Conflicting advice on how to write a strong resume abounds — and when you’re targeting a CIO position, there’s even more to consider. At the executive level, a well-crafted career story is essential. This requires an ability to highlight and emphasize your experience, accomplishments, and achievements in a honed, cohesive arc leading directly to your next leadership role.
Here, industry experts offer nine best practices for writing a winning CIO resume. To help you hone your final version, we’ve also included examples of strong CIO resumes that have been crafted with the help of IT resume experts.
1. Be brief
When targeting a C-suite position, it can be tempting to prove your value with volume. But to get through the door, you should keep your resume short — around two to three pages max. In culling down your CV, you’ll still want to include your work history, positions you’ve held, relevant accomplishments, educational background and the dates of each position, so the art is in how you tackle accomplishments and relevant experience.
“If I can’t look at your resume and in five seconds know who you are and what you do, you’ve already lost. At most, you get ten seconds of time from a recruiter before they make a decision about the future of your career. You do not want to take that chance,” says John Garvens, Salesforce consultant, technical trainer, and career coach.
Brevity forces you to choose accomplishments most relevant to the role at hand — read the job description and make sure your resume emphasizes what they’re looking for in a CIO. If you’re not applying for a specific position, choose accomplishments that are most relevant to a CIO role in general — especially those that reflect your abilities as a leader.
“Recruiters are only interested in the last 10-15 years of experience, and for IT, don’t waste time talking about ancient software or hardware that companies and business no longer use,” says Dawn D. Boyer, Ph.D., CEO of D. Boyer Consulting and resume writer and career consultant.
2. Be clear
Your resume should be clear and well-organized, but avoid using graphics, tables, or other formatting choices that might interfere with applicant tracking systems (ATS), Boyer says. She suggests using one simple font and sticking to “lines, spaces, and only bold or italic fonts to emphasis any points.”
“Don’t forget the obvious. After naming company, location, and date, say something about the company, its structure, size, revenues, etc. After your job title, be sure to start with a paragraph on responsibilities. Then bullet point the accomplishments with as much quantifications as possible,” says Marc Lewis, CEO of executive search firm Leadership Capital Group.
A resume is the first step to landing an interview, so you want to share enough that it shows why you’re a good candidate, but not so much that the resume gets bogged down with information.
“Remember that your resume is just what gets you to the interview phase, so you don’t need to pour your whole life into it. Once you are in the interview process you can expand further to give the potential employer a deeper sense about what makes you unique,” says Ed Addario, CTO of Currencycloud.
3. Establish your career story and brand
Before you embark on writing your executive resume, take time to consider how you want to portray your professional brand. Your career experience can tell a story to recruiters and hiring managers — and you want to paint a picture of how you’ve built your skills and expertise. Make sure your social media pages, LinkedIn, and other professional websites align with your resume, telling the same story.
For example, in this resume makeover Mark Bye worked with Andrew Ysasi, president of Adamovio and vice president of Vital Records Control, to develop and establish his career story for his resume. Ysasi was able to take Bye’s career history and position it in a way that tells the recruiters and hiring managers why he is qualified for an executive-level IT position. You need to make it clear what role you want, why you are qualified for it, and how your storied career will make you the ideal candidate for the role.
4. Focus on your business value
In the past, the business value of a CIO centered more around operations, efficiency, and cost reduction, says Derek Choy, CIO at Rainforest Q&A. Those are still important skills for your resume, but businesses want to see how your leadership skills can bring value to the organization. Businesses want to hire a CIO who can make an impact on the quality of the organization’s processes, products, services, and software through strong leadership skills.
“While having data around how much money you saved a company is nice, you need to show that you know how to be a leader during the development process, optimizing not only for cost, but process efficiency as well. CIOs must show that they know how to work with people, product and tools to better serve a company,” says Choy.
5. Tailor your resume to the job description
If you’re interested in transitioning to a CIO-level role, you will want to spend time analyzing job descriptions for positions you’re interested in to help tailor your resume. Reading relevant job descriptions can give you an idea of what skills and experience will be important to highlight on your resume for the role you want.
For example, Ysasi helped Matthew Bond rewrite his resume for CIO-level roles by searching for relevant job descriptions with Bond to help figure out the overall theme for his resume. After reviewing several relevant job descriptions, Ysasi and Bond were able to tailor his resume to reflect the skills and expertise that companies were looking for in a CIO.
Before sending out your resume, take the time to make any necessary changes or adjustments to ensure your resume perfectly suits the job description. Rather than sending the same resume to each company, take a moment to review the job description and identify any relevant skills or expertise that you can add to your resume.
