Reams have been written on how to approach executive recruiters and what to do to maximise your chances of success. An industry of outplacement consultants or, at a more basic level, CV designers, claim the ability to get your details onto the "yes" pile.

The analogy I would draw is with internet services that claim to be able to get your website to the top of the search engine rankings – a few nuggets of truth surrounded by a great deal of nonsense. A good recruiter, just like a decent search engine, can normally differentiate a good product from one that is second rate but has been "packaged" to look good on the surface.

The best advice for success with recruiters is to have done a great job over the years. No amount of glossy packaging will make up for substandard goods.

What follows are some hints and tips, which I have developed over the years from personal experience and conversations with colleagues and clients. They come with the warning that one recruiter's meat can be another's poison. They relate primarily to advertised recruitment, as a different set of protocols and etiquette apply to the executive search process. Hopefully you will find them useful and they will provide food for thought.

Telephone?
Many advertisements include the consultant's telephone number in addition to postal and email addresses, and some even positively encourage a telephone call prior to submitting your CV. If you are going to telephone then please have something of substance to say to, or ask of, the consultant.

Make sure you come across as professional, focused and succinct. From a recruiter's point of view, many more callers are eliminated on the strength of their telephone performance than vice versa.

Persistence?
I have yet to meet a serious recruiter for senior positions who has been swayed (in a positive sense) by extreme persistence. While it is likely that some recruiting salesmen value the "never say die" approach, most are perfectly capable of making an informed initial judgment based upon a reasonably focused CV. If we don't have sufficient information, we will likely phone the candidate to explore matters further. Any reputable recruitment firm will acknowledge receipt of your details within a day or two.

Length
"I am a focused individual with great communication skills." So why does it take you eight pages to highlight the key areas in your previous experience which could be relevant to the role under consideration? Venture capitalists talk about the "elevator test" – the ability to get the key points of your "pitch" across in the time it takes to go down in the elevator. Try to keep your initial CV to two pages (or three as a maximum). You can go into greater detail during the interview.

Personal profile
There are two camps that appear to hold diametrically opposite views on the personal profile, sometimes rather hopefully renamed the executive summary. One camp swears it is an essential element of any respectable CV, the other that it is a complete waste of time. My own view tends towards the latter – the reason being that it very rarely adds anything new or substantive to the CV. Such profiles are frequently used to describe the individual's "softer skills", personal qualities and management style. Many recruiters will discount such statements entirely and so, at best, these individuals have just wasted a few valuable column inches of space.

Style
Almost invariably it is helpful to put a few words about the scale and sector of each previous employer, particularly if they aren't well known. My own preference is for appointments to appear in reverse chronological order (most recent at the beginning), and to relate achievements very directly to where they occurred. The practice of grouping achievements and skills gained from different employments is quite widespread, but has a tendency to obscure what happened where – turning the finance function around in a major plc is a very different proposition from doing the same in a two-partner firm. The conclusion that the reader is liable to reach is that the ambiguity was intended in order to make achievements appear grander than they actually were.

Tailored?
Should you tailor your CV to the position under discussion? Of course it makes sense to highlight those areas of your skills and experience which are most relevant to the role and to demote those which are of lesser importance, and the covering letter is a prime means of focusing the reader on such key areas. However, tailoring is not an excuse for obscuring the truth – lie or exaggerate and you will be found out.

Email or post?
Unsurprisingly, attitudes concerning email have changed dramatically over a relatively short time. A few years ago, there seemed to be quite a reasonable chance that your beautifully crafted CV would arrive via email as a mashed-up jumble with no discernible formatting. Now most of us appear to have settled upon Microsoft Word and email systems are much more stable, so what you send almost always arrives in pristine condition at the other end. Emailing your CV allows the recruiter to store and retrieve your details more easily – are you happy with that?

Beware of the tendency of too much informality and sloppy English when using email. Another thing you should think about carefully is: if sending details by email from work, are you happy to receive an acknowledgement back to your work email address? If not, then either make this very clear in the email message or, better still, don't send such emails from your work account – acknowledgements may be set up to respond in quite an automated fashion.

Focus
There are a handful of individuals who respond to every advertised position, no matter the sector or level. Every recruitment firm has a database to record candidate details, which will highlight previous contacts, including other positions they have applied for. There is absolutely nothing wrong with responding to various advertised positions that have a potential fit with your capabilities. But what message does it send if the recruiter knows you are spraying your CV around at a wide variety of roles over a long period of time?

Honesty
Nobody wants to do business with somebody who is dishonest, or who appears to be potentially dishonest. Professional recruiters have seen it all before and would far rather hear up front about difficulties or discontinuities in your career – most of us have had them to a greater or lesser extent, and weasel words present a very negative impression. Prime examples include:

  • Acme University Modern Languages 1977-1980. Does this mean that you went there but weren't awarded a degree?
  • Acme plc 1995 to date. On subsequent examination, this sometimes turns out to be 1995 until two months ago. "Oh, I haven't updated my CV in the past few weeks!" doesn't make a very good impression.

    An honest, straightforward explanation of unusual circumstances is always preferable.

  • Tim Latham is the principal of Director Resourcing; a London-based search and selection consultancy. For more information see director-resourcing.com