If you read tip #1 in my previous post, you are now ready to move on to the next step in developing a stellar Senior Manager or Executive CV: Know the Market.
It seems as obvious as tip 1, “know yourself,” but even the most successful executives often send off their CV before taking this crucial step.
“I feel your pain”
Of course, a strong senior executive candidate knows the market very well already. But all these insights often exist passively in their thoughts and casual conversations, in reading the newspaper or seeing the news. This rarely makes it onto paper (well, digital documents), into sentences, words and phrases that tell the audience, “I feel your pain, and here’s how I can take care of it.”
In your CV you should develop a value proposition that speaks directly to your target audience and their specific needs. Where is the company headed? What is their primary focus? How are you going to get them there? If you are not answering these questions in the text of your CV, you are not going to connect with your target audience.
Keywords that speak to the reader
Even if your CV is not going to end up scanned by applicant tracking systems or ATS (many senior positions come from the hidden job market and are not necessarily posted), you should always consider the keywords the reader is looking for as he or she skims over your document. They are looking for quick clues that tell them how you will address their particular needs. They don’t care about all the other wonderful things you can do, at least not at this stage. And when you have 20+ years of experience, you have plenty of things you could say. But please resist saying everything on your CV; it will just clutter and muddle the message. (More on this in another upcoming post.)
So let’s take the example of John. His CV has a somewhat generic summary:
Sales Executive with 20+ years leading new initiatives in the IT sector. Developed ambitious sales and marketing plans and oversaw sales and marketing teams. Proven effectiveness in providing vision and solutions to set new endeavors in motion and guide them towards strategic objectives. Strong negotiator, communicator and leader.
(As I am reading, these are the questions that come to mind that he didn’t address: Well how ambitious were those plans and how is that measured? What impact did they have? Is the territory where he carried them out relevant to his objective? How big were these teams? What new endeavors did he set in motion?)
The company he is interested in needs experienced leadership in their business development efforts for international expansion. John has that experience as well. And he even has led projects in exactly the same countries where they need support. But there is no mention of that here at the top of the page where he has the reader’s attention. (By nature we all pay more attention to what we read at the top and left of a page, whether online or print. That is a topic for another blog post about writing for the reader.) John, unfortunately, is wasting an opportunity to speak directly to those needs. His CV may therefore not make it through an ATS if the company or search firm is indeed using one or into the “call for interview” pile.
Beyond knowing the market, understand a company’s culture and their decision-makers. You may not always have insider information beyond what you can glean from their web, news, etc. A good way to gain these kinds of insights is through exploratory interviews, as described in this article here. Once you have this additional insight, use it and tailor your CV or cover letter accordingly.
Do your homework
It may seem like a lot of work to adapt every CV to different positions. But if you have created a strong value proposition in one version, it’s actually not difficult to adapt keywords here and there to draw attention to what your target audience is most interested in. Think of your CV like a web text with drop-down menus: for certain positions you will reveal the detail in the “drop-down menu” and other times you will need to collapse the detail to draw attention to one of your other areas of expertise. Say more where relevant and less or nothing at all when it doesn’t interest your audience. Most of all, speak directly to a company’s challenges and tell them how you are the solution to their most pressing needs.