Case study – COO

One thing we are used to here at is helping successful and very able clients with numerous strings to their bow.

On the surface it sounds like nothing could be simpler; helping versatile and multitalented professionals. However, there is a lot more to successful job applications than many people realise, and this includes a lot of people who are used to recruiting, hiring and firing at top-level.

M is one such case in point. He is a COO for a successful global company, and came to us because his original CV was not working in the job market, and this is despite the fact that he is clearly talented, experienced and has a lot to shout about in terms of what he has achieved and what he can offer employers at senior level.

Part of the problem revolves around the fact that a lot of very talented executives know they can do the job, and their colleagues and peers know this, but this sometimes leads to complacency when it comes to putting these things on their CV. Some highfliers consider things as a given and sometimes either miss out some key points on their CV, or else don’t list them as effectively as they could. Yes, being able to do the job is half the battle, but you also need to be able to demonstrate this (and more powerfully than your competitors) if you are to grab the attention of discerning executive employers.

I have been writing CVs for executives for many years now, and in my experience the vast majority of executive job candidates (including very successful directors) undersell themselves on their CV. Some of these people are aware of this, but many aren’t.

Underselling when it comes to CVs usually comes in two forms; the most common form is not including achievements that sell the candidate to his/her maximum. Typically this is in the form of achievements lacking in quality, quantity or both. The second form relates to relevancy. The most effective CVs are optimised for the job in question, and this is particularly pertinent at executive level. However, virtually no one comes to us with a properly optimised original CV. It is therefore no surprise that this is one thing that we routinely address for clients.

Like many others, even at executive level, M was underselling himself on two fronts on his original CV. A good proportion of the original achievements were understated, and the document as a whole just didn’t flow, and didn’t look like an executive level CV, let alone read the part. In addition to this it was dated/old-fashioned, quite one-dimensional and written in a quite matter-of-fact manner.

CXO level jobs are extremely competitive, and attention to detail is very important, as are first impressions. The first impressions with M’s original CV were probably reasonable if he was targeting a managerial level job, but at executive level it really didn’t cut the mustard in terms of how it looked, how it read, and what it said.

Many people reading this no doubt will be thinking ‘yes but that doesn’t apply to me,’ and perhaps some of it won’t, but unless you are the (almost extinct) rare exception to the rule, at least some of the above will apply to you too.

M’s case was not so uncommon in that he had all the building blocks for extremely powerful job applications; it is just that his area of expertise is business, and not CVs or writing powerfully. Yes, he understood, and had experience in sales and marketing, but this was more in relation to products, services and commerce on a global scale, rather than selling himself on paper.

It is worth remembering that ultimately a curriculum vitae is a sales and marketing document, and just as the best sales and marketing campaigns for businesses are frequently designed and created by professional sales/marketing/advertising companies, the best CVs tend to be those that are written by the best specialist CV writers. It does take method, experience and exceptional natural writing talent to create high impact CVs that get results at top-level. Really it is a different skill set, but M had the foresight to realise this, and actually acknowledged his limitations in this department. His admission was candid, but also lucid, and ultimately very fruitful, as his worn and relatively weak CV was ultimately transformed into a far more powerful and fit for purpose job winning document.

M was delighted with the results, and as well as ordering an additional cover letter, also recommended our services to several friends/colleagues.

Paul’s book


Paul’s groundbreaking curriculum vitae book, ‘The One Page CV’ published by Pearson Education.