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 one-page CV 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’ve 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 CV at all.  Just the name “Elon Musk” instantly conjures a mental picture of his long list of 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 purpose of a resume is twofold:


  1. To “sell” your experience when you are not in the room – Your CV may be assessed by several people (Perhaps and HR Director or CEO) who have never met you (and may not meet you at all during the process). You need to give them a comprehensive snapshot of your experience and achievements, or they may dismiss you before you even get to the starting line.
  2. To set up great conversation for your interview – Your CV should give a clear account of what you’ve done (responsibilities) and how well you’ve done it (achievements) as well as a clear overview of the organisations you’ve worked for. You want to spend your interview time talking about the “how” and “why”, rather than just “what” you did in each role.


A well-crafted executive 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 should contain the “proof points” which back up your brand promise.  I’ve been in countless interviews where a senior executive will describe themself as being “highly commercial”, yet their resume doesn’t contain any numbers or metrics whatsoever to back that up.  Their brand is thereby undermined.


Responsibilities and Achievements


A great CV should contain the entirety of your role responsibilities and go into detail regarding – What have you done? Frequently, the biggest mistake I see is when, in an attempt to be concise, a candidate leaves out important detail, which sets the context for their level of experience. For example; as a “responsibility” they may dot point * Budget Management. I’d read that point and ask myself “So what?” – Junior executives manage budgets as well (albeit smaller budgets). By being too brief with your responsibilities and not providing proper context,  you put yourself in a situation where there are too many unanswered questions – What was the budget? Turnover? Profit? ROI? These are all important, commercial details that, if explained, squarely place your experience in its proper context.


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


Relevant Detail


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


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


As a general rule – Your CV 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 represents the true impact of your contribution to the business.  This will be formed by a mixture of achievements and responsibilities.  Think of it like a call and answer:


Responsibility – Responsible for 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 $2.2M, which provided an additional $500K EBITDA.


When to Scale Back


Think of your CV like a funnel.  Your most recent role will sit at the top of the funnel and take up the most “CV 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 going back ten years or more ago should take up roughly 10 – 20% of the “resume real estate” that your most recent position holds.

*CV real estate – The space you have to use on the page.


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? Is it generic and filled with buzzwords?
  2. A clear sense of drive and passion – Use this as an opportunity to outline your purpose, drive and ambition.  Avoid lofty statements about what kind of environment you want to work in.  The summary should be specific to who you are today and where you are going in the future, not a shopping list of the cultural aspects of the place you want to work.
  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 overall impact you’ve made.  This may not just be a financial contribution.   What impact did you make on the people in the business, the customers, or maybe the broader community?


Executive summaries take time to craft and 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, with you, or people you’ve reported to.  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. Don’t sound generic – Be bold and stand out!


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, revenue, 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 time in your interview describing what each organisation does and going into detail regarding its organizational structure, so addressing this in your resume will afford you more time to talk about the important aspects of your role and what you delivered.




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.  They take up space and don’t add anything to the document.


Tailored CVs


It can be an arduous task editing your CV 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 each role you apply for.  However, I encourage you to take the time with you applications and understand what the most important aspects of the role are and bring them to the fore on your resume.  If the reader needs to dig too deeply into your resume to get what they want, then you run the risk of that information getting buried in the detail.  Tailoring your CV not only highlights important information, but it also demonstrates that you are committed to the process and want to make a strong first impression.


Cover Letters


Whilst not technically part of your CV, 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 CV?  We have CV writing services available. Please contact Chris Hughes for details.

Chris Hughes
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