In an ideal world, we would all update our CV regularly, adding relevant experience and accomplishments as we go along. However, more often than not, it’s a task that you will put off until you come across an application deadline for your ideal next role. If it’s been a while since you have looked at your CV, updating it can feel like a daunting task, which is why we have put together some executive CV writing tips and answered some frequently asked questions to get you started.
An Executive CV
The greatest challenge of writing (or updating) an executive CV is condensing potentially decades worth of relevant work experience and achievements into a concise, digestible document. As an executive, not only do you need to communicate the knowledge and experience that you have obtained over the course of a long and successful career, but you also need to contextualise your experience around the impact that you have had on a business. Most executive CVs gravitate towards an absent first-person approach – whereby you remove all pronouns from your CV, as they are implied – enabling you to avoid the repetition of first-person pronouns in every sentence and offering a more professional and polished tone of voice.
What makes a board-level CV stand out?
Much like any other executive CV, your CV should demonstrate your relevant skills and experience, your understanding of the wider business and the positive impact that you have had on business challenges and outcomes. What will make your CV stand out from the rest is quantifying your claims with evidence. You can indicate the scope of your previous work and the impact that your contributions have made by picking out key figures and including them whenever possible. For example, the size of your team, your leadership style, KPIs, cost reduction, profits; quantifying your key achievements with evidence will enable you to illustrate your most impressive contributions as to how you have gone above and beyond your role to make a positive impact within a business and how your actions fit into the wider business, without coming across as boastful.
Identify your unique selling point.
Identifying your unique selling point will enable you to effectively market yourself to recruiters and potential employers and communicate your unique value. If you are uncertain as to what your unique selling point is, take a look at your greatest career achievements in the last ten years – is there a common denominator that contributed to these successes? Do you have specialist experience within a particular sector? If there was another candidate for your desired role, equally as qualified as you, what’s going to make you stand out? Answering these questions will give you a starting point. Once you have found your unique selling point, make sure that your CV clearly demonstrates it and the value that you can add to a business.
How long should my CV be?
Most CV advice blogs will tell you that two pages are the absolute maximum, and they would usually be right. However, if you are a senior executive, three pages are justifiable – so long as you are truly utilising your space. You can control how long your CV is by manipulating the information that you chose to include and the format that you decide to use. It’s better to have three well-spaced pages with clear and concise information than to try and squeeze everything into a – difficult to read – two-page document. On the other hand, if you are going to spread it into three pages, be sure to question whether you are using the space efficiently? Can you cut any repetition or redundant information?
How do I decide the format?
There are hundreds of CV templates online, but how do you know which one is right for you? Naturally, you want something professional but not dull. A splash of colour/accent is fine but avoid image-led templates or garish fonts as they can be space consuming and distracting for the reader. Knowing which elements of your CV you want to prioritise and emphasise will help you to decide which format is going to be most suitable. That being said, it is in your best interest to look for a template that is simple but elegant, and that utilises space well, with clear cut subsections for:
- Your personal statement – Arguably the most important part of your CV, it’s your first chance to make an impression on your recruiter and potential employer. Focus on the value that you can bring to a business and not what you are looking for.
- Key achievements – What have been your biggest wins over the last decade? What was your contribution during the national lockdown? What problems or challenges have you overcome? Bullet point 9-12 key examples of how you have added value to each business that you have worked for.
Recruiters and potential employers are likely to scan your CV for the most important information before deciding whether or not to read it in detail; choosing a format with clear cut subsections will help to communicate your key competencies and selling points at a glance.
How do I know which information to include?
It is rarely necessary (if ever) to give a blow-by-blow account of every role and responsibility that you have had since beginning your working life. When it comes to executive CV writing, it is best to focus on the last 10-15 years of your career, as they are the most relevant. Technology and processes are continuously evolving, so some experience and software you may have mastered before the last 10-15 years may be redundant now. It is also in your best interest to only include the most recent qualifications relevant to your desired role. It is always worth including a degree or MBA, but any qualifications below those are expendable. Do you have a membership to an industry body? Have you completed any leadership programs or role-specific accreditations? Any pertinent training and development that you have completed is worth including, regardless of their completion date (which we recommend omitting). Your CV should demonstrate your career progression, a combination of hard and soft skills and your technical capabilities. As aforementioned, the greatest challenge of constructing an executive CV is condensing potentially decades worth of relevant work experience and achievements into a concise, digestible document. Though we recommend focusing on the last 10-15 years, if the work that you did prior is relevant to your target role, you can include a brief summary (otherwise known as a career note) of your early career. Your career note should include your job titles, the companies you have worked for, any key clients you worked with, and you can include a note to say that further information is available upon request. Summarising your early career will give recruiters and potential employers a good indication of your career progression without making your CV unnecessarily lengthy.
Recruiters and potential employers will almost certainly search for your social media platforms. If you have them, make sure they’re not saying something about you that you wouldn’t want a potential employer to see. If you don’t have one, it is in your best interest to build a LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn is a social media platform for working professionals, and your personal profile offers you the space to go into depth with your entire working history, should you wish. You should carefully curate the information you chose to include on your profile to tell the story past your CV. It also offers you a place to share, connect and engage with industry insights from your peers/like-minded professionals. If you have a website or portfolio, your CV should definitely include a link to it. The choice to include any other links or social platforms will depend on your industry and their relevance to the role.
Which personal details ought I include?
You should include your name, contact details, and general location (town of residence and the first half of your postcode should be sufficient), but gone are the days that you need to include your full home address or date of birth. In fact, including too many details (especially those that giveaway protected characteristics) is not only redundant but may hinder your application. For example, you may come across CV templates that encourage you to include a photo, but what is a photo going to tell recruiters and potential employers about your eligibility for the role? Nothing. A photo may also indicate protected characteristics about yourself such as your age, ethnicity, gender (and potentially religious beliefs) and – although we have anti-discrimination laws in the UK – unconscious bias exists. It would be in the recruiter and potential employer’s best interest to disregard the photo, rendering its inclusion redundant. We also previously mentioned omitting dates from qualifications and work experience, as it may age your CV. Your nationality, marital status and gender have no place on a CV either as they will not affect your ability to do the role. Only include information that directly illustrates your eligibility. And, lastly, the inclusion of hobbies rarely add value: unless they are somehow relevant to your desired role or target career. The only exception is voluntary work, which demonstrates your social responsibility and gives a great indication of character.