A lucky few executives may get the job with a nod and a wink, but the vast majority need to justify their application with a track record of stunning success.
The ideal executive CV may be more about the strategy and top-line results, but achieving through others is no mean feat, so there needs to be a sense of how the executive helped their people navigate the tough times. If the CV reads like a boring list of accomplishments, you may miss out on an interview in favour of someone who shows more personality.
Resume.io provides advice to help you make the right choices for your CV. Our role-specific CV examples are perused by millions of job seekers. This executive writing guide, along with the CV sample, will look at the following topics:
- What does an executive do?
- How to write an executive CV (tips and tricks)
- The best format for an executive to choose
- Making the most of each CV section (summary, work history, education, skills)
- Considering how design and layout affects your chances
What does an executive do?
While titles may vary (CFO and a Financial Director may have the same duties, for example), all executives sit on the board of directors and manage the strategic and operational direction of their company. They are the most experienced in their respective functions.
Depending on the structure of a company, there are many types of executive:
Executive director. Executive directors are in charge of the overall strategy and operational direction of the company. They oversee the management board, manage company administration and commonly manage budgeting alongside finance directors.
Chief executive officer – CEO. A CEO is typically the highest-ranking executive and is the public face of the company brand. They are responsible to shareholders and are tasked with maximising profitability. Their seniority will vary according to the size of the company.
Chief operating officer – COO. Chief operating officers are often a CEO’s second-in-command, taking control of administrative matters. Their duties will vary depending on the make-up of the board. They are typically rich in industry-specific experience.
Chief financial officer – CFO. This is the pinnacle of any finance professional’s career. You carry an immense responsibility when you are in charge of the purse strings. CFOs are often intimately involved in assessing the financial implications of strategic initiatives.
Chief marketing officer – CMO. Chief marketing officers are one of many other functional leaders within a board room. Their remit is marketing, where others may be in charge of HR or technology, for example. CMOs and their team drive product visibility and sales.
Executive job market and outlook
C-suite positions have increased by 36% over the past 16 years and, with the surge in start-ups in London and across the UK, this trend will continue. Diversity is increasingly prized at board level and non-executive roles are common for those approaching the end of their careers. Many executives venture into the entrepreneurial space for themselves, with some then returning with the extra experience into the corporate world.
Boards are expanding in size to reflect the complexity of the modern organisation and the way that technology is changing markets. Even roles such as chief happiness officer and chief content officer are popular.
The Parker Review has been tasked with assessing diversity across executive boards.
68% of FTSE 250 companies have at least one minority ethnic director on the board and 15% of all respondents self-identify as being minority ethnic. In terms of non-executive roles, women now represent 53% of positions, a vast improvement on just a decade ago.
How to write an executive CV
Writing an executive CV is not so different from any other. While the magnitude of achievement is the deciding factor, much of the structure is the same. You will have read countless CVs yourself, so we are sure that you have a fixed idea about what your CV should look like. Nonetheless, a brief reminder of the typical structure won’t hurt:
- CV header
- CV summary (profile statement)
- Employment history section
- CV skills section
- Education section
The task with an executive CV is to match the content to the challenge of the role that you are applying for. Each employer will have a very specific situation, so it has to be bespoke. While you cannot — and should not — make up your experience, there is a great deal of creative licence to match up the previous exploits of your teams with the realities of your future employer. How can you prove that you have what it takes? It’s time for a compelling story.
The ATS software will review and sort even executive CVs.
It may come as a surprise, but the applicant tracking system software has power even over executive CVs. While you will likely come recommended by a headhunter, the ATS may still “score” your application for suitability. No one wants to have a low score, even if it is done by a substandard piece of software. Try to write your CV with a suitable number of keywords that align with the job description.
Choosing the best CV format for an executive
There is no doubt that an executive CV will be a little longer than a mid-career professional, but the same format considerations apply.
You will be expected to list your roles in reverse chronological order in the work experience section, with a description of your role and bullet points for your accomplishments. Your most recent positions will be of most interest to a hiring manager. If you have had a long career, you can slim down the roles that are older and maybe even just include the position title and time that you were in the role. Focus on the most relevant and recent experience.
Our guide on the best CV format contains multiple tips that may be of interest. There is no definitive way to lay out a CV, so there is plenty of scope for individuality. The most important consideration is to keep it professional. Steer clear of tacky graphics or bold colours. Let your career do the talking.
The header for an executive CV should not detract from the content of the CV — it is a functional and essential element that contains the name and title of the candidate (and sometimes the home address and contact details).
Do not clutter up the header section with details of your full home address — this can be shared at the offer stage. You also may wish to opt for a clean first page and only include your name. Including a job title may be a little prescriptive as you will likely be suited to many different roles, so think carefully about this one if you are an experienced executive.
CV summary example
The CV summary showcases your biggest achievements as an executive. Take care to focus on the sorts of issues that you will be expected to tackle in a future role. It is normal for an executive CV summary to be tailored for every position – just as you might tailor a cover letter. If the employer does not read something that solves their issues in those first few lines, your candidature will not be progressed.
