There is no such thing as a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ CV. However, there are some simple rules of thumb you can follow to make sure you get the point across and make the right impression with each application you make.
- Understand how your CV will most likely be used. Over the years, we have seen many people develop very long and full CVs in which all of the career information that is most valued by the candidate is stored. These are very complete documents, but they often say more than is necessary for recruitment, especially at the time of the recruitment process when your CV is going to be used. Submitting a CV that doesn’t do its job properly risks priority information being lost in a miasma of irrelevance. Instead, understanding how your CV is used and therefore what is helpful to demonstrate, can make the task of preparing it much easier and your application more effective:
- Your CV is typically used in a much more binary way in the earliest stages of selection, especially for a paper sift, where a recruiter looks to measure on paper what they can see you can bring to a role against the published criteria.
- Your CV only ever needs to be a factual record of what you have done and achieved. A robust and transparent recruitment process has to measure what can be evidenced on paper; for that reason, only experiences or provable competencies count, and not skills, abilities or personal qualities. Take out of your CV any personal profiles or self-testimony. A recruiter cannot do anything with it, and you may choose to say something differently later on, at interview.
- The three questions your CV needs to answer are:
- Is this person bringing the knowledge or background we are looking for?
- Does the breadth / depth / nature of this person’s background give confidence that they are at a level from which they could transition onto this Board?
- What is the person’s career trajectory? For some Board roles, although by no means all, the seniority, weight or reach of executive roles may be relevant.
- Make any similar roles you have held immediately visible on page one. If you have any non-executive board, committee or advisory experience at all, talk about it first in your CV so you can show you already have some foundations in place on which to build for a substantive Board role. But, depending on the Board (see our advice on picking the right opportunity), it does not necessarily matter.
- Avoid trying to ‘stand out’. Candidates who stand out in the field are those whose applications are tightly relevant to the criteria, clear, focused, and balanced between professional and personal considerations. Keep to mainstream fonts and colours in your CV; we usually advise against photographs and lists of hobbies: if you really stick to the job you need your CV to do for you, there is really no need for embellishment.
- Review your CV for each application you make. Tailor your CV for every appointment you go for, dialling up experiences that you can see or intuit will be more useful and relevant, and playing down those that are not so valuable in the role or setting. Don’t forget to help the reader understand or interpret your experiences as you go – avoid jargon and remember to give a sense of scale, reach, impact and influence when talking about your achievements.
If there is one sentence most recruiters hear more than any other, it’s probably “I haven’t revised my CV for years, do you have any advice I should follow?” The truth is that there is no science to the perfect CV – in fact there is no perfect CV. Just keeping it up to date, relevant and accessible should mean you have a great starting point every time.