Headhunter & Career Strategist John Stork on the secrets of a successful CV
At the end of 2015 we were delighted to welcome old friend and Stork & May founder, John Stork to BCKR where he shared career advice and tips on perfecting your CV. Here is a summary of what he had to say.
John’s career has changed direction approximately every 12 years. He suspects that lawyers with one career only, could learn a little from that. He has also reviewed or written more than 10,000 CVs over his career, as both headhunter and career strategy adviser, so believes he is well qualified to understand what makes a good CV.
Often you need more than one type of CV. But remember, while the list type of CV showing simply what you’ve done is easy, you can only pull together a useful forward-looking CV when you really know where you want to go, what type of roles you want to get in the future, what time you want to commit, etc. This bit takes time.
As John’s second job, after starting as an economics graduate in the textiles industry where he’d been researching what fabrics and styles would be in next year, he went into market research where his approach was more welcome. This interest and skill in good market research became John’s core skill that he has used at various points in his career. It’s always worth looking back over your whole career to see what ties it together, which bits you have always enjoyed, to establish which is your core skill to capitalise on. After market research, he went into advertising and did very well using similar skills, but rather than high promotion, he decided to change direction. The research side of headhunting appealed so he started a headhunting firm and, eventually, Stork & May.
Lawyers, like headhunters, have a lot of clients. This provides lawyers with a lot of people who are used to buying your advice but not people who are automatically considering taking you on their board. John nonetheless got two or three NEDs. However, he wasn’t that satisfied with NED roles, and he reminds us that it’s not necessarily a natural way to stay in the game, and you may well not enjoy it. Early practice while still in the day job can give you a taster of whether you will enjoy a NED portfolio career.
It is however always very important to think about what you have in your own portfolio of skills and abilities, to work out what you want, and then, but only then to produce your CV.
The factual CV is easier, and can be written at any time, to recount what you have done. Even here though, you need two versions. One with all the legal stuff to impress other lawyers, but one with all the gobbledygook cut out to ensure that non-lawyers can really understand what you have done. Take another look at your factual CV to make sure it’s readily understandable.
The second type of CV is the marketing document, an ad, a PR release on ‘you’ the product, which must be helpful to the reader in seeing how you fit the role you are going for.
The big challenge comes first. What do you really want to do? How long do you want the next stage to last? How much money do you want to make? Where realistically might you get? Who are the competitors for these roles and what’s your edge over these people? How committed are you in these ideas? What have you done that will support all of this? Most importantly you need to think of what your strategy should be to achieve these goals. You will need to spend time doing this, you have years to plan for, look for the next 20 years remembering that NEDs run out at 70. The more external activities you have, the happier and healthier you are likely to be.
The process of thinking about what you might do requires lots of questions, hobbies, sports, community activities. Ask those who know you what you should do. Don’t fall into the potential trap of working commercially in a business that is in same field as you use for your escape, eg sailing. It may spoil your downtime. Would you be happy working alone from home? Do you need the interplay of working with other people? To what extent do you want to stay in the legal world? Contacts remain important whatever you do, and remember that there’s a fairly rapid rate of decay of your contacts. Within a couple of years many have moved on. You also need to understand what sort of person you are. Are you an adviser, a leader, a person with a passion to achieve things, a thinker etc?
Having got a sense of direction, you need to get a bit more specific. You can start to focus on something you might want to do, developing your plans and then summarising it all in a personal strategy document for your outline life plan over the next ten to twenty years. Domestic, financial, time, travel, aspects all need to be written down. Once you’ve written this, and altered it again and again so you’re happy, THEN you can write the CV. Show it to others for their views.
Show you understand the wider world, be broader than the GC perspective, show you understand how businesses work, how your skills apply to the roles you want to get. Don’t lie, but you can focus on aspects of the truth and ignore others.
As an alternative (or alongside NED work), to get your own business going, get a business plan together remembering it can take a good ten years to make a business successful. Consider buying one as an alternative, and then running it better. That’s what he did at Stork & May. Do research everything in great depth, to understand why you are going to do a better job than others. Don’t worry about making money to start with, but rather concentrate on getting the business right and making the idea work.
Then go for it, live out your strategy. But remember to fine tune or review your plans regularly, including making u-turns, without caring what others think or say about these changes.
Who’s views should you seek on your CV and your plans?
Informed savvy friends, who know you and the market. Headhunters are only good once you’ve found your direction and created CV. If you want to move into a new sector, you need to find people who know the sector. The worst person is yourself.
How do you come across the unknown area, the surprise opportunity, if you’re concentrating on your plan?
The more you concentrate and focus on your skills and one area, the more you’ll understand yourself and effectively open yourself to the odder opportunities that you happen to come across since you’re more attune to looking for the right business idea. You have to work from a solid base to make the judgement.
Networking. This is the most important bit, but not worth doing until you have the strategy and a CV that contains that strategy. You need to have a plan to understand what you get out of the networking opportunity.
Headhunters. Need to start with a recommendation to see you from someone else. This provides their first positive reference.