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Self-marketing: how to make your CV SOAR

I’ve written a lot of CVs for individuals at all levels of seniority. Given that a lot of the CVs I have created have been for people in the upper echelons of large organisations, it’s not surprising that these important marketing documents are often neglected, or are hastily-thrown together lists of responsibilities that go back as far as memory allows.

Completely understandable from individuals who are not used to having to think about marketing themselves.

Here are the two most common mistakes I see with CVs:

  1. They’re too long
  2. They describe responsibilities, rather than achievements

The first mistake can be addressed with some judicious pruning and by asking the question, “is this relevant to the role or roles I am applying for?” Happily, addressing the second mistake will also significantly reduce the length of your CV.

You can do that by applying the acronym “SOAR” to your CV. For each role, think about and briefly describe the:

  • Situation – the organization, department, time frame etc.
  • Obstacle (or Task, if you prefer “STAR” to “SOAR”) – either the challenges you had to overcome or what you had to do in your role. (Yes, you can allude to responsibilities here.)
  • Action – the action you took to overcome the obstacle or fulfil your responsibilities or complete the task.
  • Result – the demonstrable, measurable or concrete outcomes of this action.

SOAR in brief

A shorthand way to address this is to ensure your CV is weighted in favour of achievements rather than responsibilities; the latter can be summarised in a brief narrative.

It doesn’t matter if your particular role or specialism means that it is difficult to cite “hard” quantitative achievements like sales figures, margin, profit per unit or whatever. Some seemingly qualitative criteria are more measurable than might initially seem to be the case, while in other instances, there are always ways to describe an outcome. To cite examples from a variety of professional functions: a change in culture, an increase in morale the award of a new certification, a reduction in churn, a win rate, column inches, advertising value equivalent, share of voice, social follows.

I’ve seen the evidence – what about the “how”?

What is harder to qualify is how you lead – your own methodology or philosophy, how you transform businesses (or teams), how you get people to follow you, how to create and ensure people buy into your vision. I like to build a narrative profile to capture the leadership qualities of the people I create CVs for; this profile provides an overview, usually with case studies, of their leadership qualities. It can be extended into a portfolio to evidence specific skills or achievements, or even a brochure. In the course of doing this, I usually ask these questions amongst many others:

  • What have you done to make a difference to your organisation?
  • How do you lead people through change?
  • How do you get to know your new team or network?
  • What do other people (subordinates, peers, managers or friends) say about you in 360-degree feedback, regardless of the context? What qualities come through consistently?
  • What do you do best?

Holding up the mirror

It’s hard being honest about ourselves, and if you’ve arrived at a point where you need a good CV and profile, you might not be in the best place to crow about your achievements.

You may be unsure what you want to do next, you may have been made redundant – or, in a more positive case, you may have been so senior for so long that it’s been a long time since you’ve really had to recognise and articulate what you’re good at. This might sound counter-intuitive, but I have seen it happen a lot!

When we create self-marketing kits for people, we’re holding up a mirror that helps them to recognise themselves again. It’s usually a refreshing, positive exercise that people enjoy, because they are forced to confront their own successes, or recognise the success within their own experience.

One last thought on this subject. Much as good financial advisors remind the profligate to remember to pay themselves every month rather than just fritter all their money away, it’s also a good idea to build a bit of time into your schedule – perhaps on a monthly basis – to make a note of your key projects or achievements that month. Perhaps keep an online “bank” of achievements relating to your current role. You can transfer this over to a CV and your LinkedIn profile when needed. In this way you’ll never have to wrack your brains again!

We’ll be exploring more ideas about self-marketing in the future, so watch this space, and please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you need help marketing yourself!

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