where it was illegal, through to the seemingly more ordinary, like winning a prize at school, gaining a journalism qualification and overcoming a personal setback.

I say seemingly ordinary, because when we hear the whole story, what people have to do to achieve these things is often incredible, and I always feel privileged to hear these stories. The person who gained the journalism qualification did so while raising her young family, looking after a parent with Alzheimer’s, and holding down a full time job. Her study time was in the early hours of the morning when everyone else was asleep.

The prize at school was the first time this person’s writing ability was recognised, and they had to overcome great shyness to stand up in front of the whole school to accept the prize. That feeling of achievement and pride has stayed with them, and made their current career choice a possibility.

The person who overcame the personal setback realised because of this exercise that his great personal achievement was how he conducted himself throughout his divorce. In spite of huge emotions and the potential for real damage, he kept his head, and made sure that things went as smoothly as they could, so that in spite of everything, his good relationships with his children was maintained.

As you can see, all of those examples are exceptional, and the more time I spend working with people, the more I come to appreciate that everyone is exceptional in some way.

What this exercise is really rooting out are values. Your values are the things you really care about right to your core. If you went to the effort of climbing Everest, then your probably have strong values around endurance, or testing yourself, or reaching untouched parts of our planet. If sacrificing three hours a night of your sleep to gain a qualification is important to you, there’s probably some value about not giving up, goal setting, or moving towards a better future. If sucking up huge emotions for the sake of future relationships is worthwhile to you, there is likely a strong value around commitment, connectedness and self-control.

Our values run through us, like the word Blackpool runs through Blackpool rock! We don’t leave these at home when we go to work. They inform our choices regarding the work we seek, and if you hate your job, they will undoubtedly have a part to play in that too. So identifying your values is a great place to start in learning how to stand out from the crowd.

Note: If you do this exercise, do it with someone else, so you’re not so able to dismiss your achievements as something anyone could have done. And once you pick the things that make you feel proud inside to have done, look deeper beyond the experience to find the values behind them. What motivated you, what made it important, why does it still matter to you? What sort of things do you admire in other people?

How do we use the Grail once we’ve got it?

Once you’ve identified the values behind your achievements, you have the first building blocks to start weaving essence of you into your CV. Get the person you worked with on the exercise to help you write a few sentences that combine your values and experience together to make you stand out as someone exceptional. It’s always easier for someone else to do this for you. Then you can take those away and work on them.

Use this exercise to get back in touch with the things you really care about. Because, the one thing every client or employer should know about you, is what your core values and strengths are, and for most of us, these two are usually welded together. Then see how close you can get to finding your CV Holy Grail.

Learn more about using your skills to expand your work potential in our ecourse Diversifying your Portfolio.

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