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The Lost Art of CV Storytelling

Alex KaarTeam member Chris Hughes The Lost Art of CV Storytelling

The Lost Art of CV Storytelling

Somehow, somewhere, someone went around telling anyone who’d listen that a two-page resume was a good idea.  I’ve heard these self-proclaimed “experts” reference people like Elon Musk, audaciously suggesting that if his resume could fit one page, then so should yours.  While that might work for Elon, keep in mind, you most likely already know who Elon is.  You’ve read about him, you watched him on 60 minutes and Tesla and PayPal are household names. You already know his story.   Truth be told, he doesn’t need a resume at all.  Just the name “Elon Musk” instantly conjures a long list of all his achievements.


Trying to apply that same logic to you and your (by comparison) low public profile is a sure-fire way to end up selling yourself short.


The point of a resume is twofold:


  1. To “sell” your experience when you are not in the room – Your resume will be assessed by people who have never met you and aren’t aware of the depth and breadth of your capabilities.
  2. To set up great conversation for your interview – Your resume should give a clear account of what you’ve done (responsibilities) and how well you’ve done it (achievements). You want to spend your interview time talking about the how and why.


A well-crafted resume should tell a story… Your story.  It should give the reader a clear understanding of what your brand stands for – Are you highly commercial? A great people leader? A change agent? Your resume contains the “proof points” to back up your brand promise.


Responsibilities and Achievements


A great resume should contain the entirety of your role responsibilities and go into detail around – What have you done? Frequently, the biggest mistake I see over and over is when, in an attempt to be concise, a candidate leaves out important detail which sets the context around their level of experience. For example; Budget Management. I’d read that point and ask myself “So what?” – There are junior people who manage budgets as well. There are too many unanswered questions – What was the budget? Turnover? Profit? There are all important, commercial details that squarely put your experience into its proper context.


To add some more weight to that simple dot point of “Budget Management” you may try; Managing expense budgets of $60ml across 7 business units with revenue of $600ml with responsibility to deliver an EBIT of $120ml.  Additionally, I was responsible for executing the reduction of $15ml of expenditure from the division, whist ensuring that ROE and ROI metrics were maintained.


Your resume needs to be comprehensive, as it needs to convey your experience, critical to the role you are applying for.  There’s a good chance that several stakeholders through the recruitment process will make a judgement of your skills and experience, purely based on your resume. Don’t sell yourself short.  Go into detail. Be articulate and dedicate yourself to building a great resume.


Relevant Detail


The two main questions I’m asked about resumes are:


  1. Is my resume to short?
  2. Is my resume too long?


The answer to both is – Your resume can be as long or as short as it needs to be, as long as it’s full of relevant detail.  So what’s relevant detail?


Relevant detail is detail that outlines the true impact of what your contribution to the business was.  This is a mixture of achievements and responsibilities.  Think of it like a call and answer:


Responsibility – Driving the ongoing commercial growth of a business division including sourcing new market opportunities, building high performing teams and leading a pipeline of innovation


Achievement – Grew the top line growth of the business by 23% over a two year period.  Secured partnerships with three new organisations in two new territories, which expanded the product portfolio by 6 product lines. This resulted in increased sales of $2.2million, which provided and additional $500K EBITDA.


When to scale back


Think of your resume like a funnel.  Your most recent role will sit at the top of the funnel and get the most “resume real estate”.  As you move further back into your work history and your experience becomes less relevant, you can scale back your content and not include as much detail.  Roles ten years or more ago should roughly get 20% as much content as your current position.


Executive Summaries


To form a powerful executive summary, you need 3 things:


  1. An authentic tone of voice – Ask yourself. Does this actually sound like me, or am I trying to sound like someone else?
  2. A clear sense of drive and passion – Use this as an opportunity to outline why you do what you do and how you like to do it.
  3. A tombstone statement – Make sure you convey what you are famous for and why you are unique. This is not just a summary of your achievements.  It’s a summary of the impact you’ve made.


It takes time to craft this and it may require a little soul searching. If you aren’t sure what makes you unique or what you are famous for, ask some of the people who have worked for you or with you, or you’ve worked for.  I guarantee they can sum this up for you instantly and give you a snap assessment of what you do well.  Your executive summary can reference where you’ve worked and what you’ve achieved, but more importantly, it needs to convey who you are as a person.


Company Descriptions


You need to provide the reader with a sense of the scale, remit and purpose for the role.   Offer some insight into what the company does, what market it operates in, what your department is responsible for, reporting lines (up and down) and the reason your role exists.  You don’t want to spend too much tim in your interview simply describing what each organisation does and its organizational structure, so addressing this in your resume will afford you more time to talk about the important stuff.




The most universal format to maintain the design look of your resume is a PDF.  It’s important to have an editable format as well, which you can tailor for each role you apply for.  Try to avoid clogging up your resume with too many logos, photos or other graphic elements.


Tailored resumes


It can be an arduous task editing your resume for each role you apply for.  If you have a robust resume by following the tips above, then it’s unlikely that you will need to tailor it to suit the role every time.  However, I encourage you to take the time with each role you apply for to understand what the most important aspects of the role are and bring them to the fore. If the reader needs to dig to deep into your resume to get what they want, then you run the risk of that information getting buried in the detail.  Tailoring your resume not only highlights important information, but it also highlights that you are committed to the process and want to make a strong first impression.


Cover Letters


Whilst not technically part of your resume, Cover Letters are often part of the initial application process, so I encourage you to create a bespoke letter, if you choose to submit a letter with your application.  I’ve seen countless cover letters which are obviously cut and pasted, and they stand out… for all the wrong reasons.  A good cover letter follows the same principles as an executive summary, but you should try to link your specific background and experience as it relates to the role you are applying for. A tailored approach will yield much better results, as it demonstrates your attention to detail and commitment towards providing a quality application for the role.


Would you like to improve your resume?  We have resume writing services available. Please contact Chris Hughes for details.

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