Real Leaders

The Rise of the Messy Resume

Are life sciences companies finally starting to value professionals with diverse and non-traditional career paths? 

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’m happy with a messy one.”

“You know, it’s ok if you find someone with diverse experiences,” she continued. “Or who took some time off or traveled the world or whatever.” As the proud owner of a messy — aka nontraditional career path – CV, I was ecstatic with this briefing.

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 5-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 nontraditional career path, the current response to my “messy” CV always makes me smile.

So, what has changed precisely to give a boost to the credibility of the nontraditional CV? The answer is simple. The life sciences business trends are creating working environments that are increasingly dynamic (i.e., a kind word for messy) shifting the types of competencies needed for business success. The 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 norms. 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 dismantling established treatment norms.

Sustainability of health care ecosystems with limited resources requires 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 a nontraditional CV experience suddenly have attributes that are recognizable as being valuable to business success. Messy CV owners have proven an ability to challenge the status quo, a quality that is needed to drive and embrace creative and innovative ways of working. Flexibility and change management resilience is 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 nontraditional 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 have all of the competencies that are required for success in your challenging and dynamic global environment.

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