Everyone has a back story, right? But, does the recruiter or hiring manager need to read about it on your CV?
When you are starting out, your CV will be made up of any experience you can lay your hands on. This initial experience is the foundation you build your career on. Every grain of practice and know-how is mustered on your CV, forming the bedrock for your future career. “Look, here’s where I come from”, your CV might say. “This is why you should hire me.”
Whether you present an internship, work experience, graduate scheme, or part-time role held whilst completing your education on your CV, it helps to build a picture of dedication and progression. These experiences might be your step one of the ladder, showing how you are ready for step two or three.
Throughout my GCSEs, A Levels, and degree, I took on a plethora of part-time roles, from bartender to mushroom picker to cleaner at a psychiatric hospital, and more – too many to list. I’m proud of my early work history, and each role was valuable in its own way. They are my back story and the backbone of my early CVs. But should they be on my CV now? Hell, no.
The problem I have is that sometimes, years down the line, professionals are still allocating too much attention to their step one, when they have climbed five, 10, or 15 more steps since. In this scenario, their step one can take up valuable CV space and actually distract from the relevant skills and experience they are showcasing to attain their next big role.
Nowadays, it’s common practice to detail the last 10 to 15 years of work history on your CV. After all, what you’ve done in the last decade, or decade and a half, will probably define you better than what you did at the very start of your career. The exception would be if you are seeking to change career or industry, and need to draw on your oldest experience to make your case.
Here are some signs you need to edit your back story on your CV:
You now have a string of meaty roles to add, all of which support your career target. Make sure you don’t compromise roles that are actually likely to pique interest and secure you an interview, just in the interest of keeping a part-time role you worked whilst studying.
Your back story no longer adds anything to your case. Putting yourself in the reader’s shoes, ask yourself ‘So what?’ about your back story. If it doesn’t support your case for employment, cut it out.
Your back story is a distraction. If your back story distracts from your current professional persona and message, or compromises your credibility, then ditch it. Consider if your next employer needs to know about it to hire you. If not, it no longer deserves a space on your CV.
You keep getting calls about more junior roles. If this is the case, your back story is shouting louder than your current career story, and needs to go.
You have run out of space. Keeping to two pages is challenging at the best of times, more so when your career history spans 15 years or more.
It’s also worth remembering that paring down your back story once may not be enough. Your career stories need to be edited, constantly, to make sure you are presenting the most powerful and compelling evidence to support your next step. Showing steps one, two, and three of your ladder in detail is no use if five, six, and seven are sketchily outlined, and you’re hoping to move to step eight. For example, to select me as your CV writer, you don’t really need to know about my first proper job in the mail order department of Frank Smythson Ltd. I bet you’d much rather read about what I can do for you or view testimonials from others who have used my service.
Regularly revisit the story you tell and make sure you are starting it off at the right place to effectively showcase your career crescendo, the pinnacle of your career, which shows your suitability, qualification, and readiness for your target role. Think about what the recruiter or hiring manager needs to see to take positive action, then present that on your CV.
Saying this, I do realise that some people are unwilling to shut down their back story, as they feel it gives meaningful context to their career and achievements. If you feel that your back story helps to frame who you are, then why not allude to it in your CV’s profile, or in the generous 2,000-character Summary section on LinkedIn. This Summary is the perfect place to give more context, and gives you the space you need to present your who, why, what, when, and how.