There’s an old saying, coined in the 1920s and beloved of the original ad land Mad Men: “Sell the sizzle, not the steak”. Here, BIE Executive’s James Gherardi explains how the sentiment behind that phrase still has relevance today for candidates seeking to get themselves noticed in a crowded marketplace.

Although increasingly under threat from more innovative career selling techniques, CVs remain the principal recruitment currency. But, despite the many thousands of articles written on the subject of CV targeting, some very senior candidates are still missing a trick.

 It’s not that they don’t give a compelling picture of their skills and achievements, rather it’s that they don’t always understand the psychology behind how those accomplishments are perceived by the reader.

The simple truth is that one person’s view of what a good achievement is might not necessarily be the same across the board – it’s a massively subjective area.

For instance, it’s not unusual in my experience for some candidates to run into the trap of talking a lot more about team-based activity and delivery rather than individual deliverables. I’ve found that the sense of achievement sometimes tends to be different, so the description will be more along the lines of “I built a team of four people to manage this particular project, re-engaged a broad stakeholder base etc” but it omits to properly explain that the consequence of that activity was delivering a major saving for the organisation or improving the working capital position.  The achievement isn’t quantified in quite the same way, and that can really make a difference to the person on the other end of the CV.

I recently worked with a candidate who had come from a top international entertainment corporation and was trying to get into the detail of what she had actually done and what she had actually delivered, because everything that she had been talking about was about the ‘soft’ side. It focused heavily on the leadership element – building up a team of people to cover off particular work areas, mentoring and developing those individuals to form part of the succession strategy etc. But, after a detailed discussion, it transpired she had omitted to note that she had completely transformed a global supply chain operation and had taken the business from the brink of collapse to one where actually it had right-sized for the evolving environment in the sector. As right-sizing was high on the agenda of the assignment in question, this was obviously a pretty key omission.

The lesson is that the CV a candidate takes themselves to market with, will probably not be the product that is presented to a client. Today’s CV is more of a conversation starter: it shouldn’t tell the prospective employer so much that you haven’t got any questions to ask, but it should certainly be enough to whet someone’s appetite to want to understand more about the individual that’s sat in front of them.
I think, particularly in quite a complex field like supply chain, you tend to have quite narrow requirements that the client is really looking for and, in a broad-based CV, these qualities might not necessarily come through very strongly.

Ultimately, it comes down to properly understanding the actual role brief.  Quite often different people will include different information in job descriptions. The larger corporates, for instance, tend to have very lengthy job descriptions which include all the soft elements around team-building and leadership as well as the hard requirements, whereas a small to medium-sized business, that doesn’t necessarily have the rigour in HR control and recruitment control, may just restrict it to a few lines on the actual deliverables within the role.

A successful CV needs to reflect exactly the right balance of ‘sizzle’ and ‘steak’, which is why, even in our increasingly networked world, working closely with a well-briefed recruitment partner who can help you pull the right competencies and achievements to the fore is of real value to a candidate. BIE also work with the hiring team to overcome individual unconscious bias throughout the recruitment process to maximise diversity and representation of top talent throughout.

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