How to define yourself beyond the constraints of a CV

What’s behind a CV? It’s a paradox in itself that it’s called a curriculum vitae. Literally it means “life career”, when in reality it only allows space for our work and not our lives. LinkedIn – perhaps the most powerful online CV tool that exists – demonstrates just that. It hosts 766 million CVs, but up until recently life events were seen as a “gap”. Unless an experience was connected to a specific company or professional role, it wasn’t possible to add it to your profile. The best option that LinkedIn offered was “housewife”. Just like those old-fashioned forms you have to fill in when you register a birth or marriage.

So if we weren’t working and weren’t a housewife, LinkedIn didn’t offer any other options. For years these experiences have been vague, we haven’t defined them. But things are changing. A recent announcement shows that LinkedIn are trying to modernize their approach, making space for caregiving roles on our CVs. Is the idea that users can choose from 10 roles to define their period of… absence, gaps and career interruptions? Think maternity leave, illness, sabbatical, grief, caregiving leave. Anomalies, unexpected instances, life avenues that deviate from the linear nature of careers. They’re often unable to be defined in our professional narrative because they are seen as referring to a parallel universe, rather than experiences that naturally intersect with our work. Even before Zoom meetings became the bread-and-butter of our days, it was impossible to split our identities in two like that.

Lack of continuity

The past year has challenged our continuity. We’ve found it difficult to identify time spent “working” and time spent doing “other things”. Hands up if you’ve felt like you’re on a hamster wheel at any point: we get up, we log on, we work, we eat, we go to bed, we get up, we log on, we work… and so on. It happened because we haven’t been able to experience discontinuity, or rather the spatial boundaries that define our work and lives. We haven’t experienced distance or alternative settings.

And so it’s felt as though our schedules are “full”. Maybe, for the first time we’ve seen gaps in a different way: the event that we had to miss, to be somewhere else, to do (or go along with) other choices and continue to “be there”. It’s harder to measure the result. We’ve contributed to our “household” surviving. At the end of the day, economics means “organizing the home”.

So do we exist outside the way we define our CVs? Is it true that mothers that call who call themselves the family “Chief of Operations” have sparked a LinkedIn revolution? Do we need to keep evolving the way we define ourselves in order to feel represented, even when we’re using a platform where people still hold us up to “traditional” standards where we’re seen as anomalies? Think mothers, caregivers, fathers on parental leave, those on a year out, those who decide to take time out away from studying or working?

What is a career break anyway?

We call them career breaks, but what are they breaks from? Time moves on for everyone. Experiences accumulate, skills develop, life progresses and new dimensions arrive on the scene. A few days ago, LinkedIn user Masia Maria Gisa, talked about it as a “gap in her CV”. Her post saw over 10,000 likes and 400 comments:

There’s a gap in my CV.

At the beginning of the pandemic, my company let me go in the last three days of my probation period. I had invested a lot in what seemed like a dream opportunity. I’d turned down other jobs and moved to a new city.

Then another, bigger problem arose: my brother became seriously ill.

Over the course of a week, I packed up the boxes that I’d opened 6 months before, left my home, loaded up my car with stuff and prayers, and I drove straight to him while Italy was about to go into lockdown. I spent eight months managing a very painful situation, knowing full well that the time spent “out of work” would have been precious, as unfortunately I wouldn’t have been able to do it again. While attending doctors appointments, rushing to hospital, mulling over my fears and thoughts, I never stopped looking for work. Throughout the few – given the current situation – interviews I had, I never talked about my story, even though I was developing so many skills. Flexibility, the ability to manage emotions and the never-ending study and search for better solutions.

There’s a gap in my CV.

People ask me about it with suspicion and prejudice. I’m only talking about it now I’ve found work. Those of you that can see a gap can look beyond it, without being scared of choosing the “wrong” candidate.

A shared experience

Under that post, there are 400 other stories: our career “gaps”, the essence of our lives. All the moments and events that don’t fit neatly into the drop down menu on a digital CV. But it’s those experiences that help us grow, doubt, learn and choose again, perhaps in a different way or reinforcing the choices that we’ve already made. Outside of our CV, up until now, we had life. Linkedin’s recent update is powerful because it makes a new format available for an existing choice, evolving the perceptions of millions of people all over the world. Today more than ever, the way we talk about and define our experiences must change in order to allow alternative avenues to exist.

This article was originally written by Riccarda Zezza and published on the Il Sole 24 Ore blog, Alley Oop. To read the original article (in Italian), please click here