The great CV debate

Published: 13 April 2016

In my last blog I discussed the consistent theme of our clients looking for senior finance professionals who could seamlessly transition between high level strategic work and the more technical or operational elements to their role.  For my latest instalment I wanted to turn to possibly the most divisive and emotive subject within the industry, namely how to write the perfect CV within finance.

Disclaimer - this is purely my opinion, based on ten years of recruiting senior finance positions in the UK.  There have been countless studies and directives churned out by the worlds’ finest higher education establishments – to the point where every MBA graduate from the top business schools is provided with an identical looking CV.  These documents are invariably one page only (albeit with a miniscule typeface) and focus purely on the individuals’ achievements in each role.  While this approach may well be perfectly suited to the range of positions that this group aspire to, I don’t believe that it is applicable or effective within the UK senior financial management market.

So, in no particular order, here are the first five of my top ten do’s and don’ts to try and help secure the role that your experience deserves:

Do – make it as long as you feel is appropriate for your experience.  Remember, this is likely to be someone’s first impression of you, so make it count.  If it takes you eight pages to detail your work history and achievements, what does that say about you and your ability to be concise and to the point?  Use your common sense – if you have worked in industry for ten years plus, don’t devote the same amount of space to your role as an audit junior as your current role as an FD – a couple of lines should suffice.

Don’t – waste your time sculpting a beautifully worded personal statement.  Trust me, everyone is some combination of analytical, results orientated, pro-active, ambitious, solutions focussed, determined, hard-working, tenacious, a team player – have I mentioned analytical?!  I may be upsetting a lot of people here but honestly, it doesn’t add anything there is a real danger of diminishing the impact of what you have actually done; keep it factual.

Do – contextualise your role and the business you worked for if it isn’t going to be immediately obvious.  If you worked for an organisation that isn’t a household name then introduce it, detail the turnover, ownership structure and industry.  If your job title was generic e.g. Controller or VP Finance, explain exactly where you sat, who you reported to etc.

Don’t – include a table listing core competencies, especially if it includes graphics or ticked boxes.  It may show off your clipart skills, but I guarantee that this will not help you secure a role in finance.  And never, ever, ever include colourful graphics.  Ever.

Do – Be conscious of a varied readership of your CV and try to make it accessible for non-finance staff.  This is all about striking a balance between technical and readable;  you don’t want to risk alienating a key decision maker by including too many acronyms or technical terms which may seem obvious to you, but will not to many.

Part two to follow and any comments welcome – there are plenty of good debates to be had around the subject.

Hal Stoddart is a Consultant in the Finance Practice

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