Your CV is the ultimate card you play in your work life. Make it count. (iStock)
Turn your CV into the perfect commercial CV. We know it’s painful, but take the time.
Your CV is your elevator pitch. About you. It should work hard for you. Like a Marketing Department – warming up the market and breaking the ice.
It’s easier for us in this business if the CV arrives in our hands complete and perfect as an origami swan, but it’s undeniably a little charming when people fumble tooting their own horn.
Even some of the most successful leaders may be a little lost when it comes to their own CV.
Rest assured, it’s perfectly normal. But like any product, don’t let the packaging let you down.
Get your employment dates right and add the months if you can – it doesn’t need to be good enough for Pentagon clearance, just near enough. Make sure it matches your LinkedIn profile. Most recent role first. Add the dates of internal promotions – track your rise from Graduate to CEO. Whoever is assessing will be looking for internal progression.
Make sure you mention if something was a contract role – otherwise it looks like you weren’t kept on after seven months (four times in a row).
Redundancy is part of modern work life. Of course you can mention it and gardening leave. No explanation needed, but if you do want to justify – make it brief. e.g. “Redundancy due to merger.”
Reasons for leaving roles are not necessary to add – it’s assumed you moved onwards and upwards to a better company, product, role or package. If your career stability looks patchy, you may need to put some rationale in, like moving countries.
Personal reasons for gaps should be succinct. e.g. “Sabbatical for care of ageing parent” or “Parenting career break” or “Fulfilled travelling ambitions to Patagonia.” These are all valid and require no explanation.
If you moved within the same parent company – mention that. Stability is golden and the reader may not know that X and Y company are both part of Z Corp.
If you spent time in an unrelated field early on in your career – summarise. e.g. “2000-2003 Various Stage Production Roles.” This is common. We all have dreams and we all need to eat and life is not always linear. Keep it brief.
Justify Your Price Tag
If you are in the commercial arm of business, you represent a considerable outlay of funds. You may feel you bring value for money, but assume you are perceived as expensive. Very expensive. You are an ‘acquisition’ – the company interviewing you needs to do its due diligence. If they invest in you and take a gamble on you – will you strengthen the position of the company?
You need to demonstrate your value and make this plain as day to all those who’ll be looking at your CV – from busy HR professionals to board members and EAs sneaking a look at your CV. Your CV needs to represent a miniature business plan as to why you are worth it and why you are not a risk. Make the case.
If there are ‘snags’ in your CV – overcome possible objections. You want all the people in the process to be able to champion you with conviction.
The easiest way to do this is to use your numbers (and the numbers of the team/department/region you oversee) with absolute clarity and preferably not in an addendum to your CV.
We appreciate this may seem a little soulless, but your CV is your frontrunner and ambassador. Be human in person when your CV gets you that meeting.
Add the numbers simply under each role to give the reader the sense of size of business you’ve managed and value of your team’s deals:
2016 Annual objective £25mn, Q1-Q3 101% YTD
2015 Annual objective £15mn, £21mn achieved (industry key note speaker at XX event)
2014 Annual objective £10mn, £15.7mn achieved (3rd in commercial team of 37)
The eye of the reader will be drawn immediately to this and lure them to read the rest.
Where you can add the actual figures (e.g. $7mn) do – but honour the confidentiality of your current company, especially when interviewing within the same market. You can add % of targets you’ve achieved. Where you can’t give specifics, try and give as clear idea as possible – so the reader can distinguish if you managed thousands or millions in revenue.
You can add KPIs. If you had to make 250 calls and 10 client meetings a week while managing a team 10 years ago, that is impressive. It shows tremendous work ethic. And maybe why you wanted to leave.
Contextualise it if you can. What growth did your input represent for the company and what total of revenue? Did the company increase market share under your watch and with your contribution and by how much? Did the company beat competitors in a market downturn? It may not all be down to you, but it’s meaty for the reader. Again, be sensitive about confidentiality.
Don’t worry about falling short of targets and company goals in the past. There are always good reasons. Perhaps it was a poorly funded product launch or redistribution of regions or teams. Don’t give excuses, be honest. Everyone misses targets and it’s a hallmark of authenticity to include these.
Add awards and accolades. Title and date. No fluff around it. It’s not necessary. It’ll be skimmed over.
Some people add ‘key achievements’ under each role – this is a chance to put down a couple of things you’re particularly proud of. From a human standpoint we’re often proudest of moments of human connection – but in a commercial CV you need to put your greatest commercial achievements, because this is what will impact the humans in your next company and their job security.
What did you turn around? What exceeded expectation? What team did you resuscitate and get over the unthinkable finish line? Quantify your qualitative achievements.
If you create a great culture in the teams around you – it may be easier and more objective to put this in as an observation by someone else. e.g. “Recognition from the board for creating a culture conducive to success.”
An employers greatest risk? You’ll be a mis-hire. You will waste their time, money or energy and the whole painful recruitment process will have to start again. You’re using them as a notch on your professional belt as you rise to greater things. You’re incompetent or lazy. You’re a coasting leader or a toxic colleague. It may not be a new role for them – why did the last person leave?
De-risk yourself for them. Be a sure thing.
Not everyone reading your CV is an expert in your sector. Often the gatekeepers won’t be (even if you’re a kind of a big deal).
Titles can be meaningless.
These questions should be fairly easy to answer from a glance at your CV about all related previous commerical roles:
- Who did you work for? If this is an arm of a larger company – put it in, if you were commissioned by the private equity firm backing the venture – put it in.
