by Sarah K. White

CDO resumes: 5 tips for landing a chief data officer role

Nov 17, 20229 mins
CareersData ManagementIT Leadership

Chief data officers are on the rise as businesses embrace data-driven strategies. But you’ll want to follow these five tips to write the perfect CDO resume to get the job.

women in job interview
Credit: Cavan Images / Shutterstock

As companies start to adapt data-first strategies, the role of chief data officer is becoming increasingly important, especially as businesses seek to capitalize on data to gain a competitive advantage. A role historically focused on data governance and compliance, the scope of responsibilities for CDOs has since grown, pushing them to become strategic business leaders, according to data from IDC.

According to the survey, 80% of the top KPIs that CDOs report focusing on are business oriented. The top five KPIs for CDOs include operational efficiency, data privacy and protection, productivity and capacity, innovation and revenue, and customer satisfaction and success. And 87% of CXOs said that “becoming a more intelligent enterprise is their top priority by 2025,” with 52% of CDOs reporting to a business leader.

If you’re looking to embark on an executive career as a CDO, you’ll need a strong resume. But you don’t need to feel intimidated when writing your executive-level CV; you just need to do a little research. Here are tips from technology resume experts on how to write the ideal resume for chief data officer positions, along with one shining example.

1. Focus on transformation

Data has become a top priority for businesses large and small, and while some companies have already established a digital strategy, many of them are just getting started. As CDO you’ll likely be tasked with some type of digital or data transformation, whether it’s a complete overall of a company’s data practices, or helping a company improve or advance their data strategy to the next level.

“When preparing a resume for CDO roles, each candidate must consider their audience, as different companies include a range of duties into each role. However, the ability to drive digital technology transformation is going to be the focus,” says Stephen Van Vreede, resume expert at IT Tech Exec.

To demonstrate your ability to lead data transformations, you’ll want to highlight relevant skills such as business strategy, strategic planning, business operations, data governance, goal alignment, data security, data sourcing, technology roadmap development, change management, communication, and team leadership.

Look to job listings to help you find a focus or theme for your resume. Some positions will focus more heavily on security or emerging technology, while others will focus more on data and analytics. For CDO roles that are focused on transformation, you can make that the central theme of your resume and demonstrate how your background, expertise, and skills make you a strong fit for the job.

Highlight any experience you have with helping companies build or transform their data science and analytics strategies. For example, you should include examples of any time you helped implement new data or analytics technologies, assisted in maintaining or building databases, found new insights with data, or informed the overall data and analytics strategy in a past role. It’s important to demonstrate that you know how to successfully support or implement digital transformation, especially as it applies to overall business goals.

2. Create a flexible resume

Your resume should be a flexible document that you can quickly tweak to fit the job you’re applying for. This might mean highlighting specific skills or adding in relevant expertise that you originally left off your resume. Van Vreede suggests creating a “modular” resume that can be updated to be a custom fit for any job listing.

Your summary should always describe the “value add you bring to the organization as a CDO,” he says. But make sure the summary also includes keywords that align with the job listing. Add in keywords that you haven’t included or if you phrased a skill or accomplishment in a different way, go back into your resume and re-word it. Your experience section can also have a bulleted list of your achievements which can be re-ordered to “prioritize the things that the company seems to care about the most based on the posting,” Van Vreede says.

“If the posting emphasizes that the candidate must have experience in digital product development, then the first achievements listed for each role should focus on digital product development and delivery. However, if another posting lists cloud experience as the key requirement, then the bullet points should prioritize cloud transformation initiatives,” he says.

Use job listings you’re interested in as a guide for creating a base resume that you can later customize based off job listings. Cheryl Lynch Simpson, career, job search, and LinkedIn coach and master resume writer, suggests going through a dozen or more job listings to create your base resume and then tailor it from there as needed.

“Although resume tailoring shouldn’t take a lot of time, it should be thorough and include potential changes to the resume’s title, summary, keywords, position descriptions, achievements, and credentials. It’s easiest if the job seeker highlights key requirements, phrases, and responsibilities in the job postings and then looks for specific locations in the document where many of them could be incorporated,” says Simpson.

