Skip to content

Creativity and professionalism and CVs

October 13, 2016

Can I be creative with my CV, or do I have to be professional? Was a query posted in a recent LinkedIn article. Here is my take on this matter.

What has prompted me to write is that being creative and being professional are not mutually exclusive, and they are not opposites. First of all there is the matter of creativity. In my experience as a freelancer, people often see creativity as being disruptive and something to be afraid, or at the least, wary of.

The red flag with being too creative, and advertising yourself as such, is that it smacks of being maverick. The recruiter does not want to risk hiring a Top Gun, a corner-cutting maverick. The fact is that creativity in this area is not an opportunity, but rather a threat. Most of the time you are being recruited for a 9 to 5 position. For a “9 to 5” job which demands predictability, consistency, and fitting well into the organisation by following processes and procedures; there is little room for the maverick creativity which is both hit and miss, and costly.

Which brings me to professionalism and the CV, a matter I have written on before now, and I am sure it will crop up again. Regarding the CV, note that professionalism means different things to different people. Professional, at its best, is all about care. So do you care? A document such as a CV is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate that care. Not least spelling, and grammar, but also consistency, and effort, and the time you have put into your document, all shine out when such care is taken.

This brings me to the related question of how creative one should be. I would answer this by saying be as creative as you need to be in order to demonstrate that you can solve their problem by hiring you. Demonstrate your successes in as tangible a way as possible. Add metrics where you can.

Such a focus on tangible successes is for the CV a professional way to put yourself across. Clearly answer how you can solve your prospective employer’s problem in hiring you. The result will be that your creativity in managing the workload will shine through without being viewed as a risk.


July 5, 2016

Recently I wrote of a what if, albeit realistic, situation wherein your former boss calls you up to talk about work. In that post, called Overture, I dealt with how the former subordinate could approach the matter to prepare for the meeting. Similarly, with this post I would like to deal with how the former boss ought to manage the affair.

So here is the situation: the member of staff you now need in your current post was your subordinate at your previous company. Here is a shopping list of advice and comments for just such an eventuality.

Firstly, meet on neutral ground over food, or at least a coffee. Let them choose, but if you suggest somewhere close to your workplace, then that makes transitioning to an office visit a lot easier.

Also, know why HR cannot, or will not, recruit someone for you. Prepare to share a best version of this with your former subordinate. Plus, tell them why they are the best candidate for this role.

At the meeting spend a little time at the beginning to talk about them; their current role, how they are enjoying it, and what they like (remain positive, avoid this turning into a complaining session). This small talk is in order to find the temperature of the room, to find out whether and how accommodating they are likely to be.

Express what knowledge, skills, or experience you need from your former subordinate. Be specific here. You need to sell this jump as more than a leap of faith that this new offer will be just “challenging” or “exciting”, nor say that “you’ll find out more as you go along”. So know what the details of the position are before you say something wrong or untrue. Prepare to describe the day-to-day, and above all, be honest and open about this.

Further, express the time commitment explicitly. When would you like them to start? For how long is this role? What opportunities may this lead to, what sort of contract is being offered, and under what terms and conditions?

Prepare key people back at the office so that you can act on an “impromptu” meet and greet should the need arise. This demonstrates foresight and the fact that you care.

Know what a good outcome would look like. That the person agrees, that they recommend someone to help you out? This is the measure of your success to ensure that you have a goal to work towards, and that you know when you have finished.

Finally, how much time are you willing to give them to think this over? Avoid too short a time frame, because this would make it look as though either they were the last person on your mind, or you have only just learned something and you are unprepared.


I hope this helps. Let me know in the comments your thoughts and methods on this matter.


July 4, 2016

Here is the scene: your former boss calls you up and says they are in town next week, and would you like to meet up to talk about work. Naturally, the answer is yes, but wading through all that this may or may not mean is doubtless racing through your mind can be difficult to find an objective truth. Here is some help.

