Last week, LIKE North held our second event: a workshop on transferable skills, kindly hosted by Julia Hordle from TFPL. Julia had come along to our launch event in December, so kindly agreed to share her expertise in recruitment with the group.
Julia began by discussing how to identify what your transferable skills are: what do employers find valuable? Julia noted that in careers advice, a lot is talked about “soft” skills, e.g. communication, interpersonal skills, etc. However, it is important to note that while your soft skills make you competitive, differentiate you and get you noticed, they will not get you a job by themselves: what really makes you valuable is your hard skills.
When you’re starting out with writing a CV, one of the hardest tasks is actually identifying what your skills are. This is because most of us tend to be very bad at self-analysis! Julia advised that the best way to start is to talk to your peers, your employer, and most importantly, your customers. Customers in this context can be anyone that is on the receiving end of work you do: so in my case that would be the lawyers in my firm, or if you’re an academic librarian it might be the students or staff who use your services. Although your line-manager and co-workers are the easiest people to ask for feedback on your work, and they will certainly have a valuable perspective on what you are good at, they may not have as clear an idea of what you are really good at as the actual recipients of your work do.
If you’re looking to analyse your transferable skills with a view to changing sector, it can be useful to think about what you’re good at, and what you enjoy, that you are not currently doing enough of. Again, it’s useful to get an outside perspective on this. Your peers and co-workers may be able to help you identify skills that you have that you might not have thought of – even the obvious ones! Julia told an anecdote about showing a colleague her CV many years ago when she was working in a business development role, and it being pointed out to her that she hadn’t actually mentioned business development in her CV at all. That led her onto another point: don’t assume that any of your skills are implied by other things you’ve described. Be explicit!
Julia went on to give some general tips about CV writing. A couple of people mentioned that they didn’t put much effort into CVs as most jobs they applied for required application forms instead. Julia advised that writing a CV should be the starting point of any job search, even if you’re not likely to actually send it out, for several reasons. First, because actually writing a CV is a good way of identifying what you’re good at, what you can do and what you would like to do, and therefore what kinds of jobs you might be able to apply for. This is particularly useful if you want to broaden your search outside of areas you’ve traditionally worked in. Secondly, having a well-written CV to refer to can make filling out an application form much easier.
We then went through some Dos and Don’ts for CV writing:
- Start with a mind-map: get a blank piece of paper and write down everything you’re good at, everything you enjoy and everything you’re proud of. Include stuff that isn’t related to work too, even if you think you wouldn’t put it on your CV
- Give yourself enough time to write your CV – it isn’t a quick job!
- Ask for feedback from people who know you: it’s very easy to miss off obvious things, or assume that something is implied when you should make it explicit
- Treat it like a chore – don’t start your CV at the end of a long day when you’re in a bad mood!
- Take an old CV and just add a paragraph about your most recent job. As a guideline, if it’s been more than 18 months since you last updated your CV, you are likely to be in a very different place: your priorities, achievements, even your vocabulary will have changed. By all means keep and refer to old CVs, but if a significant amount of time has passed then you should really start from scratch
- Describe lowest common denominators: if the statement about your job could say the exact same thing as one of your co-workers in that job, you’re doing it wrong. A shopping list of your job responsibilities is not helpful: what makes you unique? What did you actually achieve?
We also went through some of the “themes” you may want to include/cover in a CV, both professional and personal:
- Results/impacts/outputs: information professionals tend not to be very good at highlighting these, but it’s really important to include actual metrics where you can (e.g. increased turnaround time for enquiries by x%)
- Functional domain: e.g. who are your clients, and who are their clients? You should be able to talk about the world outside of your library, and how what you do fits in with the wider organisation/structure
- Contextual knowledge: show that you understand the industry/sector you work in
- Methods and frameworks: e.g. have you been trained in any project management methodology, such as PRINCE2? Or any other job-relevant frameworks or methodologies?
