Tactful CV help.
September 23, 2010 4:57 PM   Subscribe

A friend of mine who is an intelligent, hard worker, is looking for a job. She's been applying for a while, and I was truly surprised that she hasn't had an offer yet (academic post-docs) - until I saw her CV/ resume. It is not at ALL well-written.

We worked in the same lab together, when I was a newly-minted PhD, and she was a final year grad student. This meant that she and I had about the same skill level, and because I was new to the lab, she showed me the ropes quite a bit. As a result, I found her to be extremely smart, very hard-working, possessing great technical and critical thinking ability.

I've since left the lab, and work for a biotech company. I'm sometimes surprised by relatively poor-quality work around here, and so was surprised to hear that someone of her capability hadn't heard back from post-doc jobs that are very relevant to her skill set and knowledge base. I'm no expert in resume-writing, nor do I presume to be a great judge of someone's abilities, but in general I tend to interview very successfully. Her CV is a generic, I'm-Phi-Beta-Kappa-smart-and-look-at-all-my-accomplishments CV. She's tried to explain her technical capabilities, but nowhere does it convey her tangible practical abilities, research focus, or relevant skill set. It's a lot of small text, and does not really make one want to read it.

Here's the thing: she hasn't asked for my advice, and now there's a position at my company she'd be perfect for. I know she's a great worker, and wouldn't hesitate to recommend her, but her CV doesn't convey that. Also, while she's pleasant to work with, she can get slightly arrogant/ uppity because she knows she's better than most. I know her well, and this would be a sensitive subject to broach. My boyfriend - who is also at an executive level in the biotech industry - agrees that she needs to significantly edit it. How do I tactfully tell her to revamp her entire resume? I'm pretty sure the suggestions won't be welcome, and yet she'd be a great asset to my company. Thanks, hive-mind.
posted by Everydayville to Work & Money (29 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Just straight up tell her. "There's a job available here I think you should apply for and I'd be happy to recommend you, but you cannot apply with this CV. It's far too generic for the hiring profile here and doesn't match the presentation of the applications HR pulls from. I'd be happy to revise it for you if you're interested - let me know."
posted by DarlingBri at 5:02 PM on September 23, 2010 [25 favorites]

Best answer: When my dad was interviewing for a specific position at a company that his friend worked at his friend offered to tweak his resume to insure that the right "key words" would be in it so that it would make it past the screener.

Since you're the inside man so to speak could you tell her you'll update her resume with the jargon you know your company will look for. I don't know at all if that would work, but it's an idea.
posted by TooFewShoes at 5:02 PM on September 23, 2010 [7 favorites]

Every once in a while the unadorned truth works best. "I think you'd be a great fit, but I'm concerned your resume doesn't reflect it. You can use me as a reference, but I think if you're really interested in the job you need to look at revamping your resume."

And then it's up to her to take your advice or not.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:02 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Tell your friend you ran across her CV and you were concerned that it doesn't convey how truly awesome she is, and what a fantastic asset she'd be to your company. Ask if she'd mind if you tried a re-draft for her.

Here are a couple of other friendly offers to her you may want to consider. If this is feasible, can you recommend her for a job in your own company? Also, you may want to offer to do some mock interviews with her, provided you can keep your feedback from said interviews on the positive side.

Keep this positive (i.e., stay away from "Your CV is terrible!") and she is likely to take this a lot better than you fear.
posted by bearwife at 5:02 PM on September 23, 2010

Send her an email and say: "Hey, there's this great opening at my company that I think you'd be great for. I know the people in HR are real sticklers for certain things, so why don't you shoot me a copy of your CV and I'll try to help you massage it so it fits what they're looking for".
posted by chrisamiller at 5:03 PM on September 23, 2010

Maybe rather than talking about her resume in general, tell her that it doesn't fit with this specific job. Tell her that you know the job and the people doing the hiring, and that you think she would be great for it, but that she needs to tailor the resume for the company and position. Then the conversation can open up and you can give her specifics about improving it. Focus on her strengths and how in general, most people have to change their resumes for specific jobs.
posted by tessalations999 at 5:03 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding straight up tell her. I'd be very grateful if my CV sucked and someone told me. Just be respectful and make sure it's clear you want to help, not criticize. No extra politeness would be required, just useful comments.
posted by bessel functions seem unnecessarily complicated at 5:07 PM on September 23, 2010

Response by poster: I should mention that I did try offering to help with re-fitting her CV for this particular position. She turned me down, saying she'd ask her boyfriend to help her. I've even sent her mine as a sample, but she hasn't even commented on it.

