The CV still matters for executives looking mostly in the hidden job market— even if it is not your #1 job search tool (self-awareness, networking and knowing your audience should be your priorities before you write your CV.) If you think about organizing your experience and accomplishments on your CV as you would merchandise in a shop, you’ll understand how to maximize its potential to tell your career story when it’s time to hand it to a contact from your network.
► A CV has its place in your executive job search
Though I write resumes/CVs for a living, I am the first to say it is not the most important element of your executive job search. It becomes a useful tool to communicate your career story and your professional value only when you have previously (or simultaneously) done the following:
- Identified all of your career milestones and key accomplishments with a self-awareness exercise like CAR (challenge – action – result). Here is an example below:
- Continuously developed and nurtured your network throughout your life and career. (Remember, your network is not just your professional connections; it exists in all realms of your life. If you haven’t been on it, don’t worry, it’s not too late!)
- Explored your target audience’s “pain points” and problems.
Your CV therefore has its place in your job search strategy at about number 4. Especially as you move up in the corporate ladder, the majority of the most relevant positions won’t be advertised, so you can’t rely on simply studying keywords in a job ad and lining up your CV accordingly.
► Turn your CV into a Value Proposition for Talent Shoppers
In order to maximize the benefit of your executive CV, be sure you first work (or are continuously working) on steps 1-3 indicated above. Then, when you are ready to sit down and write, I recommend you think about the document as a shop.
If you put yourself in the talent hunter’s shoes (whether a headhunter, executive recruiter or a network contact), and think of him or her as your target customer, a talent shopper, then you’ll understand why this idea is helpful. Below I’ll draw parallels between the layout of the CV and that of a store. In this scenario, you the candidate are the retailer.
Think like your target customer: If you are a headhunter, you know exactly what your client wants. In other words, you have a “shopping list” from which you are unlikely to stray too much. As you walk down the street, you will stroll into the shop that has the following (the excerpts below are fictionalized and from different clients):
- A sign outside the door that projects the brand and value of that store’s products to you. (This is your CV headline)
If the store has an engaging name easily read from the street that speaks to what you are looking for, it will draw your attention. Have you ever seen a shop without a sign outside the door?
- A window display (This is your professional summary)
If the shop doesn’t have an attractive window display with a sample of its best items, several of which happen to be on your shopping list (usually high ticket), then you are unlikely to wander in.
☛Headline & Summary: This is your sign and window display.
Once you are inside, you want to easily find the products you saw in the window display to ensure you end up making a purchase. This is more likely to happen with good merchandising. (According to Wikipedia: “At a retail in-store level, merchandising refers to the variety of products available for sale and the display of those products in such a way that it stimulates interest and entices customers to make a purchase.”)
- In-store floor display: (The Professional Experience section, or Career Highlights as in the example below, followed by Education)
The first thing a shopper sees when he or she walks into a store tends to be the big ticket items, the current season’s products. The “musts” on the talent shopper’s list should be here and/or in the window display. Your experience section should therefore also be the first section right after your summary, especially for a senior executive. Education comes right after. (There might be reasons to place education at the top, if you are simultaneously studying a master’s degree that is more directly relevant to your audience.)
☛Professional Experience: Your in-store floor display
Because after 20+ years of experience you have loads of inventory you could place here, you will have to be selective about it; you won’t have space for all of your impact or contributions. Which are most relevant to your audience? Avoid cluttering the floor display and place your target audience’s “must haves” here with clean formatting and efficient sentences that are directly to the point. You can use bold, charts and graphs if you want.
- The back of the store: (The Additional Experience or Other Information Section)
Normally sale items go in the back of the store, so this is where you can put other less relevant contributions, the “nice-to-haves.” You’ll need to decide whether they belong on your CV at all. (Maybe the experience isn’t so relevant, but it explains a gap, for example in your trajectory.)
☛Other Experience or Additional Information: The back of the store for “sale” items
- Your stockroom or Inventory: (This is your separate CAR document or other self-awareness exercise)
Another place to leave your less relevant experiences and achievements is in your stock room for another moment, i.e., in your CAR exercise (or any similar introspective exercise), a separate document recording all of your challenges, actions and results (see example above) that is for your eyes only. Therefore, it can be as long as you want; use as much “storage space” as necessary to recall all the value you have contributed and continue to have the potential to contribute when the target audience needs that specific kind of skill or result. On this document, you have literally “taken stock” of all of your talents and “wow” factors.
► Always put yourself in the recruiter’s shoes
OK, I said it above already, but it is worth repeating. If you are like me, you loathe wasting an entire afternoon wandering through store after store, especially when you know EXACTLY what you are looking for. How frustrating is it to come-up empty handed after investing hours of time?
This is just how recruiters feel when they are reading CV after CV. They know what they are looking for (ok, not always, but that is a subject for another article) and they read on and select a CV for the same reason I would wander in a store and end up with a worthwhile purchase. If you set up your CV in a similar way to how a retailer carries out merchandising, you are more likely to engage your target audience and get a phone call. The best part of it is that the exercise of self-awareness —literally taking stock of your talents and putting all of your career milestones on the table within view—will also help you communicate your professional value verbally in a job interview or networking activities.
So if you are just starting your job search, or have not yet had fruitful outcomes from your current CV, take a step back and begin with introspection; take stock of all of your talents and then move forward from there to identify your audience’s needs. The process may take longer, but the results will undoubtedly be well worth your while.