When you’re an executive or C-Suite Director looking to make changes in your career, it’s important to have your CV up to date.
By that, we don’t just mean up to date with your latest job role and responsibilities; you’ve got to ensure any content reflects the skills and knowledge required for the role you desire.
Your CV is the first impression you give a prospective employer and to be successful in your application, you must showcase your experience and talents in the best possible way. You could be the greatest candidate for the role, but if your résumé doesn’t reflect that, then sadly, you don’t stand a chance.
“To succeed in today’s job market, you have to think of your résumé as an advertisement targeted towards your future boss.”
It’s fair to say that CV writing is an art form and between jobs, the rules around writing them can change. Whether it’s templates and formats, acceptable fonts, or the overall length of your résumé, everybody you talk to seems to have an opinion on what constitutes a good CV.
It’s a bit of a minefield, but thankfully, there are experts out there like us who can help.
According to topresume.com, every posting for a corporate role receives on average 250 CVs and of those, only 4-6 applicants will be contacted for an interview.
Did you know that this lack of response could be down to something as simple as the file type you’re using?
With larger organisations receiving more than 50 thousand CV’s a week, as part of their recruitment process, almost all of them now use some form of applicant tracking system (ATS). This means only a small percentage of applications (less than 25%) will ever be seen by the human eye.
An ATS is essentially a technological gatekeeper, one you must overcome if you are to be successful in your application. Unlike a human reader, however, you can’t dazzle software with charm, wit, and clever graphics. In fact, when it comes to applying through an ATS, basic is best.
The First Hurdle – The ATS
“As a component of efficient and effective hiring practices, an ATS reviews résumés and accepts candidates who seem to be most qualified for the role based on certain criteria.”
To beat the CV scanning bots you’ve got to play them at their own game and to do this, you need to understand how they work and what they are looking for.
Below are some dos and don’ts from the experts, when it comes to applying through an ATS:
Do use the right file type:
One of the most common file types in which to submit a CV is a PDF but believe it or not, some ATS software is unable to read them. According to TopCV.co.uk, regardless of the quality of the content, CVs submitted as a PDF often never reach the recruiter.
Multiple sources agree: the most accepted file format by ATS software is Microsoft Word.
Do use ATS Friendly Fonts:
It’s true; the font you use could be responsible for your CV being tossed straight onto the ‘thanks, but no thanks' pile. Resumeatelier.com states that the following fonts are ATS-friendly:
All these fonts are simple, look professional, and are easy to read.
Do use a basic layout:
That’s right, we’re telling you to blend in when it comes to the layout of your CV; clever headings, tables, and graphics may be eye-catching to a human, but a computer will likely file your application straight in the recycle bin.
Online CV builder VisualCV.com advises its customers to only use standard résumé headings; it makes it easier for an ATS to locate the information it’s scanning for.
Examples of standard CV headings include - Contact Information, Work Experience/History, Education, Skills, and Personal Interests/ Hobbies.
Don’t use abbreviations:
We may all know that NED stands for Non-Executive Director and that PR stands for Public Relations, but an ATS that’s working to set criteria may not have been programmed to pick up on such abbreviations. Don’t risk it.
Don’t put important detail in your header and footer:
Do you usually put your contact information in the header? Don’t. It may look visually pleasing and mean you can fit more on one page but formatting your CV in this way can make it difficult for the ATS to locate.
Do check spelling and grammar:
This should really go without saying, but did you know that over 64% of British CVs contain spelling mistakes? (Adzuna survey of 147,000 UK CV’s online).
Do use Key Words:
“ATS keywords are specific words or phrases employers identify as requirements for a specific position.”
A keyword is usually a skill, previously held position, qualification, or industry you have worked in.
Using keywords is a great way to tailor your CV to every job application. According to Monster.com, examples of keywords you should include in your resume include:
Profit and loss responsibility
Return on Investment (ROI)
Budgeting and finance
That said, because ATSs are pre-programmed to search CVs for relevant material, the keywords the employer is looking for will usually appear in the job description; we, therefore, recommend you scan this document ahead of reworking your CV.
It’s rare these days to get an e-mail response letting you know if you’ve been unsuccessful in applying for a role - let alone finding out why. Hopefully, following the above guidelines should give you confidence that your CV will at least make it onto the desk of a living, breathing person.
The Second Hurdle – The Recruiter
Once you’ve made it past the ATS, it’s time for your CV to really get scrutinised. Only the cream of the crop will make it through to the second stage, so this is where you need to stand out and appeal to the reader.
A recruiter will usually judge your CV on 2 fronts: readability and content.
Your CV should have a good balance between content and white space. A busy CV, regardless of the content, will likely be off-putting to a person sorting through a stack of CVs. As you need the important stuff to leap off the page and not get lost in unnecessary prose, bullet points are perfect; they summarise nicely and draw the eye.
“You need to help the recruiters as much as possible, since they see sifting through CVs as a chore.”
James Innes (Author, The CV Book).
You’ll see varying opinions on the acceptable length of CVs ranging from 1 to 4 sides of A4. According to a survey by Reed.co.uk, 91% of recruiters believe 2 pages of A4 is the perfect length for your résumé.
We know you want to fit as much as possible on a page, but according to recruitment specialists at Macildowie, a font size any smaller than 11 can be frustrating for a busy reader.
Those of you with a keen eye may have noticed that ‘Times New Roman’ was omitted from the above list of ATS-compatible fonts; this is because it’s far too commonly used and the aim of the game at this stage, is to stand out from the crowd.
