by Meridith Levinson

3 Critical Elements of an Executive Job Search

Sep 16, 20117 mins
CareersIT Jobs

Your resume, LinkedIn profile and professional bio make up the triple jump that launches an executive job search, says career coach Ross Macpherson. He explains how each of these elements complement each other and offers advice on how to make them stand out.

More than a few worker bees figure top executives simply sail from one six-figure job to the next, whisked along by suave executive recruiters who coach them on secret job interview tricks and help them negotiate lush compensation packages. Right.

Executive-level IT job searches aren’t nearly that easy.

For most IT executives, the job search is a lonely slog. It’s an endless cycle of searching for openings on sites like TheLadders and ExecuNet, updating and submitting résumés, cold-calling executive recruiters, and pumping their networks for leads. In such a dispiriting process, it’s easy to lose sight of what career coach Ross Macpherson calls the three fundamental elements of an executive job search: the résumé, the LinkedIn profile and the professional bio.

“These are the three must-haves,” says Macpherson, president of CareerQuest. “They make up the foundation for your job search.”

An IT executive’s résumé, LinkedIn profile and professional bio also represent the core building blocks of his or her personal brand, adds Macpherson. They communicate an executive’s singular value and differentiate an executive from his or her competition.

“You’re not competing with the unqualified and unwashed,” says Macpherson. “You’re competing against the best. Your résumé, bio and LinkedIn profile have to position you to be the best.”

Indeed, your résumé, LinkedIn profile and bio are such critical elements of your job search that if you haven’t perfected all three of them, you may never land a new job. That’s why, if your job search is flagging, you may want to refocus your efforts on these three key elements.

Here, Macpherson explains the unique role that your résumé, LinkedIn profile and bio play in your job search, how they complement each other, and how IT executives can make them sing to recruiters and prospective employers.

Your Résumé

Why it’s important: “The résumé is still the number one job search currency out there,” says Macpherson. “No matter how you get in front of a potential opportunity, at some point, everyone wants to see a résumé, and it has to be spectacular, especially at the senior level.”

How to make it stand out: When you write or update your résumé, instead of thinking structurally—that is, contact information goes here, experience goes here, education goes here—Macpherson advises his clients to think strategically, in terms of their target audience. What’s important to them? What do they need to know about your experience? When you start thinking about their needs, you’re better able to sell them on your value, says Macpherson. “It does make a difference,” he says. “It’s worth investing the time to get it right.”

An outstanding résumé will help you stand out, especially since the job market for executives is cluttered with bad ones. Few executive résumés make the candidate’s value crystal clear, Macpherson says. “If I read the first page and don’t know what you do for a living or why you’re better than the next person, that’s a problem,” he says.

IT executives can distinguish themselves by including a powerful executive summary at the top of the first page of their résumés that focuses on what they do best.

“The remainder of the résumé should be performance driven,” says Macpherson. “Too many résumés present too many bullet points that are part of a job description. What employers really want to see is impact. That’s what they’re paying you a salary for. They want to know the impact and benefits of your work.”

Your LinkedIn Profile

Why it’s important: LinkedIn is a critical component of an executive job search for a variety of reasons. For starters, more companies are using LinkedIn to source and screen candidates for jobs. According to a recent survey, 95 percent of employers have successfully hired candidates through LinkedIn. Another reason, says Macpherson: LinkedIn is the first and easiest way for a job seeker to start building his or her online identity. Moreover, your LinkedIn profile markets you in a way that your résumé can’t. You can capture more of your personality in your LinkedIn profile because you can write in the first person and elaborate on your professional interests and work experience.

How to make it stand out: First of all, publish a complete profile, urges Macpherson. Nothing says unprofessional like a LinkedIn profile that’s only 50 percent complete. Filling out your entire profile, complete with recommendations from colleagues and an appropriate photo, will improve your search results on the site, says Macpherson.

Second, come up with a compelling headline under your name. If you don’t, LinkedIn will default to your current job title and you’ll miss out on an opportunity to brand yourself, says Macpherson. An attention-grabbing headline is key because that headline will follow you around, he adds. If you contribute to various groups on LinkedIn, your headline will show up when you post a comment to a group forum. “If all your headline says is CIO, it doesn’t sell you among other CIOs,” says Macpherson.

Third, go to town on the summary section of your profile. LinkedIn gives you 2,000 characters so you can sell yourself to prospective employers and recruiters. Use the summary to describe who you are, what you do, and who you can help, he says.

Finally, take advantage of other features LinkedIn offers to enhance your profile. For example, says Macpherson, you can share PowerPoint presentations you’ve created or list books you’re reading. “If you want to present yourself as a thought-leader, put up some of your presentations, links to articles you’ve written or recommend, or to videos,” he adds. “You can turn a good profile into something really quite dynamic.”

Your Bio

Why it’s important: Sometimes, says Macpherson, giving someone a copy of your résumé can look desperate. For example, you don’t want to hand out copies of your résumé at trade shows. Instead, give people a ½ to one-page professional bio that states what you do, what makes you unique, and where you’ve worked.

“A bio makes for a softer introduction,” says Macpherson. “It opens up a conversation.”

The benefit of a bio, he adds, is that you can shape how you present yourself. “A résumé forces you to work in a chronology. In a bio, if there’s a job you’d rather not talk about, you don’t need to mention it. You can talk only about those aspects of your professional background that sell you the best, and that is a tremendously powerful tool,” says Macpherson.

How to make it stand out: Your professional bio should not read like the dull executive bios you find on corporate websites, which summarize leaders’ careers, the titles they’ve held, the organizations that employed them in the past, and end with the degrees they hold.

The first paragraph of your bio should serve as a branding or positioning statement, says Macpherson, explaining what you do, what you’re known for. The second paragraph can encapsulate your career, emphasizing accomplishments you’ve achieved as opposed to the places you’ve worked. The third paragraph could summarize your education. A final paragraph could describe your leadership style, says Macpherson.

As executives create and revise their résumés, LinkedIn profiles and professional bios, they need to ensure their branding is consistent across each of these elements, adds Macpherson. That said, you don’t want each building block to read like a carbon copy of the other, but you want to make sure that the key points you’re trying to communicate about your value are consistent across each channel.

“Everywhere people see you, they see the same qualities, same results, same performance,” says Macpherson.

Meridith Levinson covers Careers, Project Management and Outsourcing for Follow Meridith on Twitter @meridith. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Meridith at