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How to write an executive CV
Executive CVs are a little different to a standard CV. In this section we explain the differences and provide a range of guidance on writing an effective Executive CV for the best chance of winning a job interview.
Because you’re applying for a more senior position, you’ll be expected to have more experience in your work history and it’s not unusual for your CV to exceed the normal two page limit. However, keep in mind that a lengthy, text-heavy document does not make for easy reading. Employers have little time to spend on each CV – often just a few seconds – so you still need to be concise.
You’ll see that although our executive CV template spans three pages, it isn’t text heavy. It uses headings and bulleted lists to break up the information effectively, keeping it light and easy-to-read.
Provide more detail in your work history of the roles that are relevant to your target job. Offer less detail for irrelevant roles, noting only the experience and skills that are transferable. You may still feel the need to include these to avoid employment gaps, but for very old irrelevant roles, it is acceptable to either group them (e.g. ‘Waitress, 1991 – 2000, various positions’) or leave them off altogether.
With length a constraint, there’s no better way to offer more detail to recruiters than by developing your LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn has something of a digital CV format in itself, but it allows you to include far more information. In particular, you can create a portfolio section, ask for recommendations and build your endorsements – all of which offer further proof to recruiters that you have the desired skills.
Once you’ve created your profile, be sure to include it in a prominent position on your CV – as we have done on our example executive CV template.
If you’ve been in the same job role for some time, you may not have realised how CVs have changed in modern times. Standards have changed, as have best practices. Scrap any old layout that you’ve been hanging on to and start afresh using a CV that will pass through an Applicant Tracking System. This type of software is used by many recruiters to pre-screen CVs for certain key criteria and quickly filter out unsuitable candidates. However, many older style CV templates cannot be read properly by the software, leading to candidates being rejected unnecessarily.
Our free executive CV template is ATS-friendly and can be downloaded above.
Executive CV Content
Whilst an entry-level candidate might simply detail their job titles, responsibilities and qualifications, far more will be expected from an executive. Although the exact skill set will depend on the type of executive role you target, employers generally want to see that you can establish procedures, direct and oversee finances, manage change, lead and consult with staff at all levels, recruit and supervise, analyse, strategize, lower costs and improve performance across the board. It is not enough to simply claim these skills – you need to give evidence of how you have used these skills effectively throughout your career and delivered results.
The most powerful way of providing this evidence is through achievements. These show that you’ve used the skill with a positive impact. You’ll see that in our executive CV template, we use achievements for every position.
This list of action verbs from MIT offers excellent inspiration when thinking about your work achievements.
In addition to providing evidence of your skills, you also need to ensure that your content includes any keywords that the employer is looking for. These might be specific skills, qualifications (e.g. ‘MBA’) or experience mentioned within the job advert. Try to mirror the same keywords on your CV – this is especially important if the employer is using ATS software to pre-screen candidates.
It used to be acceptable to send out piles of identical CVs to every suitable vacancy and hope for a few responses. Nowadays it’s expected that every CV you write will be tailored to the specific job specification.
Review the job advert carefully and ascertain what is most important to this employer. For example:
The main concerns for this employer are finding someone who:
- Has experience of making decisions on their own with a large degree of autonomy, within the confines of a best-practice framework.
- Can interpret HR best practice and has excellent knowledge of a range of HR related issues, with the ability to guide other seniors on such topics.
- Can confidently analyse data and use it to guide decisions.
- Can competently use and design systems to maintain or improve performance.
- Has an established network of HR contacts.
If you were responding to this job advert, you would highlight on your CV how you meet these criteria through your experience and achievements.
In a highly-competitive job market, having a unique selling point – a USP – is essential. USPs are typically used to market products. They tell consumers how the product can benefit them in some way that other similar products cannot. For example, the USP for M&Ms is:
“The milk chocolate melts in your mouth, not in your hand.”
Think of USPs in terms of benefits rather than features. So for example, one of your features might be “I have 15+ years of work experience.” Whilst this is a positive feature, it isn’t necessarily a benefit (I could work as a waiter in a restaurant for 15 years but I might still be a lousy waiter).
To identify your USP, consider:
- What skills, experiences and knowledge fields do you have that stand out?
- Which ones are unique to you (or difficult to find)?
- If you can’t find one unique thing that shines through, perhaps you can find a unique and uncommon combination of things?
Source: Coburg Banks
As James Ball of Coburg Banks explains,
Instead of claiming ‘I can do X, Y and Z’ you should focus on what that means for the employer; ‘I can do X, Y and Z which means that I’ll save you time, money and effort’.
The Coburg Banks article here is a really good guide to developing your USP.
It used to be fairly common to include details on your CV such as your marital status and age. Nowadays, best practice dictates that these should be avoided at all costs. Leave off any protected characteristics: age, disabilities, gender, gender reassignment, marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy or maternity, race, religion or belief. For all but a small handful of jobs, this information is irrelevant to the employer’s decision over whether or not to offer you an interview. Further, they can attract discrimination.
- Choose an ATS-compliant CV layout like the executive CV template on this page.
- Use the job advert to find out what’s most important to the individual employer and write a tailored CV for each job vacancy.
- Use the same keywords that the employer uses within your CV, for ATS screening.
- Develop a USP, focusing on benefits rather than features.
- Include evidence that you can deliver results rather than just carry out responsibilities.
- Provide more detail for the most relevant roles, focusing on experience and achievements that meet your target employer’s requirements.
- Avoid generic cliché phrases – instead, show what you can do.
- Leave off unnecessary information (very old irrelevant roles, or protected characteristics).
- Develop your LinkedIn profile and include your LinkedIn handle in a prominent position on your CV.
NB: This CV template was originally published 11th February 2016 and has been completely updated for 2021.