Resumes can be drudgery to update, and it’s often hard to concisely map out skills and achievements within a constrained document, especially if you have had a long IT tenure. But a poorly written resume could cost you a job opportunity for which you may be perfectly qualified.

Not everyone believes that resumes are always absolutely essential on the executive level. Spencer Clarke, principal of the S.R. Clarke executive search firm, said that the top 10 percent of tech executives are in two camps: those with big reputations who don’t rely as much on resumes—at least to get their foot in the door—and those who are quite skilled but work more in the background and may rely more on their resumes. However, recruiters and hiring experts all believe a resume offers a first glance at a candidate’s communication skills—a crucial skill on the CIO level.

Is it really needed?
As an IT professional advances in the tech hierarchy, the issues surrounding resumes change slightly. It’s reasonable to wonder whether a resume is necessary at all and, if it is, whether the resume—or curriculum vitae (CV)—should be positioned differently than the resume of an entry- or mid-level candidate.

Some recruiters suggest that the C-level jobs (CIO, CTO) are so specialized that resumes are largely unnecessary. At best, these experts consider a resume more of a conversation starting point between a hiring organization and a candidate than an experience presentation.

“The primary purpose of a resume is to get your foot in the door toward an interview, and ‘networking’ can often be just as good a tool for that,” said Bill Houle, the director of IT for a telecom manufacturer. “At that point, the resume is a formality that is used solely as a document for interviewers to study and decide on the appropriate line of questioning during the interview.”

The contrasting view is that hiring at this level is so important to a company—especially in bad economic times—that more people in the corporation will be involved in the final decision and so the resume will be scrutinized by various executives.

Hiring through personal connections—an approach often encouraged at the lower tech levels—is frowned on in the boardroom due to nepotism fears and the fact that an executive has such power and budget control. Experts say the resume is viewed as the link to a big paper trail should something go awry in corporate decision-making or criminal actions. On the top corporate tier, references will be called and the claimed work history carefully vetted, according to experts. “At this level [CIO], it’s past hiring on a relationship,” explained Gina Schiller, VP of technical recruitment for JB Homer, an executive search firm specializing in IT leadership placement.

Bringing across communication skills
Kim Heldman, director of the project management office for the Colorado Department of Revenue, said that a resume clearly shows how well you are able to express yourself to different groups.

“If your resume can convince me that you not only know your stuff but can also communicate at a level that our customers and the senior management staff will understand, you’re one step ahead of the competition,” she said.

The ability to express yourself grows in importance as you rise in the organization and your tasks become more conceptual and less hands-on. Somebody whose job is to deploy a WLAN or upgrade security may go weeks without speaking to a nonengineer on work-related topics; a CIO has to communicate with a variety of people whose jobs are not technical.

“The difference is that when you are starting out in technology you put down a lot of information about the environment you are working in: Is it UNIX? Is it NT? It’s more about where you are than what you are doing,” explained Schiller.

“At [the higher level] it’s more about accomplishments: how you aligned technology with the changing needs of the business…. At this level, it’s not just about technology. It’s about where the technology impacted the business,” she added.

And despite what you may assume, running to a professional resume writer isn’t a good decision. Recruiters say that hiring personnel—whether they’re in HR, a search firm, or the CEO—want to see specific job and duty information, but professional resume writers often focus on justifying their existence by using fancy and superfluous formats and approaches.

“People should learn to be very concise,” Schiller advised. “It should be bullet-pointed as opposed to a long description,” she added.