An executive professional needs a worthy CV.
As an executive, probably the biggest challenge you'll face when writing your CV is condensing the experience, skills, successes and knowledge gained throughout a long and successful career into a short, polished and influential document.
The basic layout and content you used when you left school are no longer up to the job. If you haven't revisited your CV for a while, you'll need to start from scratch to ensure you're capturing the essence of your career within the constraints of ATS requirements, and so that you are in line with the latest standards and best practices.
Fear not! We've written a comprehensive guide that will show you how to write an executive CV that avoids common pitfalls, impresses recruiters and progresses your career – with an executive CV example showing you how to implement the advice.
What makes an executive CV different?
One main difference between executive CV writing and entry-level CV writing is showing that you understand not only your role but also the bigger picture across a whole business. The focus should be on leadership, strategy and change.
You'll also need to show off your higher-level executive skills. A school-leaver CV will necessarily focus on generic, soft skills. Your executive CV will need to show progression since then – a solid combination of soft and hard skills with evidence of how you have used them at an advanced level.
The CV will also prove that you're someone who can deliver results, rather than just execute tasks. It's a common CV mistake to simply describe your day-to-day responsibilities without showing the impact you've had on a business.
Identify what makes you stand out
Consider your unique selling point, or USP. This is usually a term used by marketing teams to differentiate their products from similar ones on the market, but it is equally applicable to job hunting.
What will help you to stand out in a crowded job market? Identifying your USP will enable you to build your personal brand and market yourself to recruiters. If you have a clear understanding of the value that you can add, recruiters will see it too.
To identify your USP, take some time to assess your biggest wins over the last 10 years. Is there a common theme running through them? What have you been particularly good at? Where do others seek your input and expertise? What problems or challenges have you been able to resolve?
The trick is to find a USP that is specific enough to position you as a uniquely desirable candidate without being so niche that you narrow down your options too far.
What if you don't have executive experience yet?
If you're planning to step into your first executive role, it shouldn't be a problem – all executives have needed to take that step at some point. Evaluate your current and previous roles to identify the skills and results that will translate well into executive positions. Then, build your CV around them. For example, if you don't currently influence large-scale change on a daily basis, emphasise change management skills gained during a one-off project.
And remember, a CV is as much about what you don't say as what you do. If 80 per cent of your work didn't involve executive responsibilities and skills, focus instead on the 20 per cent that did. This is your personal sales document, so concentrate on the details that will sell you. The car salesman will tell you about a car's low running costs, but not its dodgy brakes – apply the same principle to your CV!
Spot the signs of a weak executive CV
If you're not getting invited to interviews, it's likely that your executive CV needs some work. Check that you have:
Communicated your unique value
Shown that you deliver results rather than merely execute tasks
Quantified positive outcomes
Demonstrated higher-level executive skills
Focussed on the last 10 years
Eliminated any potential for discrimination
Ensured the CV is an appropriate length
Created an ATS-friendly document
Removed entry-level skills and cliché phrases
Complied with the latest best practices
Executive CV example
Take a look at our executive CV example below to get a better understanding of what employers are looking for, and read on to learn what you can do to make your C-level executive CV a more powerful job-search tool.
You can also find out what happened when one executive job seeker worked with a TopCV professional CV writer. Read more on how we prepped Allen's executive CV for a high-level search job.
Reasons why this is a good executive CV
There are a number of strong qualities to this executive CV. These are a few of the reasons it's good enough to land someone a job as a C-level executive.
1. There is no CV photo
You may have seen CV templates splashed across the internet that include a photo at the top of page one, but this is definitely something to avoid for several reasons.
Firstly, a photo doesn't convey to a recruiter anything about your ability to do the job. The top half of your CV is prime real-estate – your chance to make a positive first impression and convince the recruiter that the rest of your CV is worth reading. Are you more likely to do that with a photo, or with high-impact statements about your flourishing career?
Secondly, we have anti-discrimination laws in the UK. One outcome of them is that a recruiter should technically disregard a photo, as it can give away discriminatory details such as your age, skin colour and gender as well as, potentially, your religious beliefs or disabilities. Discrimination is illegal, but unconscious bias still exists, and it would be a shame to find yourself in the 'reject' pile because of it.
