What experience has taught us

Written by Grégoire Depeursinge; EVP EMEA AIMS International, Managing Partner AIMS Switzerland & Leonie Pentz; VP EMEA AIMS International, Managing Partner AIMS South Africa

In our practice as Executive Search and HR Consultants, we are confronted daily with candidates, their history, their approach, their beliefs – right or wrong, their attitudes and tactics and are privileged observers of their interaction with recruiters and line managers. This is an attempt to share the lessons learnt and give some practical tips as to how to improve your chances in the market. Some of the things listed will seem obvious, but you’d be surprised by how often we see even seasoned managers make mistakes they could easily avoid.

The format chosen is that of a weekly series of 6 short articles. Today is the third episode in the series:

Episode 3 – Preparing your CV: your sales brochure – click HERE to watch the video

Last week, we talked about presence on social networks and gave some tips about the profile (keywords, etc.), but without looking at the actual content. The following tips are for your CV but basically also apply to your online profile, which is nothing else than a resume.

There’s a lot of literature about the ideal resume format and a lot of people trying to take advantage of people by selling resume-writing… Now one should not forget that it is not the form of the CV that is going to get you a job, but your actual knowledge, experience and capabilities. Your resume is just your sales brochure, not the product itself. At the same time, it could be your only chance to secure a personal meeting.

Here are a few tips to increase the chances of your CV being read and understood:

  • Go for a classic format: there’s a lot of hype about multimedia-CVs. Sending people to websites or preparing a video-CV can be nice as a complement to your classic document or for very special jobs, but recruiters don’t have time to watch hundreds of videos or click themselves through many webpages. They will invest only a few seconds to decide if they are going to read your resume in detail or not. This is why a classic format with three blocks (personal data, chronologically inverted work, experience, studies and languages) is the best option. This will allow the recruiter to scan companies, positions, languages and schools which is basically what he is interested in during a first screening. Per example, there is nothing more annoying than a CV structured by capabilities and mixing up the different work experiences…
  • Definitely use a good picture of yourself:a resume is something impersonal and the picture’s the only way you can establish an emotional link with the person reading it. No matter how good-looking, or young you are (or aren’t), you can project a positive image with a good photo. As for discrimination… if somebody wants to discriminate, they will do so sooner or later, so you stand nothing to lose. The photo will also increase the probability of the reader remembering you. The key is to ensure it is a great photo and portrays the right image – for example if you are applying for a CFO role, clean cut, professional, smart and serious sounds right.  For a Creative Director, fashionable, on trend and well groomed.  Along the same line, you can share (short)  info about your family and maybe your interests as these will also help building a “human” image of you.
  • Don’t overdo it on the soft skills: stick to facts and don’t put too much soft stuff into your CV. It doesn’t add any value to fill summaries with superlatives like “Widely respected and innovative people leader and recognized strategic thinker with a global footprint”. Recruiters are interested in your “technical” skills first. If those are a match for the position, you can be sure they will contact you. It is only thereafter that they will focus on your personality.
  • Don’t lie or hide information: not stating your age if you are over the retirement threshold or hiding the fact that you already left your previous company will create a very bad impression and undermine trust at the outset. To be avoided at all costs!
  • Don’t have too many versions: cultures differ. In an Anglo-Saxon environment, it is expected to list one’s achievements with numbers and using superlatives (in fact, the advertisements and job descriptions are also often exaggerated) whilst in continental Europe, for example, a more modest approach will be preferred. This cultural difference also applies to companies with American multinationals having different expectations from those of a European group or an SME, so you should certainly adapt your CV. On the other hand, you should not forget that you have no real control over what happens to your resume once it’s out there and so the content should not be widely different from one version to another (and importantly not contradict the information on your social network profiles).
  • Don’t keep it short at any cost: do not try to keep your resume down to one or two pages if you already have a long career path. In this instance, rather have a first page capturing essential facts like contact data, family situation/ mobility, job history with title, company, industry, location, dates and a few relevant keywords for each role, languages and education. Then give more details about each role on the following pages. If the recruiter is interested after glancing at the first page, he will be happy to have complementary information. The first page is key; do not waste it on “curriculum vitae – name” in 38 font brush script……
  • Don’t use acronyms or abbreviations: you should not assume that people will understand them or know your company, industry or job title, even if your company is important. In a global world, you can no longer expect everybody to know about your specific market (the first person to scan your resume may well be sitting on the other side of the planet). State your industry and give essential data about your company. If your job title is unclear, make sure to describe your role in a few short words or change it to something more common with the same meaning. (if they have an opening that fits your profile, you can be certain that they will make contact).
  • Be efficient and professional: send your resume by email, in PDF format (this will be nicer to look at – no hidden characters visible – and the recruiter will not be able to see how advanced you are in the use of the word processing software). If you are sending other documents with your CV, avoid the zip with unrecognisable file names or sending multiple attachments. Regroup everything in one PDF and make sure the file is not too large (there are excellent free compression tools available). Use the international format with “+” and country code for your phone number. Do not assume people will know how to call you and understand that not specifying the country code may come across as arrogant. Finally, when inserting your personal email, ensure that it does not create a bad impression due to the wording (if it’s too “colourful”, create a new one).
  • Watch out for typos, especially in company names or titles: yes, we mean it! Spelling mistakes are unlikely to eliminate you if your profile matches the position, but it could create a bad impression. Use an easy-to-read font and sentence case. There is an infinity of things we have no control over once we send out our CV, so we might as well make sure that what we can check is flawless. Also check page breaks and other potential format problems before pressing “send”.
  • Don’t invest too much time in the cover letter: most recruiters will not read it at all and go directly to the resume. You can have a few lines with essential facts for this role in the email you send with your CV.
  • Be careful with references: while it may be common in some countries to include references directly in your resume, we recommend not doing so or writing “upon request”. References are normally checked at the end of the hiring process and in most countries, recruiters will not approach references without telling you first (it might even be illegal and is certainly considered unethical in many countries). This will also give you a chance to select the right references for the position and to brief them before the call with the recruiter.

In short: make sure you create a professional impression, that the essential information about you can be found at a glance and that you come across as a human being rather than an impersonal profile.

Written by Grégoire Depeursinge; EVP EMEA AIMS International, Managing Partner AIMS Switzerland & Leonie Pentz; VP EMEA AIMS International, Managing Partner AIMS South Africa

Do not miss out on the next episodes:

  1. The value of a good network
  2. Social media: your image to the outside world
  3. Preparing your CV: your sales brochure
  4. Recruiters: how they work and think
  5. Preparing for the interview
  6. Acing the interview

This page is available also in