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25 April 2006

Using CV (resume) style to write more useful reports

Communication is not only the key to a successful relationship but communication is the key to being a great manager and running a business.

However, some management reports from highly paid and qualified people leave me wondering - what was the point?

If a senior manager on a high salary is explaining to the company what they are planning to do this week, I expect more than just a list of things in their diary. After all, for a fraction of the cost of them composing an email they could just set up a public calendar, share their electronic diary and then I'd have pretty much the same detail.

So what's missing?

About 10 years ago, I took voluntary redundancy and went back to University to do an M.Sc. During this time and as part of the redundancy package, I got help from a professional agency in writing my CV (resume) and I certainly learned a lot about writing a CV that I didn't know previously. Of course, many people just copy the format their friends use and maybe some people buy a book, but for me getting independent professional help was more useful than both of those techniques.

A CV has but one purpose and it isn't to get you a job. It's to get you an interview. The interview has one purpose and that is to get you the job. An employer is looking for 3 things.

  1. Can the person do the job? (i.e. do they have the skills?)

  2. Will the person do the job? (i.e. are they motivated?)

  3. Do they fit? (i.e. is the person a good fit skills wise, personality wise and culture wise with the existing company and team?)

To demonstrate these three points on a CV in the limited space available demands clear and concise communication - the same skills that are useful in management reports or indeed in many business documents.

To do this, you must:

  1. Feature: Demonstrate what you did.

  2. Analysis: Demonstrate the scope of the change.

  3. Benefit: Demonstrate the outcome.

This is sometimes called the FAB factor.

E.g., you might have in a CV:

I have 2 years Java experience. Successfully used this on a project to improve the company website.

However, you could rewrite this using the rules above as:

Using the Java knowledge I learned in my spare time, I led a team of three in the company's first Java project. This project resulted in the website offering new search functionality, positive feedback from customers and maintenance effort going down by 50%.

Certainly has the FAB factor. Now back to those dusty management reports.

Old Style
On Thursday I have a meeting with our main customer.
However, I could find that out via a calendar!

New Style
On Thursday we are having a planning meeting with our main customer to set out our objectives for the following quarter. We expect several key new projects to be approved and commence the following week as a result.
Did you see the FAB factor?

Old Style
John Smith attended a course this week on widgets. Management probably don't need to know this since it was probably them who signed off the purchase order for the course in the first place.

New Style with FAB!
Following the course which John Smith attended last week on widgets, we will set up a meeting for the whole team so that he can pass on key points of the training so that we all have some widget experience. We will commence a project next week using widgets to consolidate this knowledge with John Smith acting as project mentor.
Well, that looked like money well spent on the course!

In the words of Sir David Steel "Go back to your constituencies, and prepare for government" (1981), I say to you "Go back to your cubicles, and prepare to communicate!" Go on, make your reports FAB!
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