3. Keep ATS in mind

Applicant tracking systems (ATS) automate part of the hiring process by filtering out resumes that hit specific keywords relevant to the job listing. This helps recruiters and hiring managers sort through large stacks of resumes to quickly find qualified candidates. But if your resume isn’t set up to be ATS-friendly, you might run the risk of it going unnoticed by the automated system.

An ATS compares your resume to the content in the listing’s requirements, and it will count the number of times keywords appear, according to Simpson. Resumes are then ranked using this “scoring process” so recruiters know which candidates to look at first.

“Applicant tracking systems are very common and can trip up any candidate. But I’ve found that these systems make C-level candidates in technology very frustrated, because it often filters out really good people,” says Van Vreede.

One of the biggest concerns for job seekers is that your resume is converted to a plain text file once it’s uploaded to an ATS system, which can remove any special formatting. If your resume uses a lot of special formatting, such as headers or images, you will want to create a version with simpler formatting. You can save your formatted resume to send directly to your C-level contacts and use the simplified version for applying to jobs online.  

“It’s also critical to understand that in many cases recruiters will include an amount or range of required experience in the job posting. This amount or range is then used as a filter to eliminate applicants who do not match the requirements,” says Simpson.

If a job listing asks for 15 to 18 years’ experience, the ATS will scan your resume and try to determine how many years of experience you have. That means people with less or more experience will automatically get kicked out by the system, so it’s important to “experience-proof” your resume so that it matches the job you’re looking for, says Simpson.

4. Highlight your soft skills

At the leadership level, there is less of a focus on your hard skills and a stronger focus on the soft skills required for effective leadership. Once you’ve reached the point in your career where you’re being considered for an executive-level position as CDO, it’s expected that you have the technical knowledge and background. Once you make the move into leadership, there’s an entirely new skillset that you’ll have to highlight that isn’t necessarily found in more technical roles.

According to a survey from MIT and Accenture, the top six skills required for CDOs to be successful are being a change agent (67%), evangelist (47%), translator (34%), networker (34%), innovator (29%), and having an inquisitive mind (27%). You’ll want your resume to reflect these soft skills that focus more on people management and transformational leadership. As you reach the executive level, you want to emphasize that you have the right skills and ability to lead people, rather than the skills to handle day-to-day technologies.

It’s a role that requires interpersonal and communication skills, especially in the face of the more common challenges CDOs face. According to the survey, CDO’s face a talent shortage (53%), internal culture clashes and delayed adoption rates (47%), limited funding to support digital transformation (44%), and siloed infrastructure (37%), among other challenges. To combat these potential issues in the workplace, CDOs need the right skills to navigate potentially complex internal dynamics and corporate cultures to enable digital transformation.

5. Avoid being too tactical

One resume mistake Van Vreede and Simpson both see CDO candidates repeatedly make is to write a resume that is too “tactical.” A tactical resume is one that simply offers information without any context that connects your experience to your career goals.

It’s tempting in technical jobs to just write out a “laundry list” of your skills, achievements and experience based off your current level. Instead, you should try to demonstrate relevant skills and accomplishments that will qualify you for a C-level position. For example, if you’re currently at the VP or senior director level, focus on writing a resume for an executive-level position and including the skills and expertise that translate to the CDO role.   

“In technical fields, even at the C-suite it is tempting to make the resume tactical rather than emphasizing the design and execution of data strategy. It isn’t enough for a resume to stress strategic planning skills; it must also demonstrate experience in designing data strategies and leading their execution through the inclusion of measurable achievements that show, not tell, his or her proficiency,” says Simpson.

CDO resume example

We recently paired up Van Vreede with an aspiring CDO to overhaul her resume for an executive-level position. As part of that process, Van Vreede helped the candidate, whose identity has been changed in the below final resume, transform her resume from a lengthy history of her career with data and analytics to a vivid picture of how her experience and skills lead inevitably to the CDO role.