She really needs a job, and in a way I'd like to help her get ANY job she applies for, not just this one. It's a tough situation, but I'm trying to be patient. Her not wanting to be helped is almost pathological, and makes me wonder if she has some sort of complex over it.
posted by Everydayville at 5:11 PM on September 23, 2010

Toofewshoes has it right...you know what they're looking for in a candidate and a CV.
posted by vitabellosi at 5:13 PM on September 23, 2010

You already offered and she said no? So chill out - her problem now. You've offered, she'll come back to you, if you are close and she knows you can help.
posted by RajahKing at 5:17 PM on September 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

Well, again, just tell her. Or... you know, I don't have a lot of patience for willful ignorance. I'd just re-do the CV and send it to her with a note saying "I'm pretty confident they are looking for a presentation like this - very corporate, 10 point Times New Roman, in this format. Good luck!"
posted by DarlingBri at 5:24 PM on September 23, 2010

You say you've worked with her before, so maybe this sort of thing doesn't carry over in a detrimental way to her attitude in the workplace, but do you really want to be tiptoeing around her ego every time you need to get something done at work?

You should try one more time to tell her the truth (couched in positive terms as outlined above), but then you should let her make the choice to help herself.
posted by lettersoflead at 5:35 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you're her reference, and if you get a chance to talk to the hiring person, you can mention that her CV doesn't reflect her suitability -- and that its weakness means she'll probably stay with whatever position she gets for a long time.
posted by amtho at 5:41 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Second DarlingBri. "You cannot apply with this CV". There is a finality to it that she needs to hear, if dropping hints hasn't worked.
posted by PercussivePaul at 5:43 PM on September 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

"You realize that they're gonna get a hundred applications for this job, right? Are you absolutely certain that you are head and shoulders above everyone else? And that none of those other people know someone like me who can give you the right code words and exactly what HR is looking for? If so, then I'm sure your boyfriend will do fine. If not, though, you might want to let me take a whack at it too."
posted by Etrigan at 5:55 PM on September 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Is it possible that she's self-conscious about her profile and is acting defensively toward you as a result? Could you be perceived by her as gloating or reveling in your easy success where she is struggling?

Look, I've been on both sides of this situation and, while it's always better to be the successful one, dealing with peers who aren't able to move forward takes real tact. You said your bit. She knows you're willing to help her polish her vita. Now, if you really want to help her you'll do whatever you can behind the scenes to smooth her way into a job with your company. And if you're really classy about it, you'll never let on that you did a thing.
posted by felix betachat at 6:24 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Send her this link :)
posted by EtzHadaat at 6:24 PM on September 23, 2010

She's your friend, right? Flat out tell her that her CV is terrible and you think that's why she's not getting any job offers. There's a job at your company that you think she'd be perfect for but she needs to entirely redo her CV if she wants to apply.
That's what I'd do, but I have no problems being blunt.
posted by emd3737 at 6:29 PM on September 23, 2010

I think you should be really clear about what you think the CV should look like.

I went to a seminar about writing a CV for an academic job, aimed at postdocs in the biomedical sciences. This was at a highly regarded, large, medical school, presented by academics (not clinicians) who are involved in hiring. They said that the CV *must* be simply a list of education, honors, work experience, publications, and a few other possible categories. I remember that I specifically asked about putting in accomplishments related to jobs, such as "developed new method for X" or "mentored 5 undergraduates in lab, each published" or such, like they tell you to do in books about resume writing. They said absolutely do not do that. It would look unprofessional.

