I’ve looked at thousands of resumes during more than a decade of recruiting executives for high-growth companies, and there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s tough for even the most successful executives to rise to the top of a fiercely competitive search process without a strong resume. Meanwhile, most people do not realize that a badly executed resume can and often does knock even the most celebrated executives out of consideration, long before they make it to an actual interview.
CEOs, board members and recruiters are busy people who have little patience for executives that can’t explain their professional qualifications in a few concise pages. Their tolerance is even more limited for candidates who assume that everyone else should already know and appreciate their experience and accomplishments.
Unfortunately, many senior executives have not updated their resumes in years, and when they do get around to it, they often discover that it’s hard to remain objective about summarizing their entire work lives while positioning themselves in the best possible light.
So for the executive that has not written a resume in some time, here are 10 tips for putting your best foot forward, while avoiding some of the common mistakes that make recruiters and other executives cringe.
- Start with the facts. While we recruiters aim to get a holistic view of a candidate, the soft stuff comes later. What we most want to see to begin with are hard statistics – like revenue and profit growth, or the number of products released. My rule of thumb is: “Did you make your last boss or company money?” That’s the scenario I am trying to recreate for my clients.
- Avoid percentages. When I read “I increased revenue 600 percent,” I immediately think: “Oh, so you took revenue from $1 to $6.” If it was actually from $1 million to $6 million, then specifically state that.
- Keep it short. This is hard for many people, especially those that are coming off a great 10-year run with one company. I know… there is so much to tell! But remember that your resume is just a first step in a lengthy selection process, not the process itself. If the bullet point describing your current position contains more than 20 words, delete and start over.
- Don’t assume we know. My firm hires the best and brightest analysts from schools like Stanford and Cal, but keep in mind that some of the folks reviewing your resume were in grammar school when Peoplesoft was in its heyday. So please spend 10 or 15 words explaining what your company did and why it mattered at the time.
For example: Peoplesoft was a leading ERP software provider acquired by Oracle in 2004 for $10.3 billion.
- Don’t leave gaps between jobs. If you were consulting, that’s great. Hiking Everest, even better. If you leave a gap, I assume you were in San Quentin.
- Never skip a job. Even if you joined a company and the next day realized they were cooking the books, state that. Mistakes happen, and we understand that. If you try to hide something, we will find out and you’ll be toast.
- Take the process seriously. Unless you are under 15, please don’t just point me to your LinkedIn profile page. Let’s face it, there are things you would discuss in a confidential resume that you would, and should not put on LinkedIn.
- Make time for a resume. Never tell someone you are too busy to write a resume. If you’re too busy to write a resume, my venture capital, private equity and corporate clients are too busy to consider you for an interesting role, given all of their other options.
- Keep it simple. Executive recruiters look at dozens if not hundreds of resumes a day. Make your resume clearer and more consumable than the rest, and yours will end up at the top of the list.
- Be yourself. Once you’ve covered the basics, showing a little personality can make you stand out from the noise. It may even help me assess how your personality will fit with my client’s, which like it or not, is such an important success factor.
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