CIO resume refresher best practices

Martha Heller, president of Heller Search Associates, offers CIOs candid tips on hard topics and sensitive issues, as well as simple steps to crafting a winning resume.

Recruiters spend their days sifting through piles and piles of resumes -- so how can a prospective CIO stand out from the crowd? Just as you wouldn't wear your worst suit to an interview, it's important that your resume not only look presentable but also be concise and convey key information regarding your education, career trajectory and more.

Martha Heller, president of Heller Search Associates, a firm that specializes in recruiting CIOs and other technology executives, knows how crucial it is to craft an outstanding CIO résumé. In this expert podcast, Heller offers advice on writing an effective and concise CIO résumé. Listen to the podcast and read the transcript below.

Be concise

Consider a recruiter who looks through hundreds of résumés a week. Ultimately, what matters is the content, what you've done. However, just as you wouldn't wear your worst suit to an interview, you may say the same things you would say in your best suit, but that bad suit is going to turn off -- it's going to make that very first impression a less-than-positive one.

So will a four-page résumé. It's annoying to read a four-page résumé -- it's too long. It's too much paper. What it shows a recruiter is that you don't know how to communicate concisely, and concise communication is one of the absolute critical skills of any executive, whether it's a CIO or not. So if you put a four-page résumé in there, you look like somebody [whose] first impression is, 'I can't prioritize and I can't communicate in a concise manner.'

Include key company metrics

A quick, early way to evaluate a résumé is using that trick. So if my company has 20,000 employees that I'm recruiting for, I need to know how many employees your company has. If the role I'm recruiting for is going to have a staff of 300, I need to know your staff, how many people you've managed.

Same goes for your budget. Same goes for the size of the projects you've managed from the perspective of budget. Same goes for the annual revenues.

If you can, get metrics in there, like [the following]: 'I have been CIO for this company, which is a $10 billion company with 25,000 employees; I've got a staff of 250 and an annual budget of $3 billion or … $100 million.' Put that in there, because that's going to allow a recruiter to see the relevance of what you've done.

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Similarly, after each role, when you say, 'OK, I'm the CIO of X company,' do a one-liner on what that company is. 'X company is a $12 billion maker of paper products.'

You want to include more detail about the last three jobs, and as you get toward the beginning of your career, you want to include very little detail. What a recruiter is going to look for in a résumé is, 'I want to see how long you've been at each company, and I want to see that you've had an upward trajectory.' So if you came into a company as an assistant director, and then moved to be a director, and then moved to be a senior director, and then a VP, and then a CIO, you want to show all of those moves. You don't have to list everything you did under each one of those, but you definitely want to show that you came in and were promoted. There are a lot of different ways to do that, but just make sure that you're showing your career as a trajectory.

Unless you are very advanced in your career, meaning that you have two more years to work before you retire, put your dates on your education. I've seen people who are 43 years old -- which is a great age to be hired into a CIO role -- not put their dates down. When people don't put their dates on their education, I assume that they're approaching 70. So if you're not approaching 70, put your dates down, and if you are approaching 70, it's debatable.

The fact of the matter is, I am not going to present you to my client unless I know how old you are. I'm going to find out. Tell me now; it's more marketable.

Pay attention to résumé length and formatting

In terms of length, two and a half [pages] is fine, but don't go much longer than that. Also, pay attention to formatting. Give your résumé to a résumé service if you don't know how to make it pretty yourself.

I'm going to go back to that same analogy. Don't wear your worst tie to an interview, and don't use horrible fonts and really narrow margins, where you treat every kind of information with the exact same font. You need to present your résumé in a way that is pleasing to the eye, not just because it's a good impression, but because it allows the people who spend their lives reading résumés to ingest your information much more efficiently, and that's what you want.

Contextualize!

Recruiters do not read information that is not contextualized in a company and in a role. If you have a whole list of bullet items on your first page that say, 'Ran $10 billion CRM [customer relationship management] program, built a staff from scratch, turned around an IT organization,' that means nothing to me because I don't know where you did it. That's like reading a newspaper article that says, 'Seven hundred people were attacked by a bomb.' Well, where? That doesn't mean anything to me unless you contextualize it: What part of the country? Who were these people?

To have a whole cover sheet that just lists all these accomplishments, but that are not grounded in a particular role makes no sense. I would lose that cover sheet.

I would maybe just have something at the top that says, 'IT executive with 20 years of experience in the following industries, excelling in staff development, blah, blah, blah.' I guarantee there's nothing unique about that compared to what everybody else is putting on. But then, right at the top of that résumé, right after you've gotten [in] that little generic info, you should say, 'Currently, I am CIO of this company.' Then, all your good stuff should be contextualized underneath that role.

Generic information that says, 'I'm a great leader,' tells me nothing. How many people? What did you do? How did you do it? That's what I need to know.

About the expert
Martha Heller is founder and president of Heller Search Associates, a recruiting firm that specializes in CIOs and other IT executive roles. Before Heller Search, Heller was managing director of the IT leadership practice at ZRG Partners. She was also founder and managing director of CIO magazine's CIO Executive Council. Heller is author of The CIO Paradox: Battling the Contradictions of IT Leadership, and is contributing editor to CIO magazine. Follow her on Twitter: @marthaheller.

This was first published in February 2008

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