Recruiters Explain What Makes a Strong Executive CV
With so much information on what makes a good CV floating around on the internet, it can be difficult to figure out what actually works.
Much of what you find can also be contradictory, misleading or blatantly incorrect.
We asked recruiters to provide their views on common questions we receive regarding the content and formatting of executive CVs:
- What is the most important thing you look for in an executive CV?
- What format do you find to be the most effective and professional?
- How long should an executive CV be?
- What are your pet peeves when it comes to CVs?
Whether you are an experienced C-level executive or just starting your career, their perspectives should provide valuable insights into what will impress a recruiter and what can lead them to move onto the next applicant.
Garland is the Principal of Garland Source, an executive and management recruiting firm for the trucking, transportation and logistics sectors.
Hill is the CEO and Chairman of The Energists, an executive search and recruitment firm specialising in the oil and gas, power and utilities and renewable energy sectors.
Holtzhauer is a Headhunter & President of Holtz & Bernard, a recruitment firm for attorneys.
Lynch is a Recruitment Expert and Director at Teaching Abroad Direct, a UK-based job board for teachers looking for jobs abroad.
Rosenstein is the Founder of The Rosenstein Group, a recruitment firm for e-commerce, martech and supply chain industries.
Schochet is the President and Founder of Purple Squirrel Advisors, a retained search firm specialising in C-level and senior executive leadership roles.
What is the most important thing you look for in an executive CV?
At the executive level, there is no room for vague writing or broad high-level statements.
Our recruiters agreed that executive CVs should focus on the tangible impact candidates made on each organisation they were a part of.
Simply put, companies want to see evidence that you will add value to their bottom lines.
Hill: “By the time a candidate reaches the executive level, they should be able to showcase their strengths and back them up with tangible accomplishments that demonstrate they’ve made an impact in their previous roles.”
Lynch: “Their [content] should be data-focussed, providing clear-cut action and outcome descriptions. We want to understand what impact this individual is going to have on the bottom line.”
Rosenstein: “I want to see hard results and achievements…. Not just in words, but more importantly, in numbers. Someone who is gunning for a top-management position must show their capacity to provide high-level solutions to the macro problems that any company has to deal with.”
Garland: “Your [CV should demonstrate] that you are an impact player, able to drive change and make improvements [and] solve pain. Make that clear and visible.”
Schochet: “It is important that an executive-level [CV] includes a [summary that] highlights tangible financial and business accomplishments.”
What format do you find to be the most effective and professional?
At the executive level, content always trumps format, so there is no need to attempt standing out using fancy fonts or designs.
While recruiters expect an elevated level of attention to detail and clean, professional formatting, a conventional black and white design works well for most professionals.
Rosenstein: “A clean, minimalist style is preferred. It is best to stick to no more than 2 fonts – one for the headers and the other for the body. A modest black and white design… is a safe bet even when applying for positions in the creative industries.”
Holtzhauer: “The safe bet is to use the tried and true traditional black and white design. Ultimately, it comes down to the content. Modern stands out more, but in terms of professionalism, it depends on the industry.”
Hill: “I am always drawn to substance over style.”
Garland: “Looking for a job is tough. Don’t let formatting issues add an unknown hurdle. Pictures, big initials and funky address formats might make your [CV] import poorly into a company’s internal applicant system.”
Lynch: “For most executive roles, a simple format is best, and it’s quick and easy to read for all decision makers. For creatives roles and companies, it’s somewhat expected to receive a creative [CV] with colours and symbols.”
How long should an executive CV be?
The consensus is that an executive CV should be two pages long (and a maximum of three).
Schochet: “Generally, we expect an executive [CV] to be 2 pages and not to exceed 3 pages.”
Holtzhauer: “No more than two pages and down to one if you can. Mark Twain said it best when he said, ‘If I had more time, I would write a shorter letter.’ Be clear and concise.”
Rosenstein: “A good rule of thumb is to try and keep the [CV] to a maximum of two pages long. Including only the accomplishments, experience and qualifications that are most relevant to the position you are applying for will... [allow] you to stick to the two-page limit.”
Hill: “I prefer 2 pages but would say 3 pages at most.”
Garland: “Trying to get executive experience onto one page usually isn’t realistic. Ideally 2-3 pages.”
What are your pet peeves when it comes to CVs?
Recruiters expect high-quality documents from senior-level candidates.
The information you present should relate back to your target role, leveraging specific examples of accomplishments to demonstrate why you would make a strong fit.
Needless to say, your CV's content also needs to be free from any factual, spelling or grammatical errors.
Hill: “I find any of the standard [CV] faux paux especially troublesome in executive [CVs]. Anyone applying for C-level positions should have enough experience to avoid simple mistakes like typos and hyperbolic language.”
Schochet: “We instantly pass over candidates if there is a lack of attention to detail, inconsistent fonts or [the CV] looks like it has not been overhauled in many years.”
Rosenstein: “One faux paux I still see with executive-level job applicants is including an objective statement... instead of crafting a well-thought-out executive summary that highlights your core areas of expertise, accomplishments and how you can help the company in your role.”
Hill, continued: “One specific ‘instant no’ for me is in the inclusion of irrelevant personal information like hobbies, interests or volunteer organisations. Candidates at the executive level should have more than enough professional experience to fill [a CV].”
Lynch: “My pet peeves include spelling and grammatical errors, inclusion of details about irrelevant personal and professional experiences, lies about qualifications and fulfilment of professional responsibilities and lack of expansion on key actions, projects or campaigns.”
At CV Pilots, our mission is to deliver CVs that drive results, and we very much in agreement the responses quoted above.
Your CV often serves as your first impression, and when your future career is at stake, we recommend playing it safe and sticking to a proven strategy.
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