- What does this company or department do? One sentence – free from jargon.
- What products did you deal with? What verticals and sectors?
- Was it B2B or B2C? Transactional or consultative?
- What AOV range? High value or high volume?
- Who bought the product or service? What types of company and what positions within them?
- Were you a player manager? Were you a strategist that was not tied to personal KPIs?
- Who did you manage directly and indirectly? What type of sales people were they?
- What regional or departmental responsibility did you have?
- What was your total revenue responsibility?
Write the business case to answer ‘Why you?’ using your professional experience.
The temptation to be grandiose is never far from some of us. What were you hired to do and what did that mean in reality? Try not to be vague. A few points will suffice for each role.
Dig out your old job description from your personal email account and use that.
We want what other people want.
If you were headhunted previously, or re-hired by a previous employer, or requested by the US team to turnaround their East-Coast outfit, let the reader know. It means you’re in demand by people who know you, even just by reputation. You’re an expert and you’re not a nightmare to work with.
The Sales Effect
If you’re going for a commercial role don’t shy away from your sales background. It may be snubbed by some, but actually you’re proving yourself a commercial thoroughbred from the furnace of your telesales beginnings. If you’ve been in the trenches, you could be a better leader for it.
Don’t assume that people will know the news about the companies you have worked for. Do add big picture information. e.g. “Appointed, by CEO, to head commercial arm after departmental merger with X Corp” or “Brought company to 150% growth to point of sale to X private equity firm.”
If you write an introduction to yourself we suggest 3 lines maximum, it’s easy to slip into cliché and put people off. Keep adjectives to a minimum and we recommend not making it a soft hook or too personal. If you add your sector experience or a couple of recognisable brand names it helps even the most sleep-deprived person to spot you quickly.
e.g. Driven Managing Director responsible for $100mn global revenue for third largest US provider of data information. Passionate leader of global team of 300, with seven direct reports, motivating excellence. Longstanding commercial career in the intelligence sector in X, Y and Z corp.
The Personal Section
We recommend not being funny or personal. No exclamation marks. Two lines is more than sufficient. e.g. Time with family, playing tennis and European city breaks.
Nothing florid. This is because the rest of the CV is a business plan (de-risking you) and suddenly another tone intrudes with anecdotes about a favourite author. It can be a little distracting. Like someone showing you a picture of their cat at the end of their brilliant interview. Enjoyable, but perplexing. If you have excelled in a different field (winning Henley Regatta) then add that.
On this note, keep the tone of your CV consistent. When people keep adding to the CV they wrote when they were 19 in the 1980s, it’s like ending dinner on a bad coffee.
You want the most attention on the most recent roles you’ve undertaken – or the most important one in relation to the prospective role. Later roles need to be succinct and in the same tone.
Unless you wrote your dissertation on something pertinent to the role or sector – don’t include the title. Add where you went to uni, college and school. Some choose not to add dates or grades, but people do like a chronological timeline of your working history and ageism shouldn’t be a concern. Grades are far less important than demonstrable subsequent sales success. Commercial acumen trumps academia.
If you write additional skills, add the CRM systems you’re used to and specific knowledge you have. Don’t add normal working packages – like Excel. It’s like saying you speak Englesh.
In some ways structure doesn’t matter. Clean formatting is key. Nothing fancy is necessary – make it easy to open as an attachment or read on a phone. Have a word version at the ready.
The bulk of the CV has to be your demonstrable success in previous roles. If you are a dynamic and energetic employee, keep in mind a long-winded and sagging CV is not going to reflect you.
There is no two-page rule, but sales pitches tend to be more successful if they are succinct and your CV is your ultimate sales pitch.
Leave the reader wanting more (i.e. to call you or meet you).
At least 3 other people should read your CV. They should look for clarity, simplicity, mistakes, presentation, etc. It can feel awkward to bare your CV to others, but it’s not your soul. It is important to sense check it. You just can’t see what you don’t see.
Teenagers, millennials, partners… People in your sector and out of your sector should look at it – and people who are not intimidated to feedback.
Sector-specific recruiters are brilliant at repackaging CVs to the appropriate markets. Exploit this expertise.
Ask a professional who knows your sector to advise you. They can also feedback about how your CV compares to the competition. It’s a great investment of time.
If you’ve been a hiring manager take note of the CVs that were a joy to read. Simple and clear.
Play the Game
The CV has to be tailored to an extent to the roles you’re after. It’s box-ticking, but it will get you over any requirement-based pedantry. Recruitment can be an odd game – but play it, because it’s your working life at stake.
Lost in Translation
Humility is not self-deprecation. It’s being able to say what you do well with confidence.
If you’re applying for roles internationally tone can get lost. If you’re British, its wise to remember people will not understand self-effacement in your CV (or emails or interviews).
It’s hard to say well (and apologies for any offence), but we notice that one gender can have a reluctance to identify and frame their greatest successes and strengths. They diminish their part in extraordinary achievements.
If you’re reluctant to sell yourself talk to a recruiter or headhunter – they’ll do it for you. They’ll also recognise brilliant and marketable aspects of your past experience that you may not realise are in demand.
This article may be riddled with mistakes and poor formatting – and far too long. Your CV cannot be.
What could be more important than representing yourself well and getting access to the best role you can possible get?
The Herringbone Team
 Hopefully this is not a dubious address like firstname.lastname@example.org if it is – make sure this is not what you use on your CV.