Tech & Work

Clearing 'deadwood' from your resume is a must

Resume creation can be tough when you have years of experience to promote. Find out how to make sure all of your experience doesn't thwart your job-hunting efforts.


To put it simply, IT executives' resumes are sometimes just too darn long. The resumes of CIOs and VPs of IT often suffer from “can’t see the forest for the trees” syndrome. This happens when a resume is too focused on the “trees”—the many jobs that make up an executive candidate’s experience. Executives with years of experience often forget the most important aspect of a resume: to succinctly relate exactly what they can offer an employer.

That’s the main issue affecting this month’s four-page resume example that I reviewed with fellow career professional Doug Binning, president of Upstart Solutions, a company that provides search, compensation, and consulting expertise. His IT and HR experience includes stints at Andersen Consulting, Cray Research, Office Depot, and Apple Computer, Inc.

In addition to suggesting ways to shorten the example resume, which is shown marked up below and is also available for downloading, I’ll explain how to weed out typos and provide good reader context, and I'll give tips on improving your executive resume.

Open strongly
Our example resume, shown in Figure A, begins with a rather lackluster summary. It could benefit from more specifics—how many years of experience does this executive have? And including “improvements” twice here is redundant.
Figure A

Think of opening objectives or summary statements as a headline for an advertisement—in this case, the advertisement is your resume. The opening should excite readers and make them want to keep reading. When your resume is sitting in a pile with 100 others, compelling readership is a necessity.

Here’s an example of a new summary that might work here:

Accomplished IT executive with more than 15 years of experience directing major business transformations and MIS improvements. Saved up to $3 million annually and achieved up to $5 million in high-tech synergies since 1998.

Do you see the big difference? I lifted the two figures from the body of the resume where they were buried. Putting them on top will make readers do a double take (“Saved $3 million? Achieved $5 million in synergies? What? How?”) and it will keep them reading.

Be brief
“The initial review of a resume should be very brief—as little as 13 seconds. In this initial review, we look for several items, including companies worked for, job titles, and timeline. These items should all be prominently displayed,” explained Binning.

The good news is that all the items are easily found in this resume. The bad news is that the original resume took four pages to convey the information. “This resume needs to be cut down by a third or even half. The attention span of resume reviewers is notoriously short,” noted Binning.

A good rule is to limit yourself to two pages as a maximum length. Anything that doesn’t make the cut can be used to create supplemental documents—such as an addendum that lists your projects and experience in detail. You can bring these supplements to the job interview as a way to expand on your resume.

Be perfect
It may not seem like a huge issue, but a mistyped word can hurt your job chances, according to Binning. “One typo near the top of page one is unfortunate. It will stand out when spell checking is turned on, and this takes away from the overall presentation,” he said.

Let me take that a step further and suggest that one typo can completely ruin the overall presentation—especially if you’re competing for a senior management position where candidates are expected to be masters of detail. When it comes to spelling, grammar, and punctuation, you never know how forgiving a reader will be. So a good rule is to expect the worst and assume readers won’t accept a single mistake. Edit and proofread your resume accordingly.

This resume, like many, also suffers from random capitalization. So it’s good to review proper rules for capitalizing words found near the front or back of any good dictionary. For instance, in the resume, the phrase "a Client/Server Distributed architecture" should be "a client/server distributed architecture."

Focus on results
In any resume, 80 percent should focus on results produced in each job, with the remaining 20 percent dedicated to duties and responsibilities. Unfortunately, this resume has the ratio backwards. “Key achievements are highlighted on the two most recent positions, but I prefer to see them at the top of each section, not the end,” said Binning.

This resume could be quickly and dramatically improved by changing the focus to results that are specific and near the start of each section. Here’s a before-and-after example, taken from a sentence that’s good, but could be better:

Before
Reorganized and restructured the mid and back office support teams resulting in a 20% reduction in personnel.

After
Saved $235,000 annually ($705,000 since 1999) with 20% headcount reduction by reorganizing and restructuring the mid- and back-office support teams.

Context is key
If a CIO has tripled staff productivity by installing a new ERP system, the professional claims will carry more weight if the CIO did it for a 3,000-person global organization, as opposed to a three-man basement operation. That’s why you need to explain the size and scope of each company you’ve worked for, especially those that aren’t well known.

“This resume identifies the type of business each employer is involved in, and I’m glad, because it gives me context to evaluate their accomplishments,” said Binning. Binning has hit on a higher truth—anything you can do to make your reader’s job easier will improve the results you get with your resume.

To sum up, this resume could be improved by:
  • Opening strongly, with an objective or summary section that grabs readers by the lapels and forces them to keep reading.
  • Editing to reduce the length, in this case bringing it down to two pages.
  • Proofreading more diligently. Do it yourself, using your computer’s spelling checker, and then give your resume to at least two other people for input.
  • Breaking up paragraphs that are longer than two or three lines, so readers won’t feel overwhelmed.
  • Focusing about 80 percent on results and 20 percent on duties/responsibilities.

By making these improvements, this CIO’s resume will certainly get attention and very likely an invite to talk about the achievements and accomplishments detailed in it.

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