Why You Should Read a CV Like a Story

How you can learn more about candidates by reading their CV as a story, and not a description of their work history

Picture the scenario, you’re the hiring manager and you’ve got two candidates in the frame. One of which has a perfect academic record at a top university and has got experience straight out of education into the perfect industry. On the other hand, you have a candidate whose grades are just above average, has held lots of seemingly random jobs and didn’t study at the top university. Straight away, you’re probably inclined to choose the first candidate. And so you should be. But this TED talk has inspired discussion about hiring the underdog, and makes a pretty strong case for doing so.


The CV Storybook

More can be learned from reading somebody’s CV than you think. It should read like a story, and not like a bulleted list of previous employers. Understanding CV’s in this manner allows you to look beyond the obvious; to find out a candidates’ qualities that aren’t plainly obvious on first viewing. In Regina Hartley’s TED talk, she discusses the idea of the ‘scrapper’, and why she’s always felt inclined to choose them over the ‘silver spoons’. One way to look at somebody’s experience being a bit messy, in multiple jobs and industries, is to assume that either they lack career focus, or are unable to stay in one place for too long; clearly someone to avoid hiring.

Alternatively, you can view this as somebody’s story against obstacles and adversity. Consider that the candidate may have had to hold down multiple jobs to overcome financial challenges, or pay their way through education for example. These experiences and challenging circumstances are unparalleled for enabling somebody to grow and transform as a person.  So whilst the perfect candidate has only ever experienced the industry you’re recruiting for, what they’re not demonstrating, is an ability to adapt and overcome challenges quite like the scrapper does.


How does someone’s story affect their performance

So you’ve decided to hire the underdog, what might this mean on the job. In her talk, Regina Hartley talks about her experiences of managing both the ‘scrapper’ and the ‘silver spoon’. The difficulty with hiring the ‘silver spoon’ is that despite they had the perfect CV, they may not show the flexibility to adapt their job like the ‘scrapper’. She recalls one instance where a so called ‘silver spoon’ was unwilling to take on a role they believed to be beneath their ability and experience. Whereas the ‘scrapper’ is grateful just to have the job at all, so is keen to, and capable of adapting to a different role. Similarly, when the perfect CV or ‘silver spoon’ fails, they look externally for reasons why and so limit their personal growth. The ‘scrapper’ on the other hand, asks ‘what could I have done differently?’. They believe they are in control of their own destiny and use failure as an opportunity for personal development. 


Pick the ‘scrapper’, here’s why…

As well as recounting personal experiences of hiring and working with the underdog CV, Regina mentions a somewhat notable ‘scrapper’, none other than Steve Jobs. The Apple visionary’s CV would’ve once read that he didn’t finish college, he job hops quite a lot, has dyslexia and took a random hiatus from work to India. There may have been better candidates competing with Jobs, but no other candidate would’ve had the tenacity and sense of purpose like Jobs did. 


In summary, these are the skills you could identify by reading a CV like a story; adaptability, tenacity, an ability to overcome challenges, a sense of purpose and perhaps most importantly, gratitude.

Here’s the full TED Talk from Regina Hartley