Thirdly, photos are not ATS-friendly. Many companies now parse CVs through an application that categorises the information on your CV. At best, the photo will be ignored, but at worst it could render parts of your CV an incomprehensible mess.
2. A LinkedIn profile is included
Recruiters and hiring managers will almost certainly check out your online profiles as part of their due diligence. Including a link to your LinkedIn profile alongside the contact details on your CV not only helps them to do this, but it also allows you to direct them to exactly what you want them to see. A carefully curated profile ‒ one that shows you interacting professionally with others in your industry and providing information beyond the story on your CV ‒ can only reflect positively on you.
Similarly, if you're in a career where you've built a portfolio – such as writing or graphic design – help the recruiter see what you're capable of by adding a portfolio link to your contact details. If they're interested, they can click through and get a greater insight into your work.
3. Personal details are omitted
Times have changed from a few decades ago, and personal details are no longer required on your CV. This is partly due to the anti-discrimination laws already mentioned, and partly because they don't offer any valuable information about your ability to do a job.
A date of birth on a CV is a dead giveaway that your CV is out of date. You may think it proves that you have many years of experience behind you, but a recruiter may see someone who they assume is not up to speed with new technologies, or who could be retiring soon and thus is not worth investing in.
Similarly, your nationality, marital status and gender have no more place on your CV than your shoe size. They are simply irrelevant. The CV exists for one reason alone – to convince recruiters to interview you. It's doubtful that many people have received interview offers on the basis that their CV proudly states that they're married with two kids.
With many CVs being uploaded online these days, data security is also a key consideration. Does your CV contain information that could present a security risk? There's no need to include your full address ‒ the town and first half of your postcode are sufficient. Professional registration or personal identification numbers are also unnecessary.
Such details add no value. Focus on what matters and save the space for information that sells you.
4. The personal statement provides a powerful overview
Possibly the most important part of your CV, the profile is the first thing a recruiter will read about you. It's your introduction ‒ your elevator pitch. So make it count.
simply summarise your career: I started as an apprentice and moved into a team leader role. This is boring and duplicates information a reader can find elsewhere on the CV.
focus on what you want from your next role: Looking for a senior executive position in the charity sector in a role I really care about. The emphasis should be on how you can meet the company's needs, not how they can meet yours.
write bland, generic statements: I'm a good team player and also work well independently. This is vague and cliché.
state exactly what you do: Senior Sales Executive specialising in the FMCG sector
explain your areas of expertise: Particular expertise in growing wholesale accounts
emphasise your unique selling point: Reputation for turning around underperforming businesses
focus on your achievements and the value you offer: Proven skill in reducing overhead costs
explain your leadership style or experience: Confident directing cross-functional global teams and influencing at C-level
5. Key contributions are highlighted
For every role, in addition to a short paragraph describing your key responsibilities, it's vital that you include a sub-section for your achievements. Use this section to outline your successes and contributions and show how you've excelled and added value to each business you've worked for.
This is not the place to explain your job description ‒ quite the opposite. This is the place to explain how you went above and beyond it. This section shows a recruiter how you will contribute to the business, how you will make a difference and the benefit they will get from employing you. It also shows that you understand how your role (and your actions) fit into the wider business.
If you're having difficulty identifying your achievements, consider whether any of the following areas are applicable:
Awards: It sounds great if someone else has validated your performance.
Targets and KPIs: Did you meet or exceed them?
Overcoming Challenges: Businesses need people that solve problems, not create them.
Quality Standards: Did you deliver improvements in relation to products, team output or processes?
Feedback: What do colleagues, managers, customers and suppliers say about you?
Profits: This is the big one ‒ if you can directly increase profits, shout about it loudly.
Productivity: Improvements here directly impact the bottom line.
Cost Reduction: Any contribution to financial savings will always be viewed positively.
- Customer Impact: Can you help businesses find and retain customers?
6. Information is quantified where possible
It's one thing to say that you can do something, but quite another to prove it. The easiest way to convey your success is to quantify it. Adding figures enables the reader to see immediately the scope of your previous work and the impact your achievements have made.
