Tech & Work

An executive resume needs to send a clear, accurate message

To move up to the IT executive branch, you must make sure your resume clearly spells out the role you're looking for and specific experience that makes you a good candidate. Our career experts also suggest customizing your resume to the job opportunity.


To be considered for that next high level IT role, your resume needs to clearly indicate what role you're looking for and provide insight on your experience that supports your ability to do the job.

If your resume sends a mixed message, you'll very likely get mixed results on your job hunt. For example, if you're looking to apply for a top MIS management position, everything on your resume should convey one message to corporate executives: “My experience and accomplishments qualify me to succeed in a management role for you.”

And that’s exactly where this month’s resume, submitted by Alex P., from Michigan, and shown below in Figure A, falls a bit short.

I invited Felix Lin, a recruiting professional at Los Angeles-based Marclin Group, to review Alex P.'s resume. During our critique, we uncovered four areas that needed improvement. The edited version, which shows suggested improvements, can be downloaded for easy use in improving your resume.
  • Alex's resume has to make the right first impression; page one needs to be more compelling.
  • Alex needs to customize the document to better fit the job role he's seeking.
  • Alex needs to replace fluff and filler with specific facts so hiring managers will clearly see he gets results.

Making the right first impression
“If I see the words ‘network administrator’ near the start of a resume of someone looking to hit the CIO or VP level, he or she is probably not a candidate I’m going to seriously consider,” related recruiter Lin, on his first impression of Alex P.'s resume.

Unfortunately, Alex made a cardinal mistake with his resume—he gave the wrong first impression and probably ruled himself out as an upper-level candidate by including “senior network administrator” in the opening objective.

Instead, Alex needs to qualify himself as a management candidate by starting his resume with emphasis on higher-level skills and experience.

Here’s how I might reword his opening section:

Seeking MIS management position where my nine years of experience in project management, information technology management, and network security can make a significant contribution.

Remember, you don’t need to confess everything or appeal to all readers. The goal of your resume is to land an interview for the one job you want most. Every word in it should support that goal.

How to compel readership
As I advise my clients every day, the top of your resume's first page is the most valuable real estate so you need to use it wisely—the goal is to grab readers’ attention and force them to keep reading.

“If the hiring manager sees what he wants in the first half of page one, he’ll read the rest, so that first part is critical,” noted Lin.

Alex needs to include an executive summary after the opening "Objective." I typically would call this section a "Profile" or "Summary of Qualifications." In it, you should include four to five bullet points that emphasize your most valuable executive skills, experience, and results produced.

"I suggest to management candidates that they include a bullet that describes their management style, since that’s a question I as a recruiter will ask them anyway,” added Lin.

Alex could generate reader interest by adding a few paragraphs highlighting the following:
  • How he specifically controlled costs or saved money for employers
  • One or two major IT projects he led from start to finish and the resulting payback to the business
  • The most valuable technologies he’s used/managed and industry sectors he’s worked in
  • Strategic planning he’s done with management teams
  • How he has solved business problems, listing specific results

Why you need to customize your resume
In this job market, too many executive IT candidates are chasing too few openings. So tech execs must differentiate themselves as much as possible. A great approach is to customize a resume to the specific job opening for which you're aiming.

“I advise all IT professionals to avoid sending out generic resumes. Since you have to get past gatekeepers who often don’t have technical backgrounds, it’s important to make sure you include keywords that can grab their attention and keep them reading,” said Lin.

To do that, one good trick is to research the prospective employer online and with networking contacts to find out as much as you can about what technologies they're using and their IT approach. The more you know, the better you can tailor your resume to appeal directly to company leaders.

“You want to know what kind of management style will be a good fit at your target employer. If you have contacts there, find out what happened to the person you’ll be hired to replace. Use any advantage you can get—you have to research companies like there’s no tomorrow,” said Lin.

Avoid filler and stick to the facts
Every word on a resume should offer value, and you won’t get hired any faster by stating the obvious.

For example, no CEO or executive recruiter needs to be told that you have “excellent work habits,” as Alex related in this resume. “Why would you not have excellent work habits?” noted Lin.

This falls under my “hunting dog” rule, which is: Never describe yourself in language that could also describe a golden retriever, like “hard worker,” “loyal,” “honest,” etc.

The resume should offer good insight that recruiters or hiring managers will then ask about in the subsequent interview.

“I would ask Alex about how many people he’s managed and about the database applications he’s worked on in some projects,” said Lin.

Focus the resume on illustrative projects you’ve managed, with numbers to back them up—from budgets and time frames, to the number of team members, ROI, etc. Numbers add credibility to experience claims and show readers that you’ve done your homework.

To succeed in its goal, a resume needs to focus tightly on each high-level job you’re applying for. So, revise your resume to emphasize the parts that qualify you for the one job you seek, and back up your claims with numbers.

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