How to create a CV with executive search appeal

05 Aug 2019

How to create a CV with executive search appeal

Executive search firms look for accurate CVs telling a coherent career story, demonstrating specific, value-adding achievements. Here’s how to do it.

From our experience of seeing hundreds of thousands of CVs every year at Odgers Berndtson executive search, we’ve created 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 10 steps to crafting a CV that’s more likely to impress a discerning executive search firm:

  • Position yourself with a summary. Boil down your greatest career achievements into three or four bullet points and place these at the top of your CV. Aim to sell yourself from the outset by clearly and truthfully highlighting what you have to offer. Encourage an executive search firm to read on and discover more about you.
  • Show how and where you personally have added value. Don’t waffle on about generalities such as having great leadership skills or make unsubstantiated claims as to overseeing improved performance. Demonstrate your achievements and quantify with precise figures. Exactly how big was the rise in sales or cost-saving made? What was your specific contribution to this success?
  • Express and stay true to your personal brand. Make sure your CV represents your values and approach to work. Does everything on it ring true? For instance, would an executive search consultant find any contradictions or inconsistencies when comparing your CV to other readily available sources of information, such as a bio on your current employer’s website or your LinkedIn profile?
  • Choose your words wisely. Ditch pointless buzzwords and the lazy clichés of management-speak. Cut to the chase and use appropriate verbs to highlight the value you have added, particularly where you have been responsible for delivering successful business outcomes. For instance, “increased”, “negotiated”, “saved”, “achieved”…
  • Optimise for searchability. Remember that executive search firms store CVs electronically and will often use Applicant Tracking Systems/keywords to identify candidates who meet a client’s requirements. Without taking it too far, you need to factor that in. Does your CV contain words/terms that will associate you with the job you seek?
  • What’s your story? Ideally, a CV will convey your narrative, showing how you have progressed, developed and acquired new skills during your career to date. Search firms look for patterns to predict future behaviour and are reassured by evidence of focus and an obvious career trajectory. If your career path appears unstructured and previous positions do not seem to follow on logically from one another, you should fine-tune some of the role descriptions to make your story more coherent. Without any deception, of course!
  • Accuracy makes a positive impression. Typos, bad grammar and other sloppy mistakes will be spotted and often trigger negative perceptions in the reader’s mind. Some executive search consultants consider such errors inexcusable. Check and doublecheck your CV to root out any misspellings and factual blunders. A neat and consistent layout is helpful too.
  • Mind the gaps. Executive search consultants are perturbed by unexplained gaps in a career history. Whatever the reason for a career break, honesty is the best policy (although there may be circumstances where some discretion is called for on your part), so do explain to allay potential concerns. Never fiddle the dates of past employment – checks made with previous employers could easily catch you out.
  • Be clear on scope and scale. Show yourself in a good light, no one would expect any less. But don’t fudge or over-inflate the size of a role, department or even organisation as a whole. Play it straight by providing accurate numbers and reliable context. Which geographies, product lines and projects did you oversee? Spelling out the size of your team in terms of numbers of people and its budget/P&L will often work to your advantage – it’s possible a search firm might otherwise underestimate your level of responsibility.
  • Don’t neglect the basics. Do the responsibilities you outline in connection with a previous role make sense? Are your mobile phone number, email address and other contact details up-to-date? Be sure to provide an email address that’s checked regularly. Executive search firms often need to move fast to satisfy clients.

Download a comprehensive guide to the CV in the digital age and how to manage your online reputation, whether you’re early in your career, at a more senior level, or specifically after a NED position.

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