Cycle time – no bikes required

In the days that I was accountable for recruitment decisions, I paid a lot of attention to an applicant’s “cycle time”, and now that I simply support others in their endeavours to find the right person, it’s still something I give a nod to. In our own careers however, few of us actually give it much thought.

What do I mean by “cycle time”? It’s simply the amount of time a person tends to spend with an organisation, or in a job, and to many employers it matters. Someone with a short cycle time, who seems to flit from job to job is unlikely to be seen as a good bet by an organisation that want’s to invest time and money in training, yet someone who has stayed in the same place for ten years may be seen to be inflexible and intolerant to change.

So you can see the negative preconceptions a future employer can take from the dates you put on your application form. I’m not suggesting that there is an ideal time you should spend in a role – if you love what you do, you need never work again according to Confucius, and personally I’d rather pay HMRC and the mortgage out of a salary I’ve enjoyed earning. However, once you look at your CV through an employer’s eyes, you can see that just the dates tell a story.

Getting personal for a moment, my normal cycle time was around four to five years, with a couple of notable exceptions, one of which being my Saturday job during my A Levels. Having spent almost six years in my current post, this is something I use to tease my boss from time to time. This is a middling sort of cycle time. Long enough to be worth investing in, but not so long as to become stale, and always looking for a new challenge, either through promotion or a change of sector to keep my CV interesting.

In short, I have stories to tell about what I have done and why I have done it. I can use those stories to market myself. Knowing that I am at the outer limits of my cycle time, I also have in mind why this job is different, and what other things I’ve done within it to change, develop within that, with a mind on the next set of stories I may need one day.

So what if I had flitted between roles? Again, it comes down to the narrative we can tell. When you’re applying for the next role, if you have recognised in yourself that you move on quickly, be aware of how you frame it.

Are you a high flyer who swiftly gains promotion so will be an asset to an expanding team, or a good bet for succession planning? Are there personal stories; moving away or towards family? Looking for a broad spectrum of experience to fit with your long term plan (which naturally you could talk about)? Maybe it was a move to work with a different key stage so that you can cover all year groups? It can be worth acknowledging this in a roundabout way in your application form.

Why you are looking towards this new post so soon; what your previous experience will bring and why this job might be different. Some adverts will allude to short term posts – in education the wonders of the fixed term contract are ever present. This could be the reason for your short cycle time, but how wonderful the experience to learn from good practitioners in a range of cultures and environments. See, I’m buying this already….

And then the longer cycle time. You’ve guessed it, we’re telling stories here too. In one of my previous incarnations, I stayed with the organisation for five years, but had a new job every year to eighteen months due to the particular career path I was in. This was great. I could sell my career progression through the intermediate steps, and also sell my loyalty to the organisation. This translates upwards too. If you have been in a school for ten years, from NQT to deputy Headteacher, you have the career path sorted. You can note the dates of roles you’ve held within the school, showing your progression. Your only gap is adjusting to a different school culture, so time to show off the networking or secondments.

So what if you’ve been in the same role in the same school for ten years? It’s ok. You can sell that too, and with a bit of planning ahead, you can fill in the stories. We should all be planning for our next role, whether that be outside or inside work.

Planning for parenthood or retirement are entirely legitimate, but just spare a moment to think about things holistically. What do those changes at home mean for work, and what do work changes mean for home? Is it time to look at your professional development and sneak an additional qualification in somewhere? Are there voluntary endeavours that will boost your CV – and show that you do work in different environments and different capacities that show off your flexibility?

Just for a moment, take a look at your possible next application form as if an employer were to see it. Don’t assume that I know you held three different roles in the last ten years, if all you have told me is your job title on leaving at that you’ve been with that employer ten years.

There are a hundred other tips for making the recipient of an application form happy, which for now I will boil down to the basic. Having sat with a large bag of popular branded sweets to plough my way large numbers of assignments I can now liken the job of shortlisting applicants as being incredibly similar to marking thirty examples of the same project. Know what they are looking for, and give it to them in a way that will be different from the other 29... 

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