What lies beneath
18 Jan 2022
A post-pandemic tsunami of jobseekers means the selection process – by human or digital hand – runs the risk of focusing on similar job titles and experience to those who went before. But dig a little deeper and there are real gems to be uncovered.
It would be fair to say that when I applied for my current post I would not have been surprised if my CV had ended up on the reject pile. Or, on a good day, the pile labelled: ‘If all else fails, let’s take another look at the rejects’.
Once, I was a wannabe police officer, but was too short and joined the prison service, where I spent the next 20 years – many as a prison governor – in a working life that varied from the deeply traumatic to the richly rewarding.
Not many boxes ticked, you might think, when it comes to the post of Transformation Director in the people services sector.
But thankfully, like many in this industry, my employer has learned the value of looking beyond job titles or seeking the clone candidates.
I was 23 when I started working in the prison service and I had to grow up very quickly. I gained empathy for those that, through no fault of their own, started off at a disadvantage and had limited opportunity or positive role models around to change that.
It was at this age that I experienced suicide, having to cut down a prisoner who had taken her own life, attempting to resuscitate and failing because it was already too late. It was, of course, traumatic and I didn’t sleep through the night for three months, as the flashbacks were so vivid and I was diagnosed with PTSD.
It nearly finished my career before it had begun, but instead it shaped my future, as I fought to recover and understand the effects of trauma on mental health.
Prison work also helped me to understand the importance of building relationships, giving people purpose, treating them as individuals and seeing that everyone deserves another chance. I realised second chances are important, not only for people who have committed crimes and want to turn their lives around, but also those of us who, for whatever reason, have a change in career direction and need to know that our skills and experience are understood and valued by potential employers.
When I felt it was time to leave the prison service, I took advantage of a headcount reduction scheme that allowed me to leave with two years’ salary. But within a month I was lost, my purpose had disappeared and depression set in. I realised for the first time what real despair felt like and I needed medicinal support.
A friend of mine was the head teacher of a Pupil Referral Unit. She suggested I come and work at the school as a teaching assistant. I volunteered for two weeks and stayed for three months and it was the tonic I needed.
It made me realise that my vocation in life was to work in environments that help people to improve their own circumstances.
Those in the HR community have the power to do that and taking the time to scratch beneath the surface of the CV identifies skills and experiences that can be applied in many different scenarios and can bring huge rewards. Job-specific skills can be learned but these experience-based qualities can be equally important.
Yes, it might take a little longer – and yes, I know you are pressed for time – but my experience proves that in whatever sphere a person has made a living, they leave carrying a suitcase full of skills that can be applied in many different areas.
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