Let’s be real – writing an executive CV can be tough.
When you have the expansive employment experience needed to be eyeing a C-Suite or executive role, condensing your entire professional life down into a few short pages can feel like a game of word-count Tetris!
Plus, if this is the first time you are applying for executive roles, it can take a bit of a mental shift to start talking about your achievements through a high-level strategic lens rather than being tied to drier, more operational accomplishments.
As a seasoned recruiter for cybersecurity leaders, I see a lot of resumes from people vying for executive roles every single day. Here, I’ve identified my personal favourite processes, tips, and tricks to help you craft your best possible executive resume. Good luck and happy writing!
Note: We provide recruitment services within both the UK and the USA, so we have used the terms “CV” and “resume” here interchangeably. The advice is equally applicable on both sides of the pond.
When seeking a leadership role, updating your resume isn’t as straightforward as simply inserting the newer roles you’ve had since the document was last updated.
Any good CV – regardless of seniority or role – starts with you grabbing a blank sheet of paper, a good drink, and a pen. Look back over your career and jot down your most impressive professional accolades – especially ones that involve team leadership and business strategy. Don’t rush this step. You may well need to sleep on it for a while.
When you’ve listed your most impressive and relevant accomplishments, aim to put them into an order of priority, considering their importance, recency, and relevance to different employers’ needs. If you’re new to seeking C-Suite roles, highlight your strategic ability, business-savviness, and your experience in communicating with the board. I assure you, it’s a much less operational role than anything else you’ve likely done before.
This brainstorm can be invaluable when deciding how to target yourself and your skills, and to help you keep your most impressive achievements on the first page.
Any good marketer will probably tell you that effective persuasion comes from a profound understanding of who you are writing to. Therefore, you will need to carry out something akin to market research to ensure what you’re writing will resonate with the right employers.
This is an essential step in creating a CV that will effortlessly connect you to the kind of roles that your target employers are trying to fill.
It’s likely that you’ll have skills and preferences that span different business needs. Therefore, it makes sense to create multiple resumes that speak to those different needs, highlighting different parts of your skill set. Simply having one blanket CV that tries to cover all facets of your expertise is a thing of the past, especially for top-level executives. Why? Well, when a hiring manager reaches a part of your resume that doesn’t apply to them, you risk losing their interest.
However, that’s not to say that you need a different CV for every single granular eventuality! The number of resumes you should have will largely depend on your seniority and versatility.
Those in highly senior roles may only have one or two different CVs to hand out focusing on their specific expertise. But if you’re particularly versatile and have a diverse skill set, you might have up to 4 different versions to hand out. Any more than that and juggling them all tends to get a little unwieldy!
As a recruiter, one of the worst things I occasionally see on CVs is where applicants copy their previous roles’ responsibilities directly from that roles’ job description and paste it into the role’s section within their resume.
I know professionals are generally time-poor, but you should write all parts of your resume about what actually happened in-post, in your own words. Remember, a resume is like a piece of sales copy, selling you as a professional.
Let’s say, for example, that you managed an internal, dedicated SOC of 12 consultants. That’s great! But… so what?
Obviously managing such a critical team is an essential talking point to include within your resume, but you need to elaborate on what you did within that role that will make a future hiring manager sit up and take notice.
For example, did you steer the team through a rather tricky period of technical change? Did your input actively reduce false positives so your analysts could work on more strategic aims? How did you contribute to making the organisation more secure? Did you demonstrate any independent, strategic initiatives or thinking?
What were you brought in to do – and what did you get done? How did your involvement benefit your employer? How did your role change while you were there? Providing essential context into your working history paints a more well-rounded picture of your worth as a professional.
One of the benefits of working in cybersecurity is that there are usually some nicely quantifiable metrics to play with. Though not everything in security is (or indeed, should be) quantifiable in numerical or monetary terms, metrics that demonstrate your worth can be very useful to hiring managers. Anywhere you can tie your value-add to a figure; whether that’s money saved, time better used, or issues avoided; do it.
Your executive summary is arguably the most important part of your resume. It’s there to highlight your most impressive accolades and give the reader an impression of who you are as a professional, summarised in around two to three short paragraphs.
We’ve already mentioned making a core list of achievements, and you should make sure they are all mentioned within your executive summary. Another good way to decide what to cover in your executive summary is to ask yourself: if the reader didn’t read the rest of your CV for whatever reason – what would you want them to take away about you as a professional and as a candidate? What would you most like prospective employers to know about you?
Remember that you only have two paragraphs, so you don’t need to go into each of your achievements in depth. Your executive summary is there to summarise what you offer, not lay it out in full. You should leave the details to the later parts of your resume where you can elaborate in more detail. If you’re really struggling to summarise this, you could include a few bulleted “selected achievements” underneath your summary.