“I am. Two of the most powerful words; for what you put after them shapes your reality.”
Great CVs are a careful balance between responsibilities and achievements; opinions differ, however, on the order they should appear on your CV.
We believe it really comes down to what’s written in the job description. For example, if the role requires a specific professional qualification or an MA, start with this information. If the job description focuses more heavily on experience, then lead with your most recent position.
Below, we provide a simple outline as to what should be included in each section of your CV:
Personal Details/ Contact Information:
Keep this brief; all you’ll need is your name, contact details, and LinkedIn URL. Ensure your LinkedIn profile is up to date and on spec for the role you desire.
Begin with your most recent qualification first, even if you’re only part-way through a course. As an executive, there’s no need to list your GCSE/A Level grades – it’s higher education and professional qualifications that count. In this section, simply detail the classification of your qualifications, the name of the course, and where you studied.
In addition, you should list any courses and formal training you have attended which have relevance to the job you are applying for.
If you don’t have any higher education/professional qualifications to speak of and have risen to the ranks on work experience alone, you can leave this section off your CV entirely.
When cataloging your work experience, start with your most recent position and work backward through roles. The consensus amongst experts is that your cv should go back no further than 10-15 years or 5 relevant positions.
Unless the organisations you have worked for are well known, it’s a good idea to provide a little detail on what they do and the size of the operation.
As you climb the corporate ladder, your CV will become less about listing job responsibilities and more about showing any transferable value you can bring to a new role.
A simple way of sharing this ‘value’ on a CV, is to follow the C.A.R method: Challenge, Action, Results.
The C.A.R system requires you to analyse specific experiences which demonstrate abilities relevant to the new role.
Challenge: What was the challenge you faced?
Action: How did you set about resolving the challenge?
Results: What positive impact did your actions have on the situation?
When using the C.A.R. method, it’s important to provide detail and evidence of any experience with solid statistics like KPIs achieved and/or sales figures. It’s also wise to run your examples through what we like to call a ‘so what?’ filter.
Let’s say in your last role you delivered the highest sales figures to date, achieving 150% of your annual KPIs. So what? What were the implications of this for the wider organisation?
Perhaps your success generated an additional £100k in revenue for the business? Maybe your achievements allowed your organisation to expand its client base.
This is what our resident CV expert, Ronnie calls ‘value added evidence’. By including detail on any impact your achievements had on the wider business, you’re leading the recruiter to visualise how you could be of benefit to their own organisation.
Here’s an example:
When Karen was promoted to the role of Sales Director at Company A, the business was on the brink of collapse; she was charged with turning things around. In order to grow sales, she made changes to the company’s pricing strategy, worked with marketing to introduce a new promotional activity, and provided her team with sales training and away days.
As a direct result of her actions, sales rose from £20 million to £40 million in 4 years and staff turnover fell by 60%.
On Karen’s CV, she must condense this information into bullet points:
Company A, Chelmsford
Sales Director: 2017 – 2022
As a key member of the executive team developing sales strategies for a pharmaceutical organisation, I was responsible for the activities of 25 sales managers and their respective staff (300 people).
- (Challenge) The company was on the verge of bankruptcy; it was my role to formulate marketing, brand planning, and business development strategies to drive revenue growth.
- (Action) I revived the operation by making strategic changes to pricing, introducing the promotional activity, and training a high-performance sales team.
- (Results) Sales doubled from £20 million to £40 million in just 4 years and staff turnover was reduced by 60%. The sales team is now a success story and the corporate image has been improved.
Essentially, C.A.R. gives recruiters exactly what they want to hear; it ticks boxes and does so in a format that’s easily digestible. For that reason, not only is C.A.R. a great tool to use when building your résumé, but it’s also a useful technique to use when preparing for interview questions.
In this section, you should bullet any relevant soft and hard skills you have. Look at the job description; what listed skills can you satisfy as a candidate?
Earlier this year, Zety.com analysed 133,000 CVs and found these to be the most common ‘soft skills’ listed (in order of popularity).
Hard skills are abilities that can be measured, such as language skills and IT Skills. As an executive, it will be assumed you already have competency in basic computer packages like Microsoft Office; if you have any experience of software you feel would be pertinent to the new role, however, this is where you should share them.
Hobbies and Interests:
When it comes to sharing your hobbies and interests on an executive CV, the jury is out. Hobbies can be a great conversation starter and an opportunity for you to sprinkle a little of your personality, but this is not an expectation at the executive level.
It’s important to remember that your CV is for the eyes of a prospective employer; so, if you are going to include a hobbies section, make sure it adds value to your application.
The experts at Reed suggest that wherever possible, your hobbies should reinforce your application - even if it’s just through transferable skills.
This section is also a great place to strengthen your application with examples of any voluntary and/or community work you are involved in. Charitable experience speaks to your character and can sometimes strike a chord with a recruiter.
“Your CV is the first and most important tool to ensuring you secure an interview; it is your sales document.”
We’re Professional CV Writers
Crafting a great CV isn’t for the faint-hearted; it takes time and effort. Ultimately, if you’re going to put yourself out there, you really need to get it right or you risk burning leads and opportunities.
If this all sounds a bit overwhelming, Paul Starbuck and Associates are here to support you in your endeavour. Not only can we coach you through a role change, but we can also write that professional CV for you.
Get in touch!
Let’s have a chat about where you are now, where you want to be, and how we can help to get you there.
“It’s in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped.”