Before any analysis, and if you are generally positive towards this overture, then agree to meet somewhere neutral, yet near to their office. I have done this before, and when the meeting goes well it is easy to go over to their office for more detail, meet and greets, and even to start on the project. Start neutrally, though.

There are two main reasons for such a talk. The first is less likely: that they need your professional help or advice. If this is the case, then think back to what role you had under them and the knowledge, skills, and experience you demonstrated then. If your values have changed, then how? If it is formal help and advice, then who is paying, how much, and how?

The second, and more likely reason, and larger area for analysis, is to engage you in some form of employment. Here are some questions to consider before turning to a more structured starburst diagram.

  • Do I want to change jobs, and for what?
  • Am I available, or when can I be available?
  • What would I lose, and what would I gain by moving?
  • Could I consult, or moonlight, and still keep my current job?

Here is a starburst diagram to help you sort through your quandry.

  • Who would I be working under, with, or over?
  • What would my role be (title and duties)?
  • Where would I be based (and would there be travel)?
  • When would I need to, or be able to start? (There may be dependencies or work to contractually or honourably complete)
  • How do I see the new company? (Growth and opportunity, same as my current position, or a dead end)
  • Why am I the first choice, or best fit candidate?

Finally, and above all, what matters the most to you, and is that going to be satisfied to a greater degree than at your current position? What matters to you may be childcare, a pension, a car, or working from  home.

I hope this helps.

Let me know in the comments what you did and why, and if you are the ex-boss in question I shall put something together for you on how to approach this with some delicacy and decorum.

Tiredness, or engagement and goodwill?

June 26, 2016

In my meetings and training sessions I always begin with the polite enquiry of, “how are you?” This gives people the opportunity to relax, say what is on their mind, and, more importantly, switch languages.

In this post I would like to explore the most common response to this which is, “I am so tired.”

Firstly, there is the effect that this has on your listener. Such a beginning is not positive, even for small talk; it does not build a relationship, and the active verb is absent, that is, the detail as to why you may be tired is missing from the conversation. Your listener, as a result, is going to be prepared for a tiring conversation, with a tired person, who perhaps ought to be fresh for the meeting, and who is probably uninterested in the meeting, and hence the listener, and would rather be in bed asleep.

Secondly, giving only an inkling of the message, that you are tired, leaves out such a lot. If you have gone this far into personal territory you may as well go the whole hog. Is this good tired (working on my favourite project, at a cocktail party with the ambassador), or bad tired (the client brought the deadline forward and the report was due this morning, so I was writing the report all night, my car broke down last night on the motorway and I hitchhiked home). Adding these notes of explanation has the effect of engaging your conversation partner, who can now join in the conversation, if not empathise.

Finally, saying that you are tired on its own implies that you are the only one who does any work. It is not a badge of honour if you have a lot to do, and indeed, everyone has a lot to do. If you are complaining to your manager, then ask for help (more time, people, other resources). However, the chances are that your conversation partner is not there to help you out with your tiredness. So what do you want from them? As this is small talk, offer engagement and a sense of the positive. You want their engagement and goodwill.

How to think

April 15, 2016

Recently an article came out which announced that the old paradigms were smashed – that no longer would it be Think like a CEO, and that henceforth Think like a Customer would be king. Knowing fashion, it is only a matter of time before this changes; however, thinking never goes out of style, so how about just having people think?

Here is an approach to getting your brain cells bashing together in a more productive way.

  1. I know

Eliminate modality such as may and might, and weak probability phrases such as I think and maybe when you are referring to facts, and the more obvious ones such as probably.

  1. Why

Answer why you aim to do something, and you do deliberately aim, which is an intention, so you are going to couch the language in going to phrases. Ensure that you answer this to your own satisfaction. If you do not know why you are doing, then find out, either from some deep soul searching, or ask your manager what skills you can add to this project, or what input is required from you at this meeting, or even, what role or capacity you are in when being sent on this assignment. Hence this results in “I would like something specific”. If you can make the specific item into a SMART+ goal, then perfect. This ties in with the first point: that you know the reason for what you want.