Think of the CV summary as a condensed elevator pitch. If you were in a small room with the entire board of your future employer, what would you say in one minute to convince them to hire you. It needs to be that convincing. Every word matters.
Include some high-profile achievements with context and financial impacts. Nothing talks like money, so make sure that you are sharing numbers that are impressive for your future employer. Growth in profitability and market share will get you into that interview room.
Action verbs bring a deeper meaning to any executive accomplishment
When space is at a premium on the executive CV, leave the descriptive elements of your story to verbs rather than adjectives. If you are selective with your language, you can share a nuanced picture of your activity. There is no place for meaningless adjectives on an executive CV, but action verbs such as “shaped, generated, mediated or amplified” will take your accomplishments to the next level. Executives need to be proficient communicators.
Goal-oriented corporate executive with history of success in overseeing strategy development and execution for global companies. Expertly lead international teams of executives, senior managers, and individual contributors. Well-honed ability to build consensus with key stakeholders to focus on a common vision and achieve long-term goals.
Employment history sample
Your employment history is certainly the most important section of an executive CV. The board wants to hire someone with a consistent track record of success, so every previous role needs to scream success. Leaders can have a lucky break thanks to market forces and economic conditions, but to deliver over a long period at different companies is more difficult.
Use bullet points to good effect in this section as it is likely that you will want to tell a variety of stories. When reading a bullet point, you forgive the concise style in a way that your eye cannot in a continuous stream of prose. Select your action verbs carefully and include plenty of figures and growth percentages.
It may be that you have a mix of permanent and consultancy (interim) roles in your employment history but treat them the same way. What was your job and what did you deliver? Most executive CVs will be written in reverse chronological order with the most recent experience at the top of the CV. Try to include at least a couple of roles on the first page as this will give your future employers plenty of reason to turn the page.
The CV sample content offers an indication of what we mean.
Chief Executive Officer, Unilever, Gloucester
July 2016 - Present
- Head overall corporate strategy for a multinational firm in partnership with CFO, COO, and members of the board.
- Liaise with regional leadership to steer execution and ensure alignment with overall corporate vision, mission, and goals.
- Deliver presentations to board of directors and other key stakeholders regarding performance, high-profile initiatives, and future opportunities.
- Collaborated with legal, finance, and operations teams to negotiate complex business deals with strategic partners.
Senior Director, Severn Glocon Group PLC, Gloucester
March 2010 - July 2016
- Oversaw day-to-day operations and led team of five direct and 15 indirect reports, including managers, supervisors, and individual contributors.
- Communicated with finance team to forecast budgets and develop cost-control strategies.
- Participated in due diligence to evaluate M&A opportunities to expand market footprint.
CV skills example
Executives have such a dense skillset that there is little that they cannot do. The skills section of the CV is therefore less important for them than for more junior employees to single them out as candidates. Nevertheless, there are ways of using this ever-present section to their advantage. You need to take every opportunity to stand out.
One way in which an executive can utilise a skills section is to share some of their rarer technical skills that may come in handy in future projects. A CMO with programming skills will be invaluable on an AI project and a COO with big data skills will put them into practice when the time comes to oversee a complex project. What skills do you possess that your competition does not? Be creative here, but only include skills that you can back up.
- Business Strategy
- Revenue Growth
- Board Reporting
- P&L Management
- Change Management
- Global Team Leadership
- Mergers & Acquisitions
- International Expansion
Executive CV education example
All executives know the value of a quality education. Many will have taken MBAs at some point during their careers and some continue to add to their education as they move from industry to industry. Adopting an attitude of “always learning” is so important in many industries, so this section should not be neglected.
Even if you have an MBA (or similar further education qualification), don’t omit your university degree. You may not wish to include the year when you graduated (for age discrimination reasons), but including your university and degree is standard for even senior executives. Your employer will see it on your LinkedIn profile, anyway. You never know who might be an alumnus — give yourself a chance of making that connection.
Master of Business Administration, University of York, York
Bachelor of Science in Finance, Cranfield University, Milton Keynes
CV layout and design
The layout of your executive CV won’t be make or break in terms of your chances, but if you consider that the recruitment process will be a long one and that countless future colleagues will read your CV before you are hired, it is worth making sure that it looks the part.
Don’t get too creative with the graphic design, keep the colours minimal and make sure that there is plenty of white space amidst the fantastic career stories. The choice of template that you use can make a difference. Check out our field-tested CV templates here.
Key takeaways for an executive CV
- No matter how experienced an executive is, a stellar CV is the gateway to a new role.
- Ensure you offer a broad appeal to the range of senior leaders who will be reading the CV.
- Make the CV about what you have achieved through your people — few executives can take the credit themselves.
- Tailor the CV to each role — you need to put that amount of effort in if you want to stand out from your competition.