CV Lessons – How To Make Your CV Stand Out

By Heather Barnes and Kersty Bletso

The world is in a very peculiar and surreal place at the moment and there are profound impacts across all organisations. This global pandemic has shown how utterly critical a CIO/CTO is to a business’ ability to operate, grow and flourish. Now is, therefore, a fantastic time to reflect on future career goals and decide what you want to achieve. Ensuring that you have a compelling CV is an essential tool in your arsenal to help you land the opportunity of your dreams. The broad principles outlined below are also relevant for all senior leadership roles.

When we come out on the other side of this crisis, businesses will have seen and understood the quality of leadership they have and, as Warren Buffett says, “It’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who’s been swimming naked.”

Whether you are an interim leader or a permanent executive, your CV needs to demonstrate, at every point, that you are a commercially focused visionary who can add top-line value to an organisation. We have the privilege of looking at 100s of CVs every year and the difference between a good CV and a bad CV is crystal clear.

There are certain core skills and capabilities that are essential to every CIO/CTO role:

  • Strategic Vision – ability to create a strategy that is utterly transformative to how a business operates.
  • Track record of delivery/transformation/innovation – what have you actually done (think before and after)?
  • Outstanding stakeholder management and influencing skills – building relationships across the board and being a trusted advisor, not only on technology issues but contributing to wider business conversation.
  • Inspirational leadership – building and motivating teams that will you follow you anywhere, even on their darkest days.
  • Commercial acuity – adding top-line growth and revenue opportunities for the business (not just cost reduction).
  • Data, digital and innovation – using leading-edge technologies such as AI, ML, RPA, IoT etc to deliver meaningful insights for business growth.
  • Customer centricity – being the person who brings the organisation closer to the customer (b2b or b2c).

It is vital your CV not only demonstrates these qualities but also differentiates you from other world-class candidates, in what is a highly competitive landscape. Many CIOs are staying put for the time being but once the crisis fades…

Many technology leaders add to their CVs over the years and the documents they produce are an evolution of thought. A bit like a house with lots of extensions that look like add-ons. They are not strategically written documents with any real thought as to how the whole document positions you for a new role. You must review your career to date and look back at the key moments that have brought you to your current position:

  • What have you really contributed to each business? What will each company remember you for? What new experience did you gain in each role?
  • What programmes or projects did you deliver and what was the business benefit (numbers/metrics please)?
  • When have you created a new product or service line that has generated revenue for the organisation (more numbers please)?
  • When have you led ideation/innovation for the company that has not just been about technology?
  • What you have done to that demonstrates your external customer focus vs. modernisation of internal technology.You can’t include everything you ever did, so any CV can only ever be edited highlights. What you leave in or out will determine the whole flavour of the CV and ultimately the perception the reader will have of you. What image are you trying to convey? Strategic thinking and visionary leader? Trusted lieutenant? Dependable deliverer?

With all that in mind, here are some simple lessons and learnings that can take a good CV to great:

