21 Jun 2023

A Fresh Take on CVs: Putting Strengths First

We dive into: The 4 Archetypes of a Generalist, a framework for squiggly career progression, I'll then spin these into real-world examples of what a *delightful* generalist career flow could look like

And then... a pinch of spice 🌶️ I'll be busting the myth that generalists can't reach mastery

Welcome back, folks! I’ve got a spicy edition for you today — a fresh take on traditional CVs. This one is bought to you by the phenomenal neuroscientist, artist and product leader — Erica Warp. Can’t wait to hear what you think!

We recently released research and a new definition of generalists that focuses on their strengths rather than their ‘wandering’ path.

“A generalist is an expert learner, versatile problem solver and big picture thinker who can effectively apply these strengths across varied fields and roles. They are skilled at spotting relevant patterns in complexity and are often empathetic and future-focused.”

This reframe struck a chord with the generalists in our community and beyond and got us thinking:

What if CVs were centred around strengths, rather than roles?

Writing resumes comes up as one of the top pain points for generalists in our community.

Generalists are often writing five or six different CVs for a single job search in order to highlight different aspects of their experience. Or they are trying to mash together what appears like multiple careers into a single coherent story. This takes loads of time and effort and can be a significant source of anxiety. And in the end, it’s often ineffective as generalists frequently struggle to land roles that are fit for purpose and that leverage their superpowers.

As technology continues to accelerate and the jobs we have today are replaced with the unknown jobs of tomorrow, we can expect that even non-generalists will change roles and industries several times in their career. 

If more and more of us traverse a windy and squiggly career path - one that does not immediately tell a consistent story - then what defines who we are professionally? And how can we better explain this to potential employers, clients, partners and even ourselves?

Strengths seem like a great place to start.

Strengths are abilities that come naturally to someone. They’re more innate and persistent than skills which are usually acquired through training and experience. Strengths are also quite unique to each individual.

The CliftonStrengths framework, for example, supports over 200K combinations of top strengths!

As a hiring manager myself, it is often a particular combination of strengths that sets the best candidates apart as they define the “flavor” of person I want for a particular role and differentiate them from others that also excel in the skills I need.

To explore the idea of a strength-based CV more, I decided to create one for myself. Below is a step-by-step framework, along with a couple of templates you can use to create your own.

🤓 Creating a Strengths-Based CV

To do this I first defined my top four strengths - Learning, Strategy, Ideation and Empathy - which I converged on by synthesizing feedback from colleagues and the output of a few strengths assessments. There are many ways I could slice and dice these strengths but I felt like these covered the furthest four corners of my “strength space” so I just went with them!

I then listed out the most salient examples of how I have demonstrated and leveraged each of those strengths in my work.

This bullet list painted a rich picture of my core, but as a hiring manager, I noticed that a few things were missing.

If I were looking at this CV I would also want to see evidence that this person could actually apply their strengths to have a meaningful impact. And I would want to have an idea of what industries, roles and environments they had worked in so I could better understand the types of problems they had encountered. So I added short sections on impact and a summary of years spent in different roles, industries and organization sizes.

🗒️ Link to my Strengths-Based CV Word Document

💭 Reflections

How did it feel to put this together? It felt good. Actually, it felt great. Maybe this was because it was refreshing to try out a new take on the old resume; as a generalist after all, I do love things that are new! But there was something else at play.

The final document feels much more like “me on a page” (or a page and a half at least).

It is a better introduction to who I really am professionally than the default list of roles I have on LinkedIn. For example: it highlights what drives me and what superpowers I bring to the table.

Meet the author: Erica Warp is a future-focused neuroscientist, artist and leader with 12+ years experience building innovative products in health, wellness and education. Erica is a systems thinker, learner and empathetic connector with a track record of jump-starting teams to deliver step-change impact. And last but not least, she’s a proud generalist.

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Our content is brought free to you, courtesy of the Generalist World community memberships.

Our content is brought free to you, courtesy of the Generalist World community memberships.

Subscribe our newsletter to never miss an essay

Our content is brought free to you, courtesy of the Generalist World community memberships.