Henry Cole has held his position as an IT manager with a global life sciences company for nearly eight years. Like all ambitious IT managers, he wants to move up to the executive level. Cole believes he’s ready to step into an executive-level IT management position with a large company or into the top IT management spot at a small company based on his accomplishments, positive feedback he’s received from his employer, and recognitions with which he’s recently been honored. Since there are no opportunities for career growth with his employer, he’s looking outside his company, as he has been for the last year and a half.
Despite holding some impressive qualifications, including global IT management experience, Cole hasn’t had much luck in his job search. He attributes his lack of momentum in part to the fact that he has to be stealthy, which is why CIO.com is using the pseudonym Henry Cole.
“I work for a company that does not react well if they hear someone is looking for other opportunities,” he says. “People have been asked to leave when the company has found out they were looking for a new job.”
Cole also suspects his résumé is to blame for not getting more traction in the job market. When he submits it to prospective employers, he says the response it generally gets is silence. He estimates he’s applied for 50 to 60 positions over the past year and a half, and he’s only had three phone interviews.
“When I look at my résumé, even I admit it’s not an attention-getter,” says Cole. “What’s ironic is that I’m pretty good at vetting résumés as a hiring manager. I know a good résumé when I see one, but what’s frustrating is that I can’t seem to write a good résumé for myself.”
Cole adds that his biggest problem in writing his résumé is that he doesn’t know what experience to highlight in order to come off as a compelling candidate for executive-level IT management jobs. He’s showcased his ability to complete projects on time and on budget, create buy-in for initiatives, and manage and motivate IT staff, but those activities are not resonating with prospective employers.
Cole needs a résumé makeover.
Enter Professional Résumé Writer Ross Macpherson
Ross Macpherson, a certified professional résumé writer, personal branding strategist and career coach, agreed to energize Cole’s résumé. The president of Career Quest, Macpherson has 15 years of experience in career development and specializes in working with executives in the U.S., Canada and internationally.
CIO.com chose Cole’s résumé because it represented many mid-level IT managers’ career goals and résumé writing challenges.
The Problems with Cole’s Résumé
Macpherson thought Cole had the right idea with his résumé. It had all the important elements: a headline, an executive summary, a bulleted list of areas of expertise, and his professional experience. Cole just wasn’t maximizing the effectiveness of each of those elements. Macpherson pinpointed three main problems with Cole’s résumé:
1. It didn’t pop. Macpherson says his first impression of Cole’s résumé was that it made no impression. That’s likely why so few employers called Cole in response to his résumé: because it didn’t make an impression on them, either.
“A really effective résumé is a marketing tool, and it’s got to showcase your value,” says Macpherson. “It has to pop. Something in there has to make me go, ‘Wow.'”
2. It didn’t convey Cole’s executive caliber. Macpherson says Cole’s résumé didn’t look or read like an executive-level résumé in style or content. It didn’t contain the right language to communicate that Cole is capable of operating at the executive level, nor did it effectively showcase the strategic, high-level work Cole has done.
3. It was too long. Macpherson didn’t see any reason why Cole’s résumé needed to be three pages. He also suspected that the long paragraphs and lists of bullet points Cole favored in his executive summary, selected achievements and professional experience sections intimidated employers. “Résumés work well in small, easily digestible chunks of information,” says Macpherson. “Paragraphs don’t have impact.”
See Cole’s résumé before the makeover.
The Résumé Makeover
The trick to transforming a résumé for an IT manager into a résumé for an IT executive is changing one’s perspective on the purpose of a résumé. Many job seekers think résumés are supposed to showcase what they’re selling, says Macpherson. Instead, job seekers need to focus on what the employer is buying when they write their résumés. The job seeker’s goal with his résumé is to show the hiring manager that the job seeker is doing the kind of work the hiring manager wants done at his company. By focusing on the employers’ needs, job seekers can more effectively demonstrate that they possess the experience the hiring company is seeking.
Understanding what a company needs from an IT executive was Cole’s challenge when he worked on his résumé.
