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What can recruiters learn from a Princeton professor’s CV?

Posted on by from The Writer

Professor Johannes Haushofer’s ‘CV of failures’ was doing the rounds on social media recently. He wrote it to show junior researchers that every scientist has setbacks, but there’s a good lesson in there for recruiters, too.


 As you can probably guess from the name, it lists the many things that hadn’t worked out during his career.

This incredibly honest approach turned out to be a bit of a hit. His story picked up 35k shares and hundreds of positive comments from one newspaper alone. And while he wasn’t writing it to try and get a new job, if he had been, I’m pretty sure it would make him seem more employable, not less. Which got me thinking: what would happen if the boot were on the other foot? Could recruiters benefit from being a bit more upfront in their job ads, too? 

With that in mind, here are three things I think recruiters could learn from Professor Haushofer...

1. Start a conversation

I can’t imagine that reading an average professor’s CV would fill many of us no-academics with joy. Yet Professor Haushofer's is a surprisingly easy read. 

He’s an academic, but he’s not using academic speak. Instead, you get a real sense of what he’s like. He writes in first person, so you can feel him talking directly to the reader. He even introduces his non-qualifications with the caveat, ‘This CV is unlikely to be complete – it was written from memory and probably omits a lot of stuff. So if it’s shorter than yours, it’s likely because you have better memory, or because you’re better at trying things than me.’ 

To strike that personal tone with your readers, ditching phrases like “The successful candidate will…” and simply saying “you” is a good place to start. Try reading your words aloud, too. As I read Professor Haushofer’s CV I can almost imagine him talking to me. Would I say the same about your job ads?

2. Don’t rose-tint your workplace

Before you start writing, remember to ask why you’re hiring. And don’t just say ‘to fill a vacancy.’ Have you taken on some bigger, scarier clients and you need a more senior person to schmooze them? Did your last complaint handler do such a good job that they’ve taken up a new job in the diplomatic service? Is the whole team up to their eyes in deadlines and threatening to walk if you don’t bring in an extra pair of hands?

When it comes to selling our own companies, it’s natural to want to paper over the cracks. But, in the long run, it’s not that helpful. Not least because the person you hire will find out about the long hours, tricky customers or insane deadlines in the end. So you’ll get more bang for your recruitment buck if you’re upfront.

That’s not the only advantage to the professor’s upfront approach. As readers, we accept his failings without thinking any less of him... We know that no person, or workplace, is perfect – so if we find ourselves looking at a picture that’s too rose-tinted, we’ll start coming up with our own ideas as to what those problems might be. On the flipside, if you write honestly, your readers might actually start solving those challenges for you. They’ll come to interview thinking about how they can help you handle them. And, if they don’t think they can handle them, they won’t apply.

3. Break the template

Lots of companies use templates for their recruitment ads. But, just because you’ve got a template, it doesn’t mean you have to slavishly stick to it every time you recruit.

By simply negating typical CV subheadings, Professor Haushofer gave us something surprising that really captured people’s imagination. But, more than that, he showed that he’d put a bit of thought into what he was saying, and into the effect he wanted to have on his readers. The big problem with most templates is that that they feel so obviously…like templates. They say, ‘we can’t be bothered.’ Or ‘let’s just get this job search over with.’ And if your ideal applicants feel like you couldn’t take the time to craft a job ad for them, there’s every chance they won’t feel like taking the time to apply. 

So next time you’re recruiting, don’t be afraid to paint an honest, personal picture of the role. If it’s a tough one, you might not get quite as many applicants, but at least you’ll know the people who apply are made of the right stuff to stick it out.

Hannah Moffat

By Hannah Moffat

Hannah Moffatt is a creative director and trainer at language consultancy, The Writer.

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