It’s what you learned, not just what you did

Q: I’ve never had a CV before – and I’m 37. Every job I’ve got over the past 20 years has been by word of mouth – I spent ten years in construction in London and was never out of work. But now I’m applying for a job in a semi-state body and they want a CV. Sure, like a lot of men in construction, I can’t even remember half the jobs I was on, or which sub-contractor I was even working for at the time. What will I do? (CD, email).

Deirdre May,
Sli Nua Careers,
Limerick office.

A: You have two choices here, writes Deirdre May, Career Coach, Sli Nua Careers.

  1. You can rack your brains and drive yourself to distraction piecing together every twist and turn of your career. This is not the course of action I recommend because it sounds like you won’t achieve it, meaning you will still end up with an inaccurate account.
  2. You can ‘block off’ certain periods of employment into entries such as ‘Construction sector, London, 2004 to 2009’. In this way, you can ensure there are no gaps – this will give the potential employer a sense of where you have been since leaving school. And, then, crucially, you focus on highlighting in your CV your achievements along the way, the skills you have developed and the experience you have gained.

So, as you can see, I really believe you have only one choice. No. 2 offers the better route to a CV that truly sells you.

Create a section early in your CV along the lines of ‘Summary of main achievements, skills and experience.’ In here, you can list – and elaborate on – items that may be of interest to the semi-state employer whose attention you are now trying to catch.

An example might be ‘management experience’. Have you managed people? Were you a supervisor or foreman? No matter where you got your management experience, it can transfer to the semi-state arena. Theirs might be an office-based job, whereas your management experience might have been on a site, but what you did was still management. Or, did you manage a hurling team, for example? That’s management too. Give a few lines of detail on where you managed.

Another might be ‘leadership skills’. Again, what you are looking for here is what can transfer. Bringing new staff on board, toolbox talks, health and safety inductions, showing them the ropes – all of these correspond to training.

Again, give detail: don’t just say ‘leadership skills’. Rather, elaborate on exactly where and how you showed these, e.g. “Excellent leadership skills, as shown when I brought approximately 12 new workers onto the team on the Ealing road construction project during 2007. This included outlining the health and safety protocols on site and fully explaining the nature of the job, the approach we were taking to it and the standards we expected. In each case, I introduced him to the other personnel on site. Each week, I delivered toolbox talks to all workers.”

Build the early part of your CV in this way. Make sure the items you pick match the requirements of the new role. If you make it strong early on, and get the employer’s head nodding, you will hopefully achieve your primary goal – for now – of getting called to interview.