Most of the articles on this site have been focused on was to get ahead in your career, get a promotion, make money and build a portfolio. I’ve talked about diversification, managing the short term while looking to the long term and how to save money. As I was reflecting on these topics today, I realized that one of the things that has helped open doors, as I’ve risen in the ranks of the companies I have worked for, is the humble CV. So how to write a CV, one that gets noticed and opens the door you want opened? What are the secrets of a C-Suite CV? How to write one in 5 easy steps?
Let me show you the tricks and techniques I’ve used when attacking this simple document.
What is a CV?
A curriculum vitae or resume is a one- or two-page document that is your personal career calling card. It is meant to show who you are, where you are coming from, what you’ve done, what skills you have and why you are right for the job you are applying to.
It is not all encompassing and is not meant to tell your entire life story from birth to date, but rather highlight just enough of the characteristics of your life and work experience to make a company or recruiter want to meet you and find out more.
A CV won’t guarantee you a job. But if built correctly, it should guarantee you a job interview.
Just like a product brochure, it is not meant to sell the product right away, but rather it is meant to get the client interested. The hard sell happens during the job interview process.
Your CV includes your highlights and it is those highlights that are meant to show your unique skills and how aligned those skills are to the job you are applying to. Don’t worry if you don’t get it now, I’ll develop on all this as we go through the below 5 simple steps to building a C-Suite CV.
A CV is important, and you need to spend time on it. You can’t rush through it and just send it off and hope for the best. You need to be the entire marketing department developing the tools needed for the sales department to sell the product. Those marketing tools are painstakingly prepared. They are reviewed and reviewed again. They are fine tuned and gone over with a fine-tooth comb, before the sales department even gets to have a look. And then guess what? They are adapted and changed again to make them the perfect door opener.
That’s what your CV is: the perfect door opener.
A properly prepared CV will open the door each and every time. Its then over to the sales department, in you, to make the sale. But that’s a whole other story that your Chief Money Man will come back to at a later stage.
My personal experience with a CV
When I started out on my first job search, I was much like anyone starting out. I had no clue how to write a CV. I put my name, address, a short note on one or two summer jobs I had done and listed off my academic credentials and then put what sports I played. It was a pitiful document and the doors all remained solidly closed. I can still remember the shock I had when I kept getting refusals to my applications. I had finished in the top 5% of my class, I had captained various sports teams. I had strong creative skills and had lived in several different parts of the country and been exposed to several diverse environments. I was perfect as a starting candidate.
I finally got one interview with a prestigious global accounting firm, more by hassling them than thanks to my CV and once in the interview I managed to more clearly get all these skills across and they hired me on the spot.
It was only a few years later that it dawned on my that my CV was terrible and in no way did it convey who I really was.
From that point on, I kept a CV live. Every few months I would go back to it and tweak it a little, change the way I was describing my experience or explaining my achievements in a better way. It slowly became a living document that grew real-time.
My most recent experience has shown me that there has been tremendous merit in this approach as every time I have wanted to be considered for a role, whether internally or externally, my CV opened the door for me each and every time.
I want yours to do that too.
How to build a C-Suite CV in 5 easy steps
1. Start with the introduction
Your introduction actually says a great deal about you. Of course, there is your name, which can pretty much, and to a varying extent, tell a reader what ethnic group you belong to and possibly something about your national heritage.
You’ll include your address which is also brings a savvy CV reader a massive amount of information. It will give them an idea of your wealth or the wealth of your family. It could also tell them about your ability to withstand hardship and how goal orientated you might be when they cross that with your academic achievements or work experience.
Should you include a picture?
There is some debate about this. I always include a picture. It is a simple headshot, of a really good quality and I am smiling.
I like pictures as I find they come with a good level of storytelling. Does the person look open, friendly or are they closed and angry?
You’ve obviously heard the saying that a picture can tell a thousand words.
In a one- or two-page document, getting an extra thousand words is a pretty good advantage to have.
