The Executive CV – a resume on what to write…

Written by: Steve Playford
Published on: 28 Nov 2015

    The Executive CV – a resume on what to write…

    I wonder what the former head of a well-known children’s charity will have on her CV when she next submits it to a headhunter?  Wouldn’t we all like to know!  CVs can be very revealing, and sometimes very unrevealing… I can recall a famous occasion, many years ago, when a council hired a headhunter to recruit its Chief Exec.  Unfortunately, no-one checked the details on the CV, and it turned out that this (short-lived) Chief Exec had been telling a few porkies about his qualifications.

    It does matter, obviously, what you write down on your curriculum vitae, or resume as our American friends call it. With that in mind, I thought it would be worth creating a resume of some of the available advice should you be contemplating a new job/career change.

    Before doing that, it’s also worth considering how many executives have a CV in a state of readiness?  I am aware of a current research project which suggests that most do, but I suspect that in the event of a CV being needed suddenly (e.g. unexpected redundancy!) many CVs probably need a bit of polishing. 

    What does the internet tell us? There is lots of stuff out there, some of it excellent, some of it gibberish, but all purporting to help you create a satisfactory CV – although usually this involves you parting with cash to get the writer of the blog piece to compose your CV for you.  Anyway, I tried a couple of typical Google searches.  Interestingly, when I keyed “CEO CV” into Google I got lots of American articles, but when I keyed in “Chief Executive CV” I got lots of UK articles.  Truly two nations divided by a common language!

    Here, in no particular order, is some of advice available online…

    “At an executive level the CV should convey you as a serious business proposition so that you can cut through the pack and be seen.” 

    “It’s vital that you’re pitching yourself at the right level – in some companies there is a gulf between the remit and responsibilities of a middle and senior manager. It you want to pitch up a level, use your professional profile and skills section to embellish your potential.”

    “Many people feel their CV should market them through a list of past roles and activities, believing these are the only touchstones of their ‘proposition’ to a prospective employer. The problem is if for example, most of the other 91 applicants for the position all submit similar CVs which comprise mainly of long, historical lists of past career details. This leads to very little in differentiating the applicants if they’ve all been operating at a similar level. It’s vital nowadays to articulate your CURRENT skill set.”

    “Overall, a management CV is so much more than a record of information now. It should be a compelling profile of both you and your ‘offer’ - a purposeful sales document to eclipse others in the pile. There are many senior executive careers available and the first step is all about getting your CV right, do this well and you will land yourself many executive job opportunities.” 

    “The chronological format by itself doesn't work ‘because you're making the reader work hard to figure out what you have to offer’."

    “A purely functional resume doesn't work ‘because you're not giving the reader any chronological context for any of your achievements’."

    So what should you do if your CV is in (urgent) need of some attention? 

    Like copywriting for a recruitment advert, your CV is a sales story.  And like an advert, it needs to be tailored to the audience to which is it directed – not to what you want but to what the audience wants. In other words, if you want to stand out, create a bespoke CV for each new job application.

    Clearly there will be some ‘standard’ elements, but if your business were to submit the same tender for every contract you’d not win much new business.  Most CV/resume creation is a matter of common sense.  What does your career history say about you?  How can you convey this, in writing, in such a way that you stand out from the crowd?  What kind of language should you use in it?  Have you checked on Linkedin to see the people who are likely to be sitting in judgement on you and have you tailored your CV/application to them? Is it clearly presented and well laid-out?  Have you checked it for typos and grammar?

    In most instances, those people who reach the highest levels of business and the professions are talented enough to craft a CV that sells them to the highest bidder. For those who are not, there is a host of advice available on the internet. Your executive skills should allow you to filter out the most obvious and banal and select that which best matches how you want to be portrayed.  But no-one knows that better than you, so unless you really are hopeless with words, do it yourself! That way, you take responsibility – and taking responsibility is a core skill of every successful executive.

    Steve Playford, Global Director, FT Career Management