‘This is me’ – how telling your life story honestly is paying dividends for people with complex lives

A simple document which tells a different story from a traditional curriculum vitae is having a huge impact on the job prospects and employability of ex-offenders, substance misusers and people with a range of mental and physical health issues who often feel excluded from the job markets due to societal pre-conceptions.

To give one pertinent example. Picture the moment that an offender’s feet cross the threshold of a prison into freedom. It’s a daunting and often frightening prospect to build a new life with new routines, often away from circles of acquaintances that were responsible for previous harmful behaviours. So how does that person start on the road to job hunting with the weight of time behind bars weighing heavily on their shoulders?

An organisation that works intensively with people in prisons across Devon and Dorset, EDP Drug & Alcohol Services has trialled a new approach that puts the person at the heart of the re-settlement journey and brings support services to them. Not only do they work with people throughout their stay to manage and overcome substance misuse while in prison, but they are also helping in really practical ways to put things in place for when they are finally released. At HMP Exeter for example with help from funding from the Police and Crime Commissioner, EDP has set up ‘The Departure Lounge’, a hub of support where people being prepared for release are offered practical, simple help to make the transition back into society easy and less fraught with risk and stress. Vital tasks are carried out like charging phones, handing out clean, smart clothes that can be used for interviews, arranging transport home and being given water for the journey so that they don’t stray into off licensed premises. It has been greatly appreciated by those leaving prison – a personal touch at an unsettling time. The other thing that the Departure Lounge offers is the chance for health, wellbeing, training, employment and housing services to come together and coordinate a person’s journey back into society. One of the first appointments that is arranged for every ex-offender is with the Job Centre. After all regular, gainful employment can be vital to bringing routine and stability to a person’s life.

So for anyone with significant gaps in their employment history, whether that be through anxiety, depression, physical ill health or time in prison when they attend their job centre appointment, the first thing they will be asked to do is complete a CV. What must it be like knowing that in most cases they will be judged differently from other candidates due to their time behind bars or because of other health barriers? Presented with two similar candidates, one without a complete employment history and one with, many employers take the safe and easy option.

The essence of the problem is the fact that being in prison or out of action for six months, a year or longer leaves a gaping hole in someone’s CV. So what do people do to explain the gaps? At best they plaster over the truth, or they just lie. Yet by taking a different and more holistic approach to the process, jobs are finally forthcoming for ex-offenders and others. There are now some promising signs that employers are being given some practical tools to help them recruit in a more inclusive way.

A powerfully simple alternative to the traditional CV is the new Magna Vitae – quite literally meaning Great Life. In the words of a very famous song from a very popular movie, these ex-offenders, substance users or people overcoming mental ill health are able to say for the first time ‘this is me!’.

Developed by Lizzie Bond Curriculum Coordinator for Employability at Learn Devon who works closely with EDP Drug & Alcohol Service’s prison leavers programme, the Magna Vitae has found legs and is storming the employment scene in Devon and increasingly further afield.

So what is a Magna Vitae (MV)? It’s an alternative CV for anyone with significant gaps in their employment history. EDP has been using it to help people in recovery from drug and alcohol problems, offenders coming out of prison and anyone emerging from crisis in their lives to give an honest and open account of the difficulties they have faced and importantly, the hidden qualities that this energises in someone’s life like perseverance, loyalty and being action orientated.

There are seven boxes on the MV with each box describing briefly key parts or events of the person’s life. There are boxes designed to highlight qualities and attributes, icon based logistical features like a person’s ability to travel on various modes of transport and also room to show some of the personal issues that may have proved to be a barrier to progress in their life. Anyone completing an MV is asked to be honest about their past so they can celebrate their ability to conquer those difficult life challenges.

Vikki (pictured in the photo) is using a MV to get her back into the world of work. ‘Unfortunately my mental health went downhill and I took several attempts on my own life. I couldn’t see myself ever returning to work” she said. “The thought of an interview and questions about why I had not been employed for the last seven years was daunting. Then came along the MV.

This enabled me to tell my story to any potential employer, and learning about me and not just my qualifications. That way if they decided to give me an interview they would be aware of my background and would be interested in my life skills and who I am. I don’t think without the MV I would ever consider trying to go back into employment again”

The range of reactions to reading a Magna Vitae is striking. We are all used to reading tailored and often inflated versions of people’s lives whether that be on social media, through blogs or on CV’s but when confronted with such honest and real connections to a person it can stimulate unusual reactions – tears, laughter, curiosity.

Employers who are accepting MV’s as part of a job application process are finding that they are getting greater diversity in their workforce. When recruiting outside of the box, they are allowing different perspectives and fresh ideas into their organisation and opening the doors to a person who can often inspire other members of their team with brand new qualities.

The Magna Vitae is not for every employer, but when they are accepted as part of the recruitment process, both parties have a more honest connection meaning that the interview process is a little less stressful and a candid conversations can take place that reveals a person’s true strengths and personality. A Magna Vitae (MV) gives people the opportunity to move on from their past and focus upon their future.

To find out more about how you can use the MV contact: KerrieClifford@edp.org.uk

To download the MV and start using it as part of your recruitment process click here

To find out how to support someone else in filling out their MV click here

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