However, I will admit it is a very personal decision and unique circumstances can apply. Nevertheless, if you have a good face picture of yourself and no unique circumstances apply, then use it!
Your CV will be among hundreds, perhaps thousands of others all going for the same role. A great picture can go a long way to getting the door open.
If you can’t use a picture for whatever circumstances, don’t worry as you’ll see lots of other things you can use below that will help you stand out.
Your introduction also needs a short paragraph that summarizes who you are. I also use a title and would encourage you to do that as well.
A title, like “CFO with global experience in multiple industries” quickly hammers home who you are and what you’ve done. It could also read “multi-faceted client service orientated professional”. Both of these titles quickly position the person to the reader. They don’t have to then plough through the CV to come to their own conclusion.
Remember a CV is telling a story and every book needs a title. So does your CV!
The introduction is also important, but we’ll come back to this later. This is where I want you to put your USP – or Unique Selling Point. See point 5 below.
It’s like the blurb on the inside or back cover of a book. That little part you read that either gets you to buy the book or put it back on the shelf or scroll down to the next one.
It’ll give the reader a tease and hook them enough that they take the time and read your CV. It is also a great place to put powerful keywords, so that if it is an AI program scanning your CV, they’ll pop right out at the start.
Now that you’ve got the introduction covered with your title and space for your USP, let’s move onto the next most important part.
The introduction, title and USP should take up no more than 25% of the first page.
2. Build your most recent experience
Your title, thousand-word picture and USP should now have hooked your CV reader enough to move them down the page. That’s the goal and essential to passing to the next phase, which is convincing them they were right to keep reading.
Your most recent experience is critical, and you need to treat it like that. Just like you did your introduction and title, but especially so, because this is where the reader will want to know if you have that important “relevant” experience.
The standard is to write the name of your most recent or current company. The revenue it generated last year, the number of people it employs and then your role and how long you did it.
If you have had multiple roles at the same company, then list them out and indicate the time periods you spent in each role. It is good to show progression and broad experience if you have it.
I would suggest that your most recent role/company experience take up the remaining 75% of the first page.
You’ll see a lot of people telling you one page is enough, but in my experience two is better.
This is like a book, turning that page to discover something new and interesting is priceless and means you’ve hooked and caught your reader. We always wonder what marvels the writer has for us on page 2!
When it comes to listing your achievements, you need to start with a verb. An action word is much stronger.
After the action word comes some adjectives of what your achievement involved. Was it complex? Was it strategic? Was it client facing? Was it structured? Was it time sensitive?
Adjectives are the best way to get this kind of information across.
This is also why you need to spend time on this exercise and not rush through it. Choosing the right action words and adjectives to explain an achievement is important.
Imagine you worked as a server at McDonalds and were part of a challenge to increase sales?
“Participated as part of a highly functioning team in a complex, ambiguous, client facing project to drive increased revenue and client satisfaction.”
Reads quite nice doesn’t it? Sounds a bit impressive doesn’t it? It is not exaggerating the achievement, it is just using the innate power of the English language to convey both an idea and a picture. Our reader is then compelled to use their imagination to picture exactly what you did.
Our goal is to make them think “Wow!”
Every line that you write in your achievements section needs to come with a “Wow!”
Again, that is why it is important to spend time on this and keep coming back to it. This is your door opener and you need to take it seriously.
How many achievements do you need?
Enough to fill 75% of page 1.
Can’t think of enough?
Yes, you can! Everything you have done from the most mundane to the most exceptional is an achievement and can be turned into an achievement. Every task is an achievement. Your objective is to turn them into achievements on Page 1.
You’re an accountant that enters accounts payable journal entries?
“Executed on a regular time sensitive process to ensure accounting records were accurate and complete for the purchasing function.”
“Regularly liaised with Sourcing and Procurement professionals on critical, ad-hoc requests to achieve world class payment deadlines.”
This is your chance to shine.
Don’t lie or exaggerate, just use the power of verbs and adjectives to convey your story.
