How to write an outstanding executive CV

27 Aug 2019

How to write an outstanding executive CV

Taking the trouble to perfect your CV is a crucial step towards landing the executive job you desire. And our guides can help get it right.

Want that job of your dreams? Impressing an executive search firm and its clients with a brilliant CV is a big step in the right direction.  

We see hundreds of thousands every year, so we’ve gathered that experience into a series of guides with advice to help you, whether you’re early in your career, at a more senior level, or specifically after a NED position.

Here are a few extracts from our guides.

Snappy start

Like everyone, recruiters are busy, and you want to be focused on suitable opportunities, so it’s helpful all round to cut to the chase.

Begin with a snappy Executive Profile summarising your greatest career achievements and the skills you have to offer.

If you prefer, this section might alternatively be headed something like Career Profile, Expertise or Key Competencies. What really matters is distilling down your capabilities to grab the reader’s attention. At first glance!

An effective way to do this is to start with a succinct sentence that sums up your career and positions you in the marketplace. Follow this with three or four punchy bullet points listing your core skills.

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Senior Candidates

Download our guide to the CV in the Digital Age for Senior Candidates.

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Stay current and customise

Keep your CV up-to-date and be sure to adapt it to highlight those skills most applicable to the particular opportunity you’re pursuing. If you have your eye on a top-tier technology position, you might put something like “Accomplished CIO-level professional with 20+ years’ experience in digital technology implementation and systems development team management.”

The bulk of your CV should be made up of the Professional Experience section. While packed with information, this must be presented so that it can be easily scanned. List the positions you’ve held in reverse, from current/most recent to oldest. Include a brief company description. This enables readers to immediately appreciate the significance of the role, even without prior knowledge of the companies you’ve worked for.

The Chief Marketing Officer of a national retail business with tens of millions in annual sales is clearly a different proposition to the CMO of a global soft drinks manufacturer with revenues in the billions.

For each position, state your title and responsibilities, including the number of employees you supervised and your budget or sales numbers.

Responsibilities and key accomplishments are best presented as bullet points. Begin each of these with a verb. Choose verbs which highlight the value you’ve added, such as “increased”, “negotiated”, “saved”, “achieved”, “delivered”. And prioritise examples where you have been directly responsible for successful business outcomes.

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NED Candidates

Download our guide to the CV in the Digital Age for NED Candidates

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Ditch buzzwords and clichés

Steer clear of meaningless buzzwords and management-speak. No executive search professional will appreciate hearing that you are “highly motivated”, or a “team player” and “good communicator”.

Always back up any claims with some compelling proof.

Be specific about your achievements. Merely putting “grew the business” is frustratingly vague.

Rather, say things like, “Grew the business from fifth-placed challenger brand to category leader, increasing sales revenue 600% to over £400 million in a five-year period.”

Don’t worry, what you’ve done need not be quite so epic in scale to impress. Include accomplishments such as awards won, projects delivered on time and under budget, product patents secured, successful partnerships negotiated, company acquisitions completed, and so on. 

Fill in the gaps

Nature abhors a vacuum…almost as much as executive search professionals detest unexplained gaps in a career history. Omit a position from your CV because it doesn’t seem relevant to your current career and a headhunter may wonder if you have something to hide. Or just presume you were jobless during that time.

Leave out your first 10 years in the industry and people might think you’re trying to hide your age.

You don’t have to devote much space to the jobs at the beginning of your career, but there’s another good reason for including them all: affinity. What if the chairperson of the board that’s hiring a new director once worked at the company where you started out? Human nature being what it is, the chairperson would likely feel a degree of affinity towards you. Perhaps enough to land you a place on the shortlist.

If you occupied any positions for only a short time, provide reassurance by explaining why. It’s perfectly acceptable to say something like: “Left due to restructuring in wake of company takeover”.

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Early Career Candidates

Download our guide to the CV in the Digital Age for Early Career Candidates.

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Education and additional information

Format the Education section of your CV as per the Professional Experience section, beginning with the most recent qualifications. Then end your CV on Additional Information.

This final section should include your awards and recognitions, board seats, professional memberships and certifications, volunteer activities, publication history, foreign languages spoken, and so on.

Remember, a CV is also a framework for conversation. Following these tips, and the more detailed ones in our guides will help you hone your story and identify key talking points for your discussions with executive search firms. And the job interviews with employers that hopefully will follow. 

Think of it as a way of briefing, as well as selling yourself. That should give you all the motivation you need to get it as perfect as possible.

For more career advice, go to our dedicated Career Strategies page. To find your local Odgers Berndtson office and the opportunities we offer, click here.