When I screened résumés for CIO.com's résumé makeover, I observed a variety of mistakes IT professionals repeatedly made. They included not emphasizing relevant work experience, failing to explain the business benefits derived from their work, and including too much information.
Howard Seidel, a career coach and partner with outplacement consulting firm Essex Partners, has also noted his share of mistakes that executives make on their résumés. Here he shares the five most common missteps he sees.
1. The résumé lacks an overarching brand. A résumé is a vehicle for communicating an individual's personal brand. So before IT executives even think about writing a résumé, they need to give thought to their personal brand—that is, their unique combination of skills, experience and personality that distinguishes them from all other IT leaders in the job market.
Every element of a CIO's résumé, from the executive summary to specific work experiences and accomplishments, has to back up his or her brand. That way, recruiters and potential employers get a clear picture of the CIO's unique value.
"The purpose of the résumé is primarily to enable people to identify what kind of leader you are, based on the accomplishments and skillsets you have," says Seidel.
IT executives make two common mistakes when it comes to branding: They either try to portray themselves as jacks-of-all-trades in order to appeal to as many jobs and employers as possible, or they attempt to depict themselves as whatever flavor-of-the-month companies say they want in a CIO. (These days it's innovators or transformational leaders focused on business growth.)
The problem with portraying oneself as a generalist on one's résumé, says Seidel, is that it makes it hard for recruiters to determine your strengths. The issue with the latter approach is that when CIOs try to portray themselves as something they're not, hiring managers see right through it: Often the CIO's work experience does not substantiate the brand he or she is trying to communicate.
2. The résumé lacks an executive summary. Seidel says an executive summary that highlights a CIO's expertise and the professional traits that differentiate him or her from everyone else in the market is critical. Good executive summaries are clear, concise and powerful. They're important because they're the first item on an executive résumé that recruiters and hiring managers read. If a CIO's executive summary piques a recruiter's interest, the recruiter will continue reading.
Here's an example of a good executive summary for a CIO, taken from the résumé makeover:
Influential IT Management Executive with 20+ years of achievement in leveraging technology to drive organizational growth, performance, profitability, and expand intellectual property capital. Acts as a change agent, capable of orchestrating transformative business strategy through data-driven decisions. Champions innovation with a focus on developing flexible, scalable solutions for consumer and organizational problems. Diverse experience in high-growth, startup, and turnaround environments with extensive knowledge of the healthcare industry. Respected leader in both highly-matrixed corporate environments and in the Indianapolis-area technology community.
Executive summaries are also key, says Seidel, because they signal to recruiters and employers the type of leader a CIO is and the kinds of positions or organizations that would best suit the CIO, given his or her background and expertise.
3. The résumé doesn't communicate the CIO's functional niche. Recruiters and employers look to categorize candidates when screening résumés, says Seidel. For CIOs, such categories might include infrastructure CIO, turnaround CIO, healthcare CIO, startup CIO, Fortune 500 CIO.
A CIO's employment history, combined with his or her executive summary, should communicate the CIO's functional niche—that is, the types of roles to which the CIO would be best suited. Ideally, the CIO's description of his or her work experience and accomplishments will demonstrate what type of CIO he or she is.
IT leaders who've had an "eclectic" career, moving from IT management roles to consulting to starting their own companies, for example, are harder for recruiters and employers to categorize, says Seidel. The trick for them is to convey to recruiters that they're versatile and can fit into different roles.
4. The résumé lacks concrete accomplishments. When writing about your work experience, include three to five specific business goals you accomplished, in addition to noting your core responsibilities in each role you've held, advises Seidel. "Make sure they're really hard-hitting," he says. "If you're portraying yourself as a transformational leader, you have to show your legacy in terms of how an organization was transformed through your accomplishments."
Concrete accomplishments are such critical elements of an executive résumé, adds Seidel, because they give recruiters and employers a clear sense of your capabilities based on what you've actually done.
They also back up more general claims a CIO might make in his or her executive summary about leadership capabilities. "Readers can infer strong leadership from examples of results," says Seidel. "But they can't infer great results from statements about strong leadership."
5. The résumé is visually overwhelming. Some IT executives feel compelled to pack their résumés with as many professional details, projects and responsibilities as possible, to provide recruiters and employers with a complete sense of their capabilities and backgrounds. This approach often creates résumés that are difficult to read.
If a recruiter gives your résumé a quick scan and gets overwhelmed by bullets, adjectives or paragraphs of text, they won't know what information is most important to attach to, says Seidel, and they will quickly move on to the next résumé.
"Sometimes quantity drives out quality," he adds. "A lot of times, more is actually less. White space is really important."
Meridith Levinson covers Careers, Project Management and Outsourcing for CIO.com. Follow Meridith on Twitter @meridith. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Meridith at firstname.lastname@example.org.