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Preparing an Executive CV

by Michael O'Leary

The old idea that your CV was a personal sales brochure is, as are such CV’s, outdated. Your resume should be an accurate reflection of your career path and learning to date, that highlights what you have achieved during that time. The structured content of good CV’s is often a reflection of how organisations are generally thinking at a given time. Performance driven firms have ceased their obsession with the measurement of inputs and are focussing on outcomes. Your CV should do likewise.

Planning

Before you begin to write your CV, plan it. Arrange your thoughts around blocks of information that you feel is important to share. For example:

  1. Personal details
  2. Introduction summary
  3. Outcomes achieved in:
    1. Current or most recent role
    2. Role prior to that
    3. Role prior to that etc.
  4. Education
  5. Affiliations, other interests or professional memberships

Work from block to block and comb back through it to see what data really matters, particularly related to the role that you are applying to, before attempting to write your CV.

It is ok to iterate a CV or customise it briefly, but never write your CV over an old version. What was relevant for amplification then is rarely relevant now, you risk font errors and jarring mixes of tone or person. Your CV should be two to three pages long. Any more than that will dilute your key messages, one page CV’s leave too much off the table.

Writing

A short summary is valued but no more than 20 to 25 words. It is the first taste the reader gets of you, so keep it on point, describe yourself in terms of your occupation “A Director of Operations, with an MBA from….and over 10 year’s leadership experience in…”. By all means, accentuate the positive but don’t turn the reader off with too many superlatives. Always write in the first person.

The CV’s that really impact are those that contain what really matters and no more. Being able to communicate succinctly and edit effectively are key communication skills. They help the reader make a better connection with your document. Describe your professional experience in terms of what you have achieved and not what you were responsible for in each of your roles. Make sure your preface the statement with “Participated in…”, “Worked with…”, “Collaborated with…” where the outcome was not solely owned by you. It will become apparent in any decent competency based interview that this is the case and so use the experience positively. Your CV should tell a story that shows you are a person who focusses on and delivers desirable outcomes.

During your planning phase, remove any company specific acronyms or terms that the reader will not understand from your blocks. If you are seeking a move within your current sector, industry specific terms are fine. However, if you are writing a general CV or seeking a move to a different industry sector, use generic terms that the reader will recognise.

Formatting

Plain and simple CV’s are easier to read. Use standard fonts only and never drop below an 11 pt font size. Headings in bold and bullet points are really helpful to convey a sense of achievement and to help the reader, who will be reviewing a number of CV’s, to organise around your content. Include if and where relevant, references to specific technologies that may be desirable. Remember that in written documents, space for content to breathe is as important as the content itself. Don’t cram everything in, edit and leave white space on the pages. Finally, never send a CV anywhere without having someone review it for you, the content, spelling, grammar and punctuation. 

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