Because I’m nosy, I really enjoy reviewing some CVs. Many fascinate, engage and are really easy to read. However, every couple of days or so I see one from a £100,000 earner and think “you might be good at what you do but I’ve no idea why”. They’re not selling themselves. And, of course, many pertain to sales directors. What’s more, many younger managers (on much lower salaries) have more engaging CVs both in terms of content and presentation. Yet, versus directors, these individuals have to fight tooth and nail to have the real corporate influence that makes for great CV content. But they make the very best of what they’ve got and are clear about what makes them worth the salary they expect, which is all we can ask for.

So, speaking of résumés, what can high performing senior managers learn from the best of their peers? And from the best of younger (and cheaper) managers coming through the ranks?

1. Be brief

Brevity is key. This is not to stay under an arbitrary number count but not to waste anyone’s time. Plus, a sharp writing style will give your message extra impact. Quantifying things where appropriate can help. Also, numbers limit the need for mealy mouthed explanations around scale and capability. For example, “Directly led multi-national programme teams of >500 on two separate occasions over time periods of circa 18 months.”

2. Ensure you distinguish between responsibilities and achievements

Granted, most roles have achievement-orientated KPIs or broad objectives. However, elements of these KPIs are clearly day-to-day responsibilities for a senior manager. Try and tease out which elements are actual achievements or even better, examples of over-performance and make it clear which role you’re referring to. 

Moreover, it may well be that in some roles you were able to go beyond expected KPI achievement and add deeper value. Now we’re getting from the merely good territory to the eminently shortlistable. For instance, “Secured conversations at group C-suite-level on technological partnerships, resulting in an agreement in principal to explore bespoke product development projects. This went well beyond what was expected 18 months earlier”. Also, note here I’ve added context on why this was a ‘good thing’ which brings us to the next point.

3. Remember it will be screened by a generalist or someone junior

It might not be clear to the generalist reader why you’re making certain points. And of course that generalist might be a cross-business VP of talent whose agenda involves supporting the strongest talent on a brutally exclusive basis, so the content does indeed need to be very good and very comprehensible.

A good case in point might be the descent in oil prices since 2014. Many of us are aware of it but in the era of information overload it can teeter on the periphery of ‘things we know’. So if your last two sales roles involved maintaining a revenue stream from energy exposed clients, then you may, on first read, look like a director who simply manages the day-to-day pretty solidly. Without the further context, no-one can appreciate that that maintenance was a heroic battle that secured you a personal thank-you from the CEO. Indeed, on a separate note, it doesn’t have to be formal recognition to be included on your CV.

4. Ambitious or simply keen to get on? Make that clear through your personal statement

Some CV tips blogs advise to cull the personal statement. This is because it’s often done without a clear purpose in mind. If you’re a strong performer and want to progress you should want to do this.

Why? It is an opportunity to say what you’re about as a person, how that links to where you want to get to and what makes you (possibly) rare at that point in time. It gives your story a sense of direction and a subtle “bring me on-board or miss out” message to an employer.

For example, “I’m an analytical people manager who thrives in fast paced organisations. Currently, I am deepening my expertise as a technology manager and, in time, I’ll prepare to move into multinational business-unit leadership. Versus my peers, I stand-out as people coach. Benefitting from an international upbringing and multi-country management successes, I bring a mind-set that bridges global/local.”

5. Have the confidence to disregard advice

No doubt diligent career networkers will check online for CV tips or think back to advice given when younger. But, here’s the spoiler, times change and no one knows you and what you want to do better than you. For instance, many fixate with the old adage that anymore that two pages is too much. Well, what if you’re a scientist? Or had a technology-rich early career as an engineer? It doesn’t matter how long your CV is as long as the top page gets that snappy essential detail across. Another idea is to have a lengthier version of your CV available and offer it when sharing the shorter version. This is a great move for, say, technical leaders whose early career activities still have relevance today.

That said, it’s always a good idea to cull wordy detail but do keep the list of roles. Good headhunters do look for and refer to a leader’s early career choices if they set them apart from the others. Recent instances I’ve referred to include sales directors who’ve had early progressive tenures in finance or managing directors with MBAs who’ve managed large blue collar workforces.

6. Get someone else to read it

It’s a fine line between decent corporate personal branding and plain guff. Get an outsider to have a read of it and give you some blunt feedback on content and clarity. Possibly a wife who will screw her face up at “leveraging a strategy” or a teen son or daughter who will gleefully tell you if you sound like a wally. Down to earth feedback is invaluable for alerting to impenetrable acronyms, typos or simple grammar mistakes - clearly, a no no if you claim to be dog food’s greatest marcoms director.