- Technology, tools and sources: what are you familiar with? What would you be able to come in and start working with straight away? Important to list everything of relevance here, especially software/databases etc. Although you might not need to mention every Office application you can use (employers will probably assume a basic competence with things like Word!), if you’re an advanced user or any common product (e.g. Excel) then that’s worth highlighting
- Leadership: if you have any kind of leadership experience or knowledge, even if not related to your job, make sure you highlight it
- Strategy: it’s really important to show that you understand how any of your achievements fit in to the big picture
- Your individual journey
On the personal side, Julia said that if you are going to write a personal statement/mission statement for your CV (and she does think this is useful), make sure you make it personal to you, and don’t just repeat the same worthy-sounding platitudes that everyone else uses. Talk about your goals, what interests you and where you want to be. Articulate what you can offer and what you want to do. In a nutshell, your personal statement should sum up who you are and what you are looking for. On a practical note, Julia also mentioned that if you think your personal statement is important enough to include at all, then it should be in your CV, not the covering letter – covering letters often aren’t stored to be referred to alongside the CV.
Finally, Julia reminded us that there are no hard-and-fast rules for doing your CV the “correct” way. She said the only important thing to remember was to make sure you don’t annoy the HR team that have to look at it! In other words, make sure that the key dates and facts are easy to pick out, and that you’ve accounted for any gaps in your career history: the rest is up to you. Quite a few of us had previously been told that your CV should only run to one or two pages: Julia disagreed. She thought that a one-page CV was far too short to contain any useful information (I’m inclined to agree), but that longer than 2 pages was fine – if everything you’ve included needs to be there and you’re not just padding!
We then talked a bit in groups about what we thought a CV was for. We came up with the following points, and Julia contributed some that we’d missed:
- First and foremost: to get you a job!
- Outline your key skills/experience
- A personal aide memoire/morale boost, to be able to look back on and remind yourself of past achievements
- Statement of intent: a CV should outline what you want to do, as well as what you have done/can do
- Promoting your personal brand
- Skills audit / identifying a skills gap
- Create a good first impression – your future employer will read your CV long before they actually meet you
- Reference tool – recruiter will retain your CV to refer to and remind themselves of who you are after the interview
Finally, Julia also made a very good point about your CV as a search destination. Large employers and recruitment agencies will often use CV databases. Your CV will be indexed and stored, and found again via a search engine. For this reason it is especially important to make sure that all of your key skills are explicitly stated, and that you’ve included all the key phrases and search terms for the kind of job you want to do.
Julia then talked briefly about finding hidden opportunities – particularly useful in a difficult jobs market! Her tips were:
- Apply your business brain! Analyse the functions of jobs you see advertised or hear about – where will your skills fit?
- Think laterally – explore inside and out of your own field. Finding hidden opportunities doesn’t necessarily mean changing sector: there may be great opportunities within your existing sector, or even your existing organisation, that you may not have thought to explore
- Take control: invest in CPD, network widely, and make a conscious effort to keep on top of your career development
- Most importantly: stay positive!
One of the most difficult things to work out when looking for a new job is how to determine your market value: bluntly, how much should you be paid? This is particularly difficult for those at the start of their careers, with little experience to fall back on. Julia listed the following points that determine your market value:
- Precedent – what have similar roles been valued at previously? What have your previous expectations been?
- Pertinence – how relevant are your specific skills to the organisation? If you can offer exactly what they need, and are one of few or the only one who can, your value to them will be higher
- Performance – how good are you at your job?
- Peer group – how are comparable roles remunerated? Don’t just look at other information professional roles for this – are their other support staff within your own or similar organisations with comparable levels of skill and experience required?
- Demand – this is the most important! Rules of supply and demand have a strong influence on the job market, and can change quickly.
To round up the session, Julia went back to her initial point about soft skills: although they alone won’t get you a job, they are a good differentiator. She gave us a few tips for how to represent soft skills, as obviously these are a bit harder to illustrate than hard skills:
- Competencies and examples
- Utilise lessons and feedback from appraisals
- Use examples to illustrate your approach to problem solving
- Demonstrate your preparation for and approach to meetings and discussions – this is a good one to focus on in interviews
- Take steps to develop empathy if this doesn’t come naturally to you, e.g. make eye contact, practice active listening.
Overall, this was a really useful session, with a lot to take in! Julia obviously has a great wealth of experience in recruiting to draw on, so we are incredibly grateful to her for giving her time and sharing her advice with us.