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Overcoming Today’s Toughest

Résumé Challenges
By Marji McClure, ExecuNet Contributing Editor

E
xecutives in the job market today face many challenges related to their résumés.
They want and need to include the most relevant information they can as they
strive to make the most positive first impression with a potential employer that
they can. However, they sometimes struggle as they try to match the contents of their
resume with the criteria hiring organizations have in place for new leaders they bring
on board.

Because they fear the perception of being viewed as overqualified, experienced


executives frequently wonder if their entire work experience is relevant and should
be included. At the same time, executives are unsure if they should even send a
résumé for a position that requires experience they don't possess _ such as an
advanced degree.

©2009 Exec-U-Net Inc. All Rights Reserved Overall, the main goal is to be able to effectively communicate an individual's value
ExecuNet proposition _ regardless of age or experience.
295 Westport Avenue
Norwalk, CT 06851 WHAT SEARCH FIRM RECRUITERS THINK ABOUT EXECUTIVE RÈSUMÈ AND
(800) 637-3126 or (203) 750-1030 THE JOB SEARCH PROCESS
info@execunet.com
www.execunet.com • 55 percent say executives with 25 to 40 years of experience should include only the
last 15 to 20 years on their résumés.
ExecuNet is a private network for high-level
• 74 percent say if a candidate had a very short period of employment with a
executives who believe the right connections,
company (one to three months sometime within the past five years of his/her work
insights and market intelligence can lead them to
the right opportunities. A recognized authority in history), the candidate should briefly list the reason for leaving these short stints.
executive recruiting and human capital, ExecuNet • 78 percent say if a graduate degree is requested an otherwise qualified candidate
also provides access to confidential six-figure job would still be considered for an interview.
opportunities and authoritative resources to help • 33 percent say companies are less focused on age than in prior years.
top executives advance their careers.
Source: ExecuNet
IDENTIFY JOBS, COMPANIES AND GOALS the foundation of their first professional work experience," says
The first step executives need to take when facing résumé Melnik. She suggests including that early experience in a "very
challenges is to gain a solid understanding of what they are concise, collapsed fashion" by combining it into a four- or five-
looking for in a position, what the end goal of their job search line paragraph that can appear in a "Professional Experience &
should look like. More specifically, executives should be able to Achievements" section in the résumé.
identify the exact type of company and exact type of role they
seek. "By starting with the end in mind, executives can craft the Melnik offers this example: Earlier career background includes
résumé that will position them appropriately for the jobs they are progression of finance positions with Stevenson Technologies
targeting," says Louise Kursmark, president of Best Impression (Providence, RI), reflecting advancement to Director of Finance (5
Career Services Inc. "Thus, if they are positioning themselves for years) from initial positions as Cost Accounting Manager (3 years)
slightly lower-level roles, they can adjust the résumé to reflect and Senior Financial Analyst (4 years); prior to Stevenson, held
the right image." accounting positions with Huntley Electronics (Wallingford, CT;
8 years).
"Executives must be very, laser-focused on not only the target
company and type of role or position they wish to purse, but also "Your résumé is a marketing piece _ an advertisement _ it is
their own quite specific areas of value they are pitching," adds not an autobiography," says ExecuNet résumé writer Michelle
Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter, owner of Missouri-based Career Trend. Dumas, owner of Distinctive Documents. "You don't need to
"Then, they must further whittle down their value proposition and shouldn't try to include everything." Meg Guiseppi, a C-level
statements to fit squarely upon the pain points of target branding strategist at Executive Résumé Branding, agrees.
companies. Many executives have such depth and breadth of "A résumé is not a comprehensive career history. It's a career
value that they cannot see the forest for the trees, and therefore marketing document that needs to showcase just enough about
overwhelm the reader with information, much of which is you to generate interest and compel decision-makers to
not relevant." contact you."

Preparing a strong résumé requires executives to take a closer Dumas says many recruiters prefer reading résumés that contain
look at the past (and what they have accomplished in their career only the most recent and relevant experience. "On the other
for previous employers) as well as the future (how they can bring hand, you don't want to cut it off too recently and leave the
the knowledge gained from those accomplishments and achieve reader thinking you either have less experience than you have or
similar successes for a new employer.) "The executive résumé are hiding something," adds Dumas.
process combines a deliberate mix of both reflection/introspection
(backward peering at one's career archaeology) and vision Regardless, it's important to ensure that the most crucial
(forward-looking _ honing in on the go-forward goals and needs of information is closer to the top of the page, where readers won't
the target audience)," says Barrett-Poindexter. miss it. "Your personal brand should be immediately evident
above the fold, or within the top third or half of the first page,"
"Spend some time clarifying your goals and have a crystal-clear says Guiseppi. "Because hiring decision-makers may allow your
picture of your ideal job and ideal environment," adds Kursmark. résumé only 10-15 seconds to capture their attention, and the
"Then write your résumé to create a portrait of an ideal candidate top of the first page is what they'll see first. Craft this section to
for that job. Having a focus makes it easier to omit some stand on its own as your calling card."
information when you can clearly see that it's not relevant."
"There are several strategies executives can use to mask their
HOW MUCH EXPERIENCE SