Over the past few months I have been giving advice on executive CV’s and how to improve them. What I’ve learnt is that just because you earn a six-figure salary shouldn’t assume you have a great resume – in fact in some cases, these have been the worst!
The resume is a sales tool – it is a preview document with the aim of winning an interview so you can provide more information, demonstrate competencies and ultimately win the job. The resume is not a document to tell the interviewer everything about you. It’s a preview, a summary and a taste of what you have to offer.
My quick tips to a winning CV include:
- Short & sweet – maximum 5 pages in my opinion is enough to demonstrate skills, experience, competencies and achievements. Anything longer tends to suggest waffle and giving away too much information ie: there is no reason left to interview you as you have already told us everything! Use a crisp font size and type, use dot points and short sentences.
- Sections – a good resume will be divided into key areas such as personal details, career statement/overview, career summary, experience and achievements, qualifications and awards. Avoid long narratives and going back to your very first job – keep it relevant and current.
- Dates – a resume without specific dates (months and years) is frustrating, as we can’t determine length of service in each role. Being clear about employment dates and gaps is critical in producing an honest and up to date document.
- Achievements – including key achievements in each role demonstrates you have performed well in the role and what you contributed in your time there. Where possible use as many facts and figures as possible such as sales results, cost savings etc.
- Company descriptions – not everyone has worked with high profile brand names like Coca Cola or Google so I always recommend 2 – 3 sentences saying who the company is, the turnover of the organisation, the industry, number of staff etc. Any information that makes it easy for the reader to make a connection and understand the type of organisation that you have worked for.
- Referees – to include or not to include? You will get different advice on this one, but in my opinion you don’t need to include them as I always ask for them at the interview. You could always have them on a separate piece of paper and bring them to the interview. The referees are not always relevant and I like to be more specific about who I would like to talk to eg: direct reports or team members or clients, depending on the role and the requirements.
- Reasons for leaving – including these explanations at the end of each role can give some context to career moves and also demonstrates motivations for particular changes. It also gives you an opportunity to explain shorter stints or unfavourable roles (just remember not to be negative).
- Covering letter – is essential, even if an advertisement says ‘send your CV’ not an application letter. Most Recruiters will read a covering letter first and we look for simple things like have you addressed it correctly to us by name (and spelt correctly!) and why you have applied for this job and not the other 100 in the market. This motivation for applying can be a make or break reason for getting through to first round interview.
- Opinion vs. fact – try and avoid as much opinion as possible in a CV. For example saying you are a great communicator, you have fantastic attention to detail and you are a gun negotiator can come across as self-promoting. Of course you are going to say these things about yourself – prove it in facts instead. For example, list a significant negotiation that you won and what was the outcome or quote a referee. This way you are still demonstrating your success and competency without the ego attached to it.
- Positions – remember that titles are funny things and in different organisations they do describe different roles. Helping to clarify levels and seniority can be achieved through showing your direct report eg: Reported to: Chief Executive Officer and also showing who reports to you eg: 6 Team Managers, 32 staff.
Remember that just by looking at a piece of paper, we can’t tell exactly what your strengths, weaknesses, significant competencies and motivations are. The resume has to give us a taste so we pick up the phone to invite you for a face to face where you can then demonstrate these in a verbal context. Too often resumes become versions of war and peace and you loose the reader by confusing them with too much irrelevant data and information that takes away from your core skills, experience and achievements.
Getting your CV noticed is like hearing someone speak at a conference – you want it to be concise, informative, entertaining and relevant with real stories and information.