Executive summaries are also a great place to prove your communication skills as they allow you to freestyle a little, expressing in your own words what makes you great.
It’s essential for C-Suite executives (and those approaching C-Suite level) to have a solid network of other professionals. So paint yourself as an avid networker and “network-haver” within your CV. One way you can achieve this is to mention group memberships and affiliations with relevant professional bodies in your field.
This is a massive misconception about resumes: no, you don’t need to limit them to two pages, especially if you are seeking a senior leadership position.
You’ve done a lot to get to where you are – likely much more than two pages’ worth. Your CV is where you show that wealth of experience off. A resume for a senior professional can take up to three full pages of A4, Legal, or Letter paper; even four pages if you’ve got a lot to shout about.
However, if your resume is creeping over onto a fourth or fifth page, try to prioritise your recent few years’ accolades first, then you can let some of the important bits from the past 8 years or so peek through. Anything that took place around 8-15 years ago only needs a high-level mention, like job title and dates. Delving too far deeply into things that happened over a decade ago may paint you as someone who is living in the past, trying to relive past glories!
Recruiters and recruitment personnel will likely receive multiple CVs in a single day for the same role. Therefore your first page (and ideally your executive summary) needs to shout your personal value proposition from the rooftops.
It’s likely that, at the senior or executive level, the roles you’re looking for will require specific certifications, experience, or skills. Depending on the criteria at hand, there are some subtle (and not so subtle) ways you can do this.
If your desired role requires qualifications that can be mentioned after your name, then do so when you put your name at the top of the first page, e.g., “Jane Smith, CISM”.
For things that can’t be put so literally front and centre, familiarise yourself with the official terminology of the qualification or standard, and make sure that it is mentioned in the first few lines of your executive summary – especially if that particular job advertisement requests that expertise.
It’s not just humans who look at your CV. Robots look at it too! Recruiters and hiring managers often use resume-handling software to handle CVs, and commonly use search functionalities within those tools to flag resumes that mention certain qualifications, tools, and regulatory experience. These tools are also increasingly incorporating AI and automation technologies too, FYI.
So therefore, it’s important for applicants to include all of the right “keywords” relating to your desired role – think of it a bit like search engine optimisation!
But it’s not just a case of optimising your words. There are formatting and design considerations as well. Don’t go overboard when it comes to visuals because graphics, tables, and presentation effects can be lost when the software renders the CV into a format it can read.
If your CV uses non-standard visuals or formatting, this rendering process may make the document look messy or unprofessional when viewed within the software. Or worse, it could negatively impact how your CV is even read or prioritised within the software’s algorithm. So leave any fancy fonts, graphics, or formatting at the door!
Gaps in employment have been unfairly stigmatised. They aren’t always “times when the chips were down and I couldn’t get a job”. You’re well within your rights to have opted to take some time out from work if you are able, or if you had to take time away from work due to a personal situation. I say it’s nothing to try and hide or be ashamed about.
Sometimes, people take a break from employment for some quite impressive reasons. Maybe they wrote a book. Maybe they were working on a new innovative project. Maybe they took time out to do charity work. Maybe they took the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel and broaden their cultural and intellectual horizons. Maybe they reentered education to further their professional prospects.
Even the more personal reasons for taking a break; like parental, care-giving, or health-related leave; aren’t the instant conversation-enders they once were, but they should still be handled carefully. If the gap was particularly recent, highlight that the situation which led to your break is now over, or that it’s now managed well, and that it won’t get in the way of your working life going forward.
Regardless of the reason for your break, you will need to impress upon recruiters and hiring managers that you have kept up with the skills and knowledge needed and that you are keen to focus on your next professional challenge!
If you have a gap in your employment, a chequered past, or a zig-zagging career history, a recruiter can really be your friend here. They don’t just send your resume out to willing organisations, they articulate to hiring managers why you are the right fit for the job at hand.
They don’t focus on what has happened in the past – they are there to paint you in your best light as you are now.
Naturally, you need to share some contact details on your resume – you want hiring companies to make contact with you, after all. But there is such a thing as oversharing personal details on your CV.
Nowadays, much of the recruitment process is digitised, so there isn’t much point in including your full home address anymore. Your email address, mobile phone number, and LinkedIn profile should be more than enough. (Side note: don’t forget to keep your LinkedIn profile updated in line with your current CV!).
The cybersecurity professionals reading will likely agree that wherever you reduce the personal details you share around online, you reduce your cyber and IRL risk surfaces too. So why share more than is necessary?
Now your resume is the best it can be, all you need is a good recruiter. If you’re looking for your next role in cybersecurity leadership, get in touch with the team!