When you outline your responsibilities for each role, quantify the main elements. For example, if a job requires you to lead a team of 300 people in five countries, you're unlikely to have the required skills if you've only ever led three staff in your local office. Help the reader to understand how you meet their requirements by being specific about team sizes, geographies, budgets, clients, etc. The list of things you could quantify is almost endless, so assess what is relevant to your target role and pick out key numbers.
It is equally important to quantify your achievements wherever possible. It's great if you can say you reduced costs, but even better if you can say you reduced them by £100,000. It's the numbers that demonstrate the concrete impact you had.
Finally, quantifying your claims has the added bonus of enabling you to boast about your achievements without sounding boastful – you're merely stating provable facts.
7. A career note is utilised
If you've reached a senior position, it's probably fair to say that you have several years of career history behind you. Really, the focus only needs to be on the last 10 to 15 years. Your Saturday job at the local newsagent really isn't important when you're CEO of a multinational business!
It is expected that you will go into detail for the last 10 to 15 years of your career, but that's not to say you should completely remove the rest. Consider using an Early Career Summary section, also called a career note. In this CV section, you should only give your job title, employer name and dates of employment, without stating any responsibilities or achievements. A short narrative statement (no more than two or three sentences) is also acceptable. Recruiters will be able to see your career progression without getting bogged down in repetitive or irrelevant detail.
Additionally, it will prevent your CV from becoming unfeasibly lengthy.
8. Older dates are removed
If you're an older job hunter, you may want to consider removing some of the dates on your CV. Certainly, dates of employment over the last 10 to 15 years will be expected, but if you worry that dates in the Early Career Summary will age you – simply remove them. Similarly, with your education, there's no need to state what year you completed any of your qualifications. It's better to keep the CV current, as recent experience is likely to be what sells you best.
9. Referees are not included
Referee details aren't needed until further along in the recruitment process, so there's no point in wasting valuable CV space on them. Bear in mind too that your referees won't appreciate you sharing their personal details excessively, particularly if you plan to upload your CV online. Additionally, the ATS may confuse their contact details with your own – resulting in some very awkward conversations!
Even the line 'references available on request' is unnecessary. If a new company needs references, they'll ask for them whether or not you've said they're available.
10. The CV is limited to two pages
When considering the length of an executive CV, it's important to bear the reader in mind. To respect their time, ensure that every line you include needs to have relevance and value. When faced with a huge pile of CVs for one role, it's unlikely that they'll appreciate wading through a dense, 10-pager full of fluff.
Aim to keep your CV to two well-spaced pages. Three pages is also acceptable for a senior executive, but if you choose this route, make sure you can justify it. Can you rephrase, eliminate or condense anything to make the CV more concise and succinct?
Bonus executive CV tips
Beyond following the example above, there are more important tips that can help you craft a strong CV for your executive job search. Consider these:
Choose a professional format
You can find hundreds of CV templates online these days, but sadly, the majority of them aren't fit for purpose. You need a format that positions you as a professional, not as someone who's just discovered the formatting options on Microsoft Word.
Whilst a splash of colour is fine, you'll definitely need to steer clear of images, graphics, text boxes, tables and special characters. Not only can these look unprofessional, but there's also a risk that they won't be interpreted correctly by the ATS. Why put blood, sweat and tears into producing amazing content only to end up with a CV that looks unprofessional to a human and indecipherable to a computer?
Don't write in the first person
An entry-level CV will often have a liberal sprinkling of the words 'I', 'my' and 'me'. This approach isn't recommended for executive CV writing. Writing in the absent first person, which removes those pronouns completely, is the more common way to create a CV; for example: 'Led a team and prepared reports' rather than 'I led a team and I prepared reports.'
There are three benefits to writing this way. Firstly, it avoids the repetition of 'I' in every sentence, which can get tedious to read. Secondly, it is considered to be the more polished and professional way of writing a CV. Thirdly, it forces a more concise way of writing, enabling you to fit in more quality information.
Writing in the absent first person is a technique that takes some getting used to, but it's worth putting the effort in because it will take your executive CV to the next level.