6. Convey your transformational leadership capability
Businesses are looking for transformational CIOs who can lead the business forward, modernize the IT infrastructure and encourage talented workers. IT departments need to be more fluid than in the past as the pace of technology quickens, so organizations need leaders who can drive that change.
“For example, software rollout used to take place on an annual or quarterly basis, whereas businesses are now constantly putting out new updates. Optimizing the development process itself is now the main focus, with the biggest emphasis on saving time while protecting quality. Today’s CIOs play a key role in facilitating this by having a deeper understanding of the people, product, and tools that build company software,” says Choy.
There are plenty of ways to show you have transformational leadership qualities on your resume. For example, if you’ve worked in an industry outside the industry you’re applying to, you can emphasize how that experience gives you a unique perspective, says Currencycloud’s Addario.
“If a candidate is just trading one job to work at a competitor’s company, they have probably faced very similar challenges — but likely came up with similar solutions. Candidates that come from an adjacent industry bring a completely different perspective to the table on the way things are done,” Addario says.
Find ways to stand out from the competition while demonstrating your capability as an innovative and transformative IT leader.
7. Show steady career progression
When you write your resume, you want to show a clear transition between your jobs, experience, and background. In a way, it’s like telling your career story of having successfully moved from one opportunity to the next and how your skills and experience have built up to those of a model CIO. Find ways to show how you’ve grown in your career — through promotions, awards, side projects, and any events or conferences you’ve participated in.
“Modern CIOs must remember that the resume is only a starting point — they must also exhibit industry leadership through their actions and accomplishments. The best CIO candidates will have published work, written blog posts, spoken at conferences, and participated in product releases that show they are capable of the transformational work needed in the role today,” says Choy.
A great way to outline your career progression is through your executive summary at the top of your resume. Here, you can quickly summarize the highlights of your career in an easy-to-read format, so recruiters and hiring managers won’t have to search for it in your resume. In each example resume, you’ll see a strong executive summary that conveys the candidate’s career history in a bite-size format. Your executive summary gives recruiters a clear picture of the career path you’ve laid out in the rest of the document.
8. Don’t forget formatting
You don’t need to be a graphic designer to make an aesthetically appealing resume — simple headers, fonts, and shapes found in Microsoft Word can be enough to draw attention to the high points of your resume. You might want to highlight your executive summary with a blue box, include a headshot at the top and even add a QR code that brings readers directly to your LinkedIn page.
For example, in his resume makeover, Bond’s original resume featured basic Times New Roman font, bulleted lists, and bolded text. Everything you would normally expect to see on a typical resume. But if you’re aiming for the C-suite, the last thing you want to do is send out a “typical” resume that blends in with the crowd. In another example, a seasoned global CIO took her resume to the next level with a visually aesthetic resume template created by Ysasi’s resume designer.
If you can’t find your creative juices while formatting your resume, you can always opt to work with a professional resume writer or designer to get the right look. Using colors, shapes, bullet points, headers, footers, and page breaks, you can easily avoid submitting a resume that looks identical to every other candidate. Hiring managers and recruiters have to sift through hundreds of resumes, so going the extra mile with your resume design can have a big impact.
9. Be human
In addition to assessing your leadership capabilities, some executive recruiters also use your resume to help understand who you are as an individual before your first phone call or interview. Thanks to technology, it’s easier than ever to show recruiters and hiring managers more of your personality through blogs, portfolios, and your social media accounts.
“In today’s world your LinkedIn profile is your living resume. As a recruiter, I care much more about what’s on LinkedIn than the resume you send me. To illustrate, I don’t care so much about what courses you took at UCLA because countless others have taken the same. But if you tell me you built an app that connects to a 3D printer to build robotic arms for wounded soldiers because your brother fought in Afghanistan, that’s really interesting. I want to talk to you,” says Peter Bugbee, an HR business partner at Liferay.
Include links to any relevant content that can demonstrate how you’ve positioned yourself within the industry. If you’re active on Twitter, LinkedIn, GitHub, Spiceworks, or Facebook, you can include links in your resume. If you’ve managed to gain an online following on a social website, it can demonstrate your ability to command an audience and lead others. You don’t have to be a thought leader to become a CIO, but engaging with the community on professional platforms can help establish your legitimacy in the industry.
CIO resume examples
Check out the following CIO resumes from our IT Resume Makeover series to see how CIOs have implemented these best practices — and to see how your CIO resume measures up.