“At the executive level, companies are looking for massive improvements, massive change,” says Macpherson. “If a company needs a VP of information systems, they want to see how a candidate can change a company.”
Here are the specific changes Macpherson made to Cole’s résumé to make it pop and boost his executive credibility.
1. He bolstered Cole’s headline. Macpherson nixed Cole’s original, vague headline of “Business Technology Leader” in favor of “Senior Strategic IT Leader.” Under the new headline, Macpherson noted Cole’s three strongest areas of expertise: enterprise IT infrastructure, global operations and team development. Attention to formatting and font styles makes the headline stand out.
2. He drew attention to Cole’s key strengths. Under the executive summary, Macpherson drew attention to four of Cole’s strongest areas of expertise that brand him as executive caliber. “You read these headings and you get the level at which this guy operates,” says Macpherson. “It’s designed to drive home the fact that he’s at the top level.”
3. He used specific language to communicate Cole’s executive abilities. Macpherson underscored Cole’s work defining and implementing technology strategies throughout the résumé. “If you are trying to move to that more strategic level, you need to be talking strategy,” says Macpherson.
The résumé writer also used words that imply leadership, such as “led,” “directed” and “championed.” He changed half the bullets in the “Areas of Expertise” section of Cole’s résumé so that they better reflected an employer’s needs for an IT executive. And he brought Cole’s global operations experience to the fore. “That’s a huge plus,” Macpherson says of Cole’s experience setting up IT operations in Europe, the Far East and Australia.
4. He highlighted awards Cole received. In Cole’s version of his résumé, he buried recognition he had received on the third page, under a section called “Other.” Macpherson literally put these accomplishments front and center on the first page of Cole’s résumé. “If you win an award for your performance, that instantly tells me the level you operate on, and that should be showcased,” says Macpherson. “It distinguishes you.”
5. He scrapped the “Selected Achievements” section of Cole’s résumé. This section contained 14 bullet points, which Macpherson says was too many. Plus, it repeated information that was already in the work experience section of his résumé. Doing away with it allowed Macpherson to get Cole’s résumé on two pages.
6. He eliminated big paragraphs. Cole captured his work experience with his current employer on his original résumé in three long paragraphs that read like an essay. Macpherson reorganized that work experience into three easily digestible chunks. The first chunk described Cole’s overall responsibilities. The second featured a specific strategic initiative, to which Macpherson drew attention by setting it off in a box. The third chunk consisted of seven bullet points drawing attention to Cole’s various technical, financial and managerial accomplishments with his employer.
7. He minimized potential red flags. Cole’s original résumé contained two potential red flags. One was a short reference to consulting work he did for six years. Macpherson was concerned Cole’s stint as an independent consultant would raise questions about Cole’s employment history, since so many IT executives fall back on consulting when they’re out of work. To show potential employers that consulting was a viable career for Cole for six years, Macpherson beefed up that section with examples of projects Cole was hired to work on.
The other red flag was that Cole did not list his education on his original résumé. The reason: Although he has three years of college education, he does not hold a degree. Cole is worried that despite his credentials, employers won’t hire him because he lacks a college degree.
Macpherson says the lack of a college degree is a common issue he encounters with executives. His strategy for dealing with it is to “impress the pants off of the [job seeker’s] audience before they figure it out,” he says. He wants the employer to be “so impressed with what a candidate can do that by the time they realize he doesn’t have a degree, they don’t care. They still want to talk to him.”
See the new version of Cole’s résumé.
Pleased as Punch with a New Résumé
Cole says he “couldn’t be more pleased” with Macpherson’s work on his résumé, and he hopes that this new version will help him get his foot in the door and land more interviews.
“Even though I can look at what I had before and see all those elements in his makeover, Ross’s version simply works better,” says Cole. “It catches the eye faster, gets the points across more succinctly, and as someone who looks at several hundred résumés a year (three hit my desk in the last 48 hours), I can actually recognize that I’d likely respond to his copy more strongly than mine.”
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 email@example.com.