Ditch the fluff
Phrases that sound like they could fit onto almost anybody's CV certainly should not be on yours. This is especially true when describing soft skills. Whilst soft skills are necessary for any job, they bring up some words that are overused on CVs to the point of meaninglessness. Skills such as 'communication' and 'teamwork' are really only for the most entry-level positions.
At an executive level, it goes without saying that you have these skills – you wouldn't be where you are without them. Your task now is to convey that you have these skills at a higher level and then back up your claims with concrete examples.
Consider how you can level up the basic skills on your CV to frame yourself as an executive. From a starting point of basic 'teamwork', you can substitute 'leadership' – but can you be even more specific?
Clarify the type of team you lead. How big is it? Is it a multi-site or remote team? Who makes up your team? What is your leadership style?
By answering these questions, you'll evolve from the rather bland 'teamwork' to the much more impressive 'Leading and developing cross-functional teams of up to 150 staff across three sites and empowering managers to make decisions'.
Add a Core Competencies or Areas of Expertise section
An at-a-glance Core Competencies section not only helps a recruiter quickly identify where your expertise lies, but it's also a great opportunity to include some industry-specific keywords. The focus here should be on specific hard skills such as digital transformation and financial management, rather than soft skills like organisation and time management.
Present this section as an easily digestible, bulleted list, not in sentence or paragraph form. Aim to include between nine and 12 skills ‒ more will make the list unwieldy, and less will risk underselling yourself.
Ideally, you'll adapt this section every time you apply for a job to ensure your CV captures all the main requirements of the role as described in each job advert.
Use varied vocabulary
When you're describing your role, it can be easy to fall into the trap of repeating words. Rather than 'managing' everything, diversify your wording to 'spearheading', 'leading', 'directing' and 'overseeing'. Rather than repeating 'developing', say 'creating' or 'building'.
Expanding your vocabulary makes the CV more interesting to read, conveys a greater sense of responsibility and shows that you are able to communicate articulately in writing without explicitly saying so.
Be selective with your qualifications
O-levels and CSEs should never be mentioned on an executive CV. They're a red flag for age discrimination, not to mention irrelevant if you're now searching for an executive position. A degree or MBA is always worth including, along with the awarding institution, but lower-level academic qualifications are of little importance at this stage in your career.
Instead, consider adding any training and development you've done that could be relevant in an executive position. Leadership programmes, membership of industry bodies, role-specific accreditations and so on are definitely worth highlighting.
Don't include hobbies
School leavers are often advised to include their hobbies and interests on a CV to give a bigger picture of who they are before they gain any work experience. By the time you're a senior executive, your professional experience speaks louder than your Saturday league involvement. At this stage of your career, it's unwise to include extra-curricular interests on your CV at all. They rarely add any valuable information and steal space from more important details.
There are two exceptions to this rule. If you do voluntary work, it's worth a brief mention to show your social responsibility, community involvement and further professional skills. The other exception is if you're looking to change career paths and your life outside of work is more relevant to your target career than your current experience. For example, if you lead a local scout group, you may choose to include this if you want to transition to a career that involves working with teenagers.
Throw in some added value
Whilst not vital enough to merit a first-page mention on your CV, a final section at the end of your CV for Further Details could just set you apart from other applicants. Consider adding a couple of lines to show how you exceed the requirements of the role. For example, fluency in other languages is always a positive in a global market; or, maybe you have security clearance, immediate availability or above-average technical skills.
This section should only be added if you have room, rather than included at the expense of more important information, but it can add another string to your bow.
Get a second opinion on your CV
Even executives make mistakes, and even executives can get so bogged down in detail that they can't see the wood for the trees. Ask your friends, family or trusted colleagues for a second opinion – or, even better, ask the experts.
TopCV offers a free CV review service that will give you confidential, objective feedback on your executive CV with recommendations on how it could be improved. Often, a few small changes can make a big impact on how your CV is received by employers, but you must know what changes to make. Submit your CV for review here.
The search for an executive role is competitive. To make sure your CV stands out, learn more about working with a professional CV writer.