  1. How to get from A to B

See opportunities in short cuts by using language such as without, if for conditions, unless, and others. Compare these two.

If I hold the meeting in the afternoon, I will be better prepared.

If I held the meeting in the afternoon, I would be better prepared.

Use the second one (the second conditional) to determine what the opportunities, and threats, are.

  1. Analyse

On top of this, always ask how and why. These are your analysis questions. The answers to these two questions demand that you go deeper into a topic.

That is how I would get you started on thinking: know where you are heading, why, and divine how to get there. Happy thinking!

Perfectly C2

April 12, 2016

Recently, I had a query into how best to become “perfectly C2”, or above C2 in terms of the mastery of English. My response was admittedly brief, so here are some more details to flesh out my thoughts.

As one might expect, the answer is not as straightforward as one would like. In truth, there is never a silver bullet for such learning desires, and any panacea would come in multiple forms from multiple directions. So here are my points.

Firstly, there is the question of motivation and the necessity to become as proficient as you can be. Rarely is there a real need for such demonstrable skill levels outside of the person themselves. In real terms many people can survive, and even work competently, in English at a much lower level. We have all encountered tour guides and waiting staff with only a smattering of the language, and yet we have enjoyed their company and the holiday just as well as were they C2 level speakers.

Secondly, note that C2 is as high as the CEFR levels go. Hence, no matter how hard you try, you will never be above C2, plus, you can never “be” a native English speaker. Furthermore, in this world of personal mobility and migration, it is becoming increasingly difficult to mark what a native speaker is any more, and hence, there is always going to be a clue which gives you away. Usually at C2 level that clue is going to be more cultural than linguistic per se. Nonetheless, there is always going to be something which will make you stand out, rather than blend in, with your linguistic surrounds.

When people listen to speakers they are listening for, amongst other things, what status and background the speaker has. This is in order to respond appropriately. Consider your different responses when a rowdy football fan asks you which platform their train leaves from, as compared to a be-suited commuter asking for the same information. Not only will their message be delivered differently, but your responses will also differ to reflect your view of your listener.

Finally, and on a more positive note, consider how a native speaker channel hops, be it on the radio or television. A native speaker channel hops very rapidly, spending less than a second on each radio or TV channel before knowing what the topic and type of program is being broadcast. Observe yourself channel hopping in your own language and you will see how adept you are at gleaning information from a very small variety of cues (cultural, accent, vocabulary, and register), and this is just for level two listening skills where no direct response or deep thought is required.

In conclusion, for the learner, I would say that practice at a particular register for a particular topic would be more relevant to the learner and their situation, rather than practicing for everything that life can throw at them. Much of what people learn with such a shotgun approach will not have any use, and will not affect the whole purpose of language, which is to communicate, and for such targeted practice, to communicate appropriately.

A world of tomorrows

April 11, 2016

Recently I have been explaining the uses of the four main ways of expressing the future in English. To recap, here they are

  1. I will help you pick up those cherries. (unplanned decision in this sense, plus will may also confer a promise (I will give you some feedback, if you like), or a prediction (it will rain tomorrow))
  2. I am going to get something to eat, would you like anything? (intention)
  3. I am presenting the strategy this afternoon, so no, I am afraid I cannot meet you. (activity)
  4. I leave for the airport at five, and I fly at six. (timetabled event, a quick way to run through your diary: on Monday I present, on Tuesday I meet John, and on Wednesday I sign the contract).

The main message from all this is that most of the time one has plans, and because there are plans, will is not used that often for a future.

The crux of the matter for my explanations was the difference between I will, and I am going to. Here it is the difference between deciding now, and of knowing where you are going. You see, with intention, you know where you are going to, hence, with a phrase such as I am going to get a sandwich, I know the destination, and the intended outcome. So a typical dialogue would go along these lines

  • Where are you going? (What is at the end of your journey?) Or what are you going to do? (What is your proposed course of action?)
  • I am going to see John about the project.

In another nutshell, as you usually know what you would like as an outcome, then going to is the phrase for you.