  • Very few people read a CV line by line. Be honest – do you? With that in mind, understand that no one is going to read yours line by line either. Therefore, ensuring that your skills and experiences draw the eye and leap off the page is important. Also, try and keep to no more than 3 pages.
  • You are likely to land your next role based on the past five to seven years of your career. Remember that and ensure that is where the rich and compelling detail lies.
  • Spelling and grammar are important. There is nothing more off-putting than the abuse of proper nouns, commas, colons and capital letters sprinkled like confetti on a CV. Spend some time and effort on the quality of your sentences. Much like table manners, “you don’t notice good ones, but you certainly notice the bad”. Quite honestly, poorly written CVs make the reader question your attention to detail and (depending on how bad) your intelligence. If this is not your forte ask a friend to check it.
  • Choice of language is important. You are a sophisticated, eloquent C-Level operator – does your CV reflect that or is it the equivalent of your 14-year old’s homework? Think about the language you are using. Don’t say, “Managed senior stakeholders to gain buy-in for new programmes”. Do say, “Partnering with the ExCo, gained consensus for £20m investment to deliver a new data-driven, digital platform that drove increased revenues of £XXm”. Demonstrate you belong at the top table through your choice of words.
  • Make it easy for the reader. Your CV should include your name, location and contact details. Don’t make it hard to find a phone number or where you live. It’s just not necessary.
  • Aesthetics matter. Avoid Times New Roman or Arial. Be consistent. Use one font. Don’t write long paragraphs (no one will read them). Use bullet points to highlight achievements. Don’t use bright colours (no purple or pink). It needs to be clear, sharp and pleasing to the eye. Plenty of white space.
  • Every single line of your CV must be tied to commercial outcomes and adding real business value. Spent £1.5bn on SAP? So what if there is absolutely no value gained? Use numbers and facts to highlight why you did what you did. A lot of a CIO/CTO’s focus on operational efficiencies and dealing with technical debt; be clear on the business benefits you delivered. These are just as important as using data and AI to generate new revenue streams.
  • Summaries/profiles are not the place to list your “exceptional communication skills and inspirational leadership”. As we like to say, “I will be the judge of that”. Keep it short and clear, like a mission statement and in a few lines, state who you are and what you have achieved. Avoid adjectives and superlatives and include objective facts that differentiate you from everyone else such as:

    • Use of cutting-edge technologies (AI, ML, IoT, RPA, etc.).
    • ExCo and Board experience.
    • International experience (list the regions).
    • M&A/due diligence and integration
    • Revenue generation
    • Any committees you chair/attend
  • Random lists of achievements should not take over the first page. Readers like to understand context and chronology, and therefore listing all the wonderful things you have done without tying them back to a company or specific role is not helpful. Frankly, it’s confusing and therefore people are even less likely to read it. If you are writing about something that you did in 1993, it’s unlikely to help you land your next role. You should, of course, highlight your achievements under each role. Pick 4-5 only and make sure they are concise and punchy. Remember, achievements which differentiate you (i.e. not generic) and not role description.
  • Chronology matters. Remember the lazy reader? Make it easy to see at a glance where you have worked, when and what roles you have held. Even if a company is well known, describe it in terms of its business challenges at the time (exponential growth? Fighting for survival?) Don’t forget the size, scale, revenue and global span. Make it clear if the role was permanent or interim – especially if there have been a number of short stints.
  • Your earlier career should be brief and punchy. Keep the first few roles to a few bullets. Remember that it is the last five to seven years that matter and where the meat of the CV should lie.

Recent roles must be impactful and clear. Does your career history cover the following?

  • Clear role title, where you reported and outline of responsibilities, including any international remit?What challenges you were brought in to solve – what did you inherit?
  • Talk about your team. No man is an island and you certainly didn’t change the world single-handed. Show you are a leader.Prioritise achievements that no one else can lay claim to. If we asked your CEO what you had delivered, would s/he tell us about consolidating data centres or would they talk about the data lake you created with new analytics that has transformed your understanding of the customer?
  • Remove jargon and acronyms that only your business or sector would know.
  • What benefit you have brought to the business? What have you delivered?
  • How have you innovated?
  • What technologies/methodologies have you used? Agile, DevOps, AWS, Splunk, AI, IoT, GCP and what business benefit ensued?

It’s a balance. Don’t be too technical but don’t make it entirely bland. Your CV is often the first impression for a potential employer. Make sure you shine.

 
Associate Partner, Digital & Technology Leaders Practice
A member of the Digital and Technology Leaders practice, Heather draws on over 11 years of deep subject matter expertise to lead and execute assignments, with a strong focus on Chief Information Officer, Technology and Digital appointments across a breadth of sectors globally

and
 
Partner, Interim Management, Digital & Technology leaders Practice
Kersty is an experienced interim management consultant placing CIOs and Technology leaders across multiple sectors. Kersty has spent 14 years building communities of established and rising Technology leaders from SMEs, FTSE and Blue Chip organisations from across UK and Europe.
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