Towards the end of a recent recruitment project the subject of leadership and management Curriculum Vitae** became a topic of discussion with the Identify HR team.

I was completing a retained recruitment search mandate (headhunting) for a Chief Technology Officer. I was recruiting on behalf of a Consulting firm client who has its own Big Data and AI intellectual property and products. The Chief Technology Officer (CTO) brief was wide-ranging in scope. It was, however, realistic based on the client’s need and direction of travel. As well as someone who has been ‘on the tools’ and could sit and look at the challenges of code, data and products with a big team, the job required someone with C-suite stakeholder skills, investor relations, Programme & Project delivery and PMO oversight, as well as asset allocation, resource and budget writing experience. And, obviously, someone with the know-how and track-record to deliver it. That broad scope of brief meant I looked at a wide range of varied CVs from different industry and technology sectors, e.g. Consultancy, Software Vendors, Startups and Systems Integrators. What struck the team and I was the kind of language successful and well-educated people sometimes used on their CVs (or ‘resumes’).

What is your CV to you? Is it a reverse chronological list of your life story and achievements? Is it a sales sheet with features and benefits i.e. you are the product? Or is your CV really clever Content Marketing? Here is a clue to the heart of this article – your CV should be a sales and marketing document that is engaging enough, interesting enough and so relevant that you are sure to get the call for first interview. Your CV then becomes your map and compass for acing that first interview to the next stage.

Of the hundred or so CVs I read (and some LinkedIn and Xing profiles), a depressingly common theme during the CTO recruitment project was the use of words and descriptions like; “I am a …..”

  • ‘visionary’
  • ‘catalyst’
  • ‘conduit’
  • ‘thought leader’
  • ‘experience architect’
  • ‘innovation sherpa’
  • ‘digital overlord’
  • ‘guru’
  • ‘ninja’
  • ‘growth hacker’
  • ‘rockstar performer’

and ‘elite leader’

Liberally peppered through-out more than half of the CVs I reviewed were these kinds of buzzwords, claims and titles. Prima facia, they sound impressive. They’re very ‘digital’ and ‘now’. They have that groovy Gen-X West Coast startup vibe about them. But, in my experience, they rarely stand scrutiny.

Digital Overlord? Move over Mother of Dragons. The Seven Kingdoms belong to me and my Java cohort. Do you see how trite or immature or just plain daft these words can seem? You’re C-Suite. You’re management. How would a CV in your inbox appeal to you if it contained these words, claims and titles? Would you want to meet this person? Or would the hyperbole and buzzword bingo put you off? What or who is a ‘visionary’? Tim Berners-Lee, perhaps? Or how about Albert Einstein and his work on Quantum Mechanics? So, tell me again you’re a visionary!

The point is this: if one uses powerful and strong words on a CV to make what I call ‘headline statements’, one must expect to be challenged about them during a hiring process. One needs to be able to justify the claim that, for example, you truly are a visionary. Context is vital to your explanation A straight-forward way of providing context and an explanation of your claim to be visionary or a thought-leader etc, is to offer proof of concept e.g. real-life examples of Who, What, Where, When, Why & How. Be specific and be accurate.

We live in an age where, scratch the surface and things aren’t all that different to how they’ve always been. People are people. Jobs have tasks to be done. What has changed is how we do that work and the tools we use to do it. Five minutes with Google and we can see we live in a world of buzzwords, jargon, industry slang and bullshit. So much written about the digital world, platforms, applications, software, startups and Unicorns is, in my opinion, the Emperor’s New Clothes for the digital age. Look under the bonnet and there isn’t always that much going on that is genuinely new and innovative. Most likely processes, platforms or products or outputs relabelled for a connected world. If you sell yourself as an elite, visionary ‘Digital Prophet’ who is a conduit and catalyst for profound and profitable change, you better be able to talk about it or else sit naked in the interview room.

Any recruiter worth their salt will challenge you on the big words and big claims on your resume. If you pepper your CV with them, expect to be challenged. Anticipate giving objective, evidence and fact-based answers to support your claims. You’re a senior person in technology, not a Hollywood creative pitching a script. Make the claim, present the answer with evidence and examples. Use interviewer challenges as welcome opportunities to unpack and display your very own value proposition - why they should hire you above all others. And don’t get upset when the conversation grinds to an awkward halt because you didn’t really mean ‘visionary’ after all.

As with many things in life and in business, it can often be the case that it isn’t what you say but how you say it. Words carry weight and power. More so when coming from a senior or experienced person. Be sure to be measured in the language you use on your CV. Invest time in adapting your CV and language for each role you wish to be considered for. I’d go to the potential employer’s website if you need a style guide and the language they use to describe their business and operations. An acid test for your CV is, as mentioned before, how it might strike you if you received it from an applicant. If you need an additional or more objective sounding board for your CV’s content, try your husband, wife, eldest truculent teenage or a trusted colleague. Ask them: is this me? If I describe myself as on my CV, am I giving an accurate explanation and account of who I am, what I have done and what I could do for a new employer?

Last thought – CVs. Should you pay someone to write your CV, LinkedIn profile and other content? My personal and subjective opinion? No. Never. Write them yourself. Want to know why? If you connect with me on LinkedIn or email me, I’ll tell you.

** I am aware of the discussion regarding the plural of Curriculum Vitae and choose to use this format

I work for Identify HR. We recruit experienced Technical, Developer, Functional and Sales & Marketing hires for Enterprise Software and SaaS firms, as well as niche vendors and consulting firms. And, of course, well-funded startups.

You can reach me at kenny@i-dentify-solutions.com or 07743978179. You can connect with me on LinkedIn at Kenny McAllisterFollow me on Twitter at @kennyrecruiter. I don’t do Instagram. I’m 53.