Selling Yourself – Part 2

Producing a curriculum vitae

In this, the second part of a short series aimed at demystifying the inner workings of the world of job interviews, especially regarding the specialist nature of our industry, I will attempt to explain matters as seen through the eyes of an interviewing board.

Although these articles are written as stand – alone features, it is very useful to read Part One (Issue no 149, October 2015) prior to digesting this particular section, as the whole process of preparing for applying for a new job is a complex science. These articles are based on courses run by The School of Garden Management (www.tsogm.org) which in turn, are based on The Head Gardeners Survival Manual. Whilst the School philosophy and structure involves bespoke one-to-one mentoring, and these features are mere snippets, I hope that you will find this series helpful.

I have become increasingly involved in the whole process of ‘Finding a new Head Gardener’ for a number of very high profile gardens and sites, charged by my clients to carry out the various functions and elements of advertising, interviewing and recommending for appointment. I am emphatically not an Employment Agent, and do not hold any portfolios of individuals or owners, but undertake all commissions as they arise.

It is important to reiterate my previous statement, in that I interview the owner/s before I set off trying to locate a suitable person, as there are many different ‘types’ of senior gardener, and some sites need a Proper, Old Fashioned Head Gardener, whilst others require a Professional Gardens Manager (with others somewhere in between). Hence I couch my advertising wording to suit the site and attract the ‘right’ sort of applicant.

Part I explored the business of producing a portfolio, with the sole objective of Selling Yourself in words and pictures. Part 2 will cover the difficult subject of producing and presenting your curriculum vitae.

The best piece of advice I can offer, and it seems a good place to start this article, is to imagine that you are reading your own words. Put yourself in place of the person who is opening your application package. He/she will be opening many dozens of such bundles of documents (whether hard copy of electronic files, they should all have the same function; to grab the attention of the reader, to provide enough of a visual impact to prevent them from being placed in the ‘No Hope’ pile on the floor) and will barely have more than five seconds to make the decision of include or exclude. It is as brutal as that!

Bear in mind that these are only personal observations, but they are based on many years’ experience, backed up with a fair amount of marketing skills learnt in decades of working in the industry as Chairman of PR & Marketing for BALI and  Director of PR & Marketing for the APL. (Also helped by my colleagues in the School of Garden Management, each with similar backgrounds in high profile sectors of Horticulture – we regularly discuss and challenge each other to ensure that we do not become stale!)

Take a look through any tabloid newspaper or magazine. Tabloid, as it the nearest to an A4 sized piece of paper, and not a broadsheet. Whizz through the pages, looking to see WHAT catches your eye first. Then look again and establish WHY it stood out from the rest of the page. Invariably, it will be a) the first ‘dark or bold’ feature/advert or b) the feature at the top right hand side of the facing page. Combine these two, with a bold advert at the top of the right hand or ‘facing’ page, and you have already ensured the attention of the reader.

Therefore, if you head your c.v. with your name and any letters designate in bold ‘Times’ print – nothing too flashy, no hieroglyphics please! – to the centre/left of the top of the page, and include either a bold frame and  black and white photograph of yourself in the top right hand side, you will have captured the eye of the reader straight away. Nothing too moody, this is not an interview for a model agency, just a clean head and shoulders photo.

I suggest that you continue your c.v. with a personal introductory letter, written in the first person as though you were addressing someone you really wanted to get to know. Third person introductions – ‘Alan is a highly accomplished gardener, with a passion for orchards and Koi ponds’ are words that are not going to excite anyone. Begin with lines such as ‘I have been happily married to Carole for twenty years, and we have two children, both of whom have left home. I have been involved in gardening all my working life, leaving school and starting work in our local nursery, graduating through a series of ever more challenging positions to become Head Gardener at Graffham Castle Manor House’, (etc.)

Not too long, just enough to introduce yourself as a person, not simply a list of dates, positions, honours etc. You should aim for no more than one side of A4, ending with a brief statement as to your reason/s for wanting to change your job. In this particular case, it could be because your children have left home, and you now want to seek fresh opportunities, without having to consider school restrictions. Everybody is entitled to seek self- improvement, and the panel will think no less of you for wanting to better your life and finances. It is greatly to your advantage to offer an explanation for your reasoning and actions. All we are trying to do is to get to know you, and what you want from your professional life, and the easier you can make your life story understood (in a few short words!) the more comfortable we will be with you.

You will succeed in humanising your application. The second part may begin with your career to date, setting out the various places you have worked, including start dates and leaving dates. It is helpful too, if you can indicate a reason for leaving, as this statement will avoid/reduce any questions from the interviewing panel reference chronological order.

It is also helpful to explain any gaps in your career path – perhaps an illness, or plant hunting expedition – as this too will help the panel to gain a fuller picture of your life. It does not matter (as far as I am concerned) if you start from today and work backwards, or from the start of your career to your current position.

The third section should include all honours, degrees, certificates and college experiences. This time, it is helpful to put your strongest qualification first, as it can look rather odd to find ‘Fellow of The Chartered Institute of Horticulture’ relegated to fifth place behind a ‘PA1 and PA6’! Unless you are relatively young, a simple mention of ‘ten A* levels’ will suffice, without listing them all (unless some are more relevant to the position offered than others) as such a list becomes meaningless.

Put simply, you should schedule your qualifications in the order of perceived value. If you hold a chain saw ‘ticket’, and the job is on an Estate, this would be perceived to be more useful than (say) an Asbestos Awareness Certificate. Working at Height or Ladder Training would trump a Safe Use of Wheeled Grinders certificate in a Stately Home with high hedges to maintain.

Finally, a list of references, with names, address and telephone numbers, together with a short description of their relevance to your application, should be scheduled separately, and any comments such as ‘Do not contact unless a job offer is made subject to references’ firmly underlined.

The presentation of your documents will count for little if you are obliged to submit your application on line or via email. Some organisations do not welcome such individuality as I have advocated in these articles, but there is no reason to adhere strictly to their formula (unless expressly forbidden by the terms of the advert) by submitting your curriculum vitae in hard copy – Portfolio (as per Issue 149) and c.v complete with photographs, together with a photocopy of your passport, latest DBS certificate/number and current driving licence, as these will help to expedite the process.

Neatly packaged in a good quality folder, with an outer cover including your name on the front, hand delivered (and time dated/signature if applying to a large/r property with office administrative staff) is always welcomed as a sign that the applicant is serious about wanting the job.

In Stage 3, I will endeavour to explain the philosophy and strategies involved in marketing yourself, which is another aspect of Selling Yourself. Marketing is all about seeking the right places to sell your skills, and although they may appear to be one and the same, as we shall see, they are quite different disciplines.

These aspects of our careers and personal development form the background and foundations of The School of Garden Management, recognising that we are all individuals, trying to find our niche in a complex world working in a complicated industry, made more difficult by the nature and temperament of our employers. Hence the emphasis on personal bespoke training based on a formula that eschews rote!