Your friend might have been at the same seminar...
posted by SandiBeech at 6:32 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

People get really funny about CV's even though I find them to be one of the hardest things in the world to write - and I'm a *writer*! It's tough to see yourself and your skills. And no one wants to hear that their CV was bad when they've sent it out to 100 places.

But they need to hear it. So you told her. If they press you on submitting it you need to flat out say that her CV is terrible and you wouldn't feel comfortable submitting it. That she's got great skills but her CV doesn't reflect that.
posted by micawber at 6:39 PM on September 23, 2010

If you do say anything again, please be specific. I'm quite sure my own resume could be much better, but if I knew specifically how, I'd have already done it.
posted by sepviva at 6:42 PM on September 23, 2010

Maybe encourage her to do a second CV for this job?
posted by k8t at 7:11 PM on September 23, 2010

Best answer: If someone you professionally admire/respect says "your CV really doesn't reflect what a great scientist you are, why don't you try doing X, Y and Z to it?" then you're going to do that X, Y and Z.

If you want to help your friend, my suggestion would be to try to get this to happen.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 7:21 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Honestly, forget tact at this point. "I know you're smart, I know you're talented. Your CV is garbage, and until you fix that it won't matter how smart or talented you are."
posted by mhoye at 7:33 PM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Maybe you could suggest that she write a cover letter tailored to the job, rather than edit her CV. I also consider a CV a list of education, jobs/responsibilities, and publications. The skills and experience go in the cover letter, which is tweaked for each application whereas the CV stays the same.
Of course, I haven't been able to find a biotech job lately, so who am I to talk?
Hey, got a job for me?

posted by Quietgal at 7:57 PM on September 23, 2010

lay it on her. life is short.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 8:16 PM on September 23, 2010

Best answer: Your friend might have been at the same seminar...

I suspect this is on track. You say "She's tried to explain her technical capabilities, but nowhere does it convey her tangible practical abilities, research focus, or relevant skill set." But an academic CV, for a postdoc, shouldn't typically try to do this stuff; that is the role of the research statement/cover letter. I realize that things are different in industry and I assume these are the standards you are applying, but you may want to consider that the kind of CV she is using for academic jobs is in fact not so terrible for academia (and that she isn't necessarily aware of the culture clash).
posted by advil at 8:34 PM on September 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Depersonalize it.

I created, began and ran resume writing workshops for graduate human centred design students - their challenge? how to differentiate themselves on paper and text to tell the stories that would make the reader want to look at the portfolios. I saw some terrible ones and this is what I said,

Your CV/bio/resume is like a knock on the door, not a piece of art nor your entire life history. It has to convey enough about what makes you interesting and relevant and qualified so that you get called in, called back or called on the phone.

Now, given its function to achieve this in the first 30 seconds it takes to put it in the trash pile, how would you rewrite that first paragraph?

So all the relevant CV type material stays in there. But the top first paragraph can be a summary of what makes her unique and wonderful in your eyes - its a compromise to the requirements solution and makes the reader scan the document further. Check to see if her first one/third of the first page has any significant problems in it...

Other than than, as I found in working with hundreds of students, if someone doesn't hear what you are saying and doesn't want help, there's nothing more you can do ... even if they *need* a job.
posted by The Lady is a designer at 12:26 AM on September 24, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you all for your input.

One thing I hadn't realized is that she may not be aware of the distinction between an academic CV and an industry resume. However, her CV contained things like "mentored three undergraduates, one Fogarty scholar, two graduate students", clearly things that mean nothing and do not speak to her scientific capabilities.

I sent her an email telling her that I'd be happy to put in some keywords in her CV that would help get her noticed. Other than that, I'll just do everything I can behind the scenes to get her an interview, and hopefully she gets the job. It'd be nice to have a friend to eat lunch with on occasion :)

Thanks again!
posted by Everydayville at 10:05 AM on September 24, 2010

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