The Rise of the Messy CV

Career Climbers / 18th December 2019

A few months ago, I was retained to find a medical executive for a growing biotech. The Hiring Manager set forth all of the expected criteria during our briefing and then something extraordinary happened. “You don’t need to find me a pretty CV,” she instructed. “I am happy with a messy one. You know, it’s ok if you find someone with diverse experiences or who took some time off or traveled the world or whatever.” As the proud owner of a messy – a.k.a. non-traditional career path – CV, I was ecstatic with this instruction.

Understanding my joyous response probably requires a little background. You see, thirty years ago, I applied to law school with a pharmacy degree and two years of pharmaceutical industry experience under my belt. I still remember the sting of reading my Harvard Law School rejection letter, which expressly declared my five-year pharmacy degree to be “vocational training” unsuited for legal studies. Luckily, I have always been the type to persevere and received my law degree despite these narrow-minded rejections – performing quite well, thank you, despite my alleged lack of educational foundation. I then survived the interviewers that told me that I appeared professionally “unstable,” and landed a job at a top international law firm. I spent the next 14 years pursuing a legal career, even reaching that coveted partnership milestone. The next decade, however, involved more wonderful mess. Expatriate living in two different European countries as a trailing spouse and mom, and my current (perhaps third) career evolution to a Partner in a boutique (female owned and operated) executive search firm. Now, when I walk someone through my professional history, the most common word that comes back at me is “impressive.” And, more importantly, in my current role, literally all of my life experiences are professionally relevant. Given the historical response to my non-traditional career path, the current response to my “messy” CV always makes me smile.

So, what has changed exactly to give a boost to the credibility of the non-traditional CV? The answer is simple. The life sciences business trends are creating working environments that are increasingly dynamic (i.e., a nice word for messy), shifting the types of competencies needed for business success. Pressure to boost pipeline innovation and speed to market – while preserving efficacy, safety and quality – is creating a business model where cross-functional collaboration and external alliances are the norm. Big Data, digitalization and artificial intelligence are drastically changing the scope and impact of products, services and operations. Precision and personalized medicine are creating health care delivery models that are literally dismantling established treatment norms. Sustainability of health care ecosystems with limited resources are requiring that patient access to treatments be value-driven. And, changes in global patient demographics, emerging market demands and opportunities, and an increasingly female talent pool, are presenting the industry with diversity demands that benefit from cross-cultural understanding and inclusion.

In an environment where change is a constant and lots of flexibility and curiosity are needed, the owners of non-traditional CV experiences suddenly have attributes that are recognizable as being valuable to business success. Messy CV owners have proven ability to challenge the status quo, an attribute that is needed to drive and/or embrace creative and innovative ways of working. Flexibility and change management resilience are derived from both personal and professional life choices. Living and working internationally supports multi-cultural understanding. Engaging in cross-functional roles or educational experiences enhances contribution and collaboration.

So what is our advice? If you are a professional with a non-traditional career path, take a look at the competencies you’ve gained as a result of your varying professional and life experiences and display them confidently in your messy CV. No apologies needed. If you are a hiring manager, don’t be afraid of messy CVs. Nontraditional candidates might just have all of the competencies that are needed for success in your challenging and dynamic global environment.

About Borderless

Borderless finds and attracts senior-level executives for multinational companies in the Life Sciences, Chemicals and Converting, and Food Processing sectors. The firm identifies leaders for Board positions, as well as for senior management, finance, human resources, administration, marketing and sales, operations, logistics, R&D and specialist roles. Additionally, Borderless consultants assess the effectiveness of corporate Board, Management and Executive teams, helping companies align organizational design with strategy.

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