This is the heart of your CV. This is where the reader confirms their initial suspicion that you are right for the role. Page 2 is where you surprise them with some added extras.
Important to remember is that your experience and achievements need to be relevant to the role you are applying to.
Don’t talk about executing on journal entries if you are applying for a sales role. Focus rather on your time management skills, your interpersonal achievements and the like.
Your achievements need to be tailored to the role you are applying to.
3. Summarize your prior experience and academic achievements
We’re now through the all-important page 1. Your reader should have already decided that you are somebody they want to speak to.
Page 2 is where we add the extras that make them put your CV on the top of the pile.
Page 2 starts with your other experience. I suggest two or three achievements per experience. If you have more than 4 prior roles, you might just focus on the two most recent and then list off the others. Don’t feel obliged to add everything you have done.
Also, the experience of these roles should NOT be tailored to the role. Your goal here is to show your breadth. Add things that are removed from the role you are aiming for.
Note: If your most recent experience is shorter than one year, then your second most recent experience might actually start on Page 1 and carry over to page 2 and will need to be tailored to the role you are applying for. As a general rule, roles that are older than 3 years is where you should be adding the “other” things you have achieved.
This is where a reader should be “discovering” other facets of who you are and what you have done.
After the experience section which shouldn’t be more than half of Page 2, you need to add your academic achievements. Just list what you have and the year you achieved it. If you finished in top 10, top 5, top 20% of your class for anything, you should add that too. It can be a differentiating factor.
4. Add the things that make you tick
The last part of Page 2 is where we are allowed to have a little fun.
You’re an avid video gamer and have participated in some tournaments? Add that. Don’t spend more than a line on it but add it as it explains some more about who you are.
You go running every morning? Say you’re a regular runner.
You write a blog on cooking – add it! It might be something you get to once a year, but it shows you’re doing different things and shows you have passions that go beyond the job you are applying for.
You’ve participated in a plastic clean up along the banks of your local river? Add that in. Don’t time frame it by saying “One-time participation.” But rather use “participation in..”
You’re trying to get across things that set you apart from the bunch and make you unique enough to get to the top of the pile.
We are all unique. Your role is to find those things and highlight them.
5. Go back and create your USP
We talked at the start of this article about building the CV from the top, putting a picture (or not), your address, a title and also the all-important introduction.
Your introduction needs to get across :
- Your strongest skills
- Your best competencies
- And your USP (Unique Selling Point)
All of your CV is built like a thriller novel: you have to keep the reader reading! The introduction or USP is the blurb that hooks someone in and gets them to read your experience.
Your introduction should be maybe two or three short paragraphs. Are you good with people? Are you a detail or big picture person, comfortable with strategy or making sure all the “i’s” are dotted? Are you inspiring, motivating and real team leader? Do you pay attention to execution? Are you analytical?
How would you sell yourself and your skills in a few paragraphs?
The reason I usually recommend to come back and do this at the end is that the rest of your CV needs to build on all these points in your introduction and illustrate them. You’ve introduced the character in your novel, now tell the reader more about them in the experience and achievements section.
Don’t be shy with this section or too humble either. It is important and critical that this introduction makes a massive impact.
I also recommend adding one line at the end of the introduction to highlight something extraordinary about yourself or different. Have you started a small business before, participated in something like that? Did you run the school newspaper or have article published? Did you once score 20 points in a basketball match or participate in a marathon?
We have all done at least one or two things that make us stand out as individuals. This last line at the end of your introduction is the place to put that. It is meant to make the reader interested as you have a little someone that makes you stand out.
If you get that right, I will guarantee you that you’ll be getting the call to meet the recruiter.
Writing a CV or resume takes time and effort. It is the door opener and just the starting process to get a new job. A lot more work and preparation come after that, but we’ll leave that for another time.
Special Offer: If you’d like a free blank CV model in word, sign up to the blog and email me and I’ll send it to you.
Also, for a limited time until the end of October, I am offering a free CV review to a random group of 5 people among those who sign up to my blog (or who are signed up) and ask for the free CV model and a review.