Top 5 Mistakes on the CIO's Resume

By CIO Update Staff

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The truth is, executives can go years without creating a polished resume. Much career development is based on internal promotions and/or being actively recruited by outside companies. When competing for roles internally, people generally know who you are, so the resume is less important. Although a good resume can be very helpful when responding to recruiter inquiries, someone chasing you typically already knows why you might be a good fit for a particular role.

Resumes are most important when one is proactively seeking out opportunities, whether currently in a job or in transition. In these cases, you don’t have a self-selecting audience seeking your attention you are trying to get the attention of someone else. That is primarily the job of the resume, to get someone’s attention.

I often joke that if you ask 20 different people for their thoughts on an executive resume you get 25 opinions. Everybody has their own idiosyncratic preferences in terms of the specifics they like or don’t like in an “ideal” resume. Nobody, however, hires an executive based on whether they think you’ve constructed the perfect resume. They hire an executive based on whether the resume adequately suggests enough of a potential fit for a job or a class of jobs that they think it’s worthwhile to at least talk to the person.

To that end, while there is no perfect resume, there are general principles that make it more likely you will successfully attract the attention of recruiters and employers, and conversely, the lack of adherence to which make it less likely your resume will stand out from the crowd.

What follows are the five major mistakes I see in resumes that don’t follow these core principles:

No. 1: Not presenting a "professional brand" - Good branding is probably the overarching principle of a good resume; to which everything else is a corollary. A good executive resume gives a full chronology of one’s career, but it doesn’t just give a chronology, it weaves that chronology into a coherent message about what you do and illustrates that you are very good at what you do. Building a brand in a resume means stepping back to understand what you are selling to the market and making sure that is adequately expressed in the resume.

As a CIO, it is important that your brand speaks to information and technology, while not completely being consumed by it. At the end of the day, CEOs and boards aren’t looking for tech “geeks” but for business savvy CIOs that understand information needs as they are related to the whole of the enterprise. Branding yourself in a resume as a CIO means in part providing others with a sense of your business legacy as it relates to their likely business needs.

No. 2: No executive summary - One good vehicle for encapsulating a brand is to include an executive summary at the top of the first page. Executive summaries enable a professional to extrapolate from the resume to provide a succinct description to the reader of what he or she believes differentiates him or herself in the market. This is helpful in for proactively advancing what is unique about your candidacy. This is particularly true since most executive resumes should be two to three pages. Although it takes two to three pages to adequately tell an executive’s career story, the key messages of that story need to be included on the first page.

Many executives still use the older style “Objective" statement, a blurb that tells people what kinds of job one is seeking. Most objective statements I read are either too narrow or trite. Yes, people get that you “want to be a CIO of a fast paced, high-growth company,” however, what suggests that you are good in that environment? It's more powerful to tell them what you want through an executive summary but to do it by telling them what you do well.

There are multiple ways to do an executive summary including a single paragraph or coupling it with a “career highlights” or “key qualifications." The right way depends on the major messages you are trying to send. The executive summary should also not dominate the first page: a quarter to a third of a page at the longest. Ultimately, you don’t want the summary to obfuscate the actual chronology (that is the problem with the old style “functional” resumes), but to tie together the key themes that are embedded within it. No. 3: Concrete accomplishments - Some executive resumes read like job descriptions: "My responsibilities for this job were a, b, c," etc. Readers want to know both your job responsibilities and that you did them well. Getting accomplishments into the resume (the more concrete the better) provides punch to the resume and gives people a sense what you get done.

Similarly for executives, general pronouncements within an executive summary about "good communication skills" aren't as powerful as specific areas of expertise and accomplishments in differentiating you as an executive. Everybody can claim strong communications skills (even if others would disagree).

The same thing holds for accomplishments. Readers can infer strong leadership from examples of results but they can't infer great results just from statements about strong leadership. That isn’t to say leadership style isn’t important, but employers look to make evaluations on that in the interviewing process and not the resume.

No. 4: Unclear functional niche - Having an eclectic career isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it is to the detriment of a candidate if someone can't clearly understand what you do either because your titles are ambiguous or because you've done many different things.

Recruiters and employers look to categorize people. Conveying that you fit in multiple categories may work. Not enabling someone to understand what category you fit at all tends to get a resume ignored.

For example, supposed your core experience is as a CIO but your most recent role was a short stint in a senior operations role. You don’t have to necessarily choose between the two, but you do have to find ways to directly convey information about both roles rather than leaving recruiters guessing about it.

No. 5: Visually difficult to read - People tend to form impressions on a resume in less than a 10 second read. If they can discern the major messages in that time and like what they see, only then are they likely to read the resume more in depth. If not, they usually move on.

Resumes that are disorganized, too long, or too dense often get overlooked. An ideal resume should be well organized, deliver a coherent message and be aesthetically pleasing.

All in all resume are marketing documents. As you write them you need to try to think as much like a chief marketing officer as you do a CIO: What about your experience and skills are going to generate the most interest in the market you are targeting? Accordingly, it’s usually worth “test marketing” a resume with a close friend or colleague, ideally someone who knows your function and market, if not your actual work.

An executive resume is a little like an insurance policy in that most people don’t think about it until they need one, but when you need one you want an extremely good one.

Howard Seidel, Ed.D., J.D., is a partner at Essex Partners, a consultancy that specializes in senior executive and C-suite career transition. Seidel has over 15 years experience as a career and executive coach, guiding hundreds of senior executives in all aspects of career development and change.