A headline on your executive CV is just as important as the sign outside the door of a shop. Would you walk into a store without one? Or what about reading a newspaper article without a headline that captures the main message? The same goes for the CV. This article explains a few formulas you can use to build your CV headline.
In the article Why a CV Still Matters for your Executive Job Search, I referred to all areas of the CV as parts of a shop, the headline being the sign outside the door. It’s also helpful to think of it as just what it’s called: A headline. Transfer the concept to a newspaper and think about the purpose of a headline: to call attention, and hook the reader so that he or she continues down the page (or clicks on “read more” if it’s online). This is no different on your CV.
► How to Create a Headline
Before you put pen to paper, identify your target audience. What does that company in particular need? If you have a clear job description, you have the explicit need expressed there. (If you have stumbled upon a job opportunity through your network and there is nothing in writing yet, try to get as much information out of your contact regarding the companies “pain points” for that particular position.) Go through the ad and highlight the keywords. These are the main requirements and responsibilities. How many of those keywords does your previous experience connect with?
Now build your headline rooted in your experience and personal brand, but the aspects of it that are relevant to your audience’s needs. You might have been a General Manager in one of your previous jobs and you are considering applying for similar jobs. However, so much of your experience and passion is rooted in marketing innovative products and branding. Currently you are networking with contacts working in companies devising marketing campaigns for new products. So in this case, you want to be sure you get the word “marketing” versus “general manager” into your headline:
Senior Marketing Executive is one possibility and you can enhance it with other ingredients like “Branding & Product Innovation” if this is also what your target audience needs.
► Some formulas to build your headline:
Position Title + Industry + Area of Specialization
Whatever headline you use, be sure it is connected to your NEXT career move. You can’t make up a title you have not had or expertise you don’t possess. But of all the things you know how to do, you have something that speaks to your audience. For example, if you are not changing industry or function in your next career move, you could use the formula: position title + industry + area of specialization or regional focus. Here are some examples:
Senior Vice President of Sales | Cyber Security | Latin America
Marketing Executive | FMCG | Rebranding
IT Project Manager | SAP
Senior Executive Medical Devices/Healthcare
Turnarounds | M&A Global Expansion
General Manager: International Business Development | Strategy
As you can see, your headline can be on one line or two, depending on how specific you want to be. (And please format, not like here where I have only indicated the words/text without formatting.)
►When You Are Looking to Change Job Title, Industry or Focus
What if your job title doesn’t connect you to your next move? Let’s say your most recent job title was Regional Director. This doesn’t speak to the business development role in real estate that you are seeking, although this has been your area of expertise. Therefore, you could create a title from your key talent areas instead of your job title:
Real Estate & Construction Industry Executive
Business Development | Global Expansion
Or let’s say that you’re changing focus within a similar role and industry. Currently you are the Senior Vice President of Sales and Channels for a cyber security company and your regional focus is Latin America. You are interested in two companies: one is for the same region and the other is for North America. Therefore you will have two different headlines on two different resumes.
For job 1:
Senior Vice President of Sales & Channels
Cyber Security | Latin America
For job 2:
Senior Vice President of Sales & Channels | Cyber Security
And if you want to apply transferable skills to a whole new industry or functional area, then you can do a sneaky thing: Write “targeting jobs in” just above the headline:
Targeting Jobs In:
International Management Consulting
► Scrap the words “CV” or “Professional Summary”
Does your CV say “CV” at the top? Or “Professional Summary” instead of using a headline? That is a waste of space and somewhat redundant. The recruiter knows it’s your CV because you were asked to submit it. And below there is a summary, so there is no need to say “by the way, below is my summary.” Instead, remember how you read the newspaper. Would you read an article with no headline? Or one that just said “Article”? You have very little time to capture the recruiter’s attention and a headline is the first thing they will see to show them you have what they are looking for.
► There is no one-size-fits-all formula
There are no rules in writing or one-size-fits-all formulas to write a headline (or a CV for that matter). Just use common sense and don’t be afraid to brainstorm a few possibilities before deciding on the headline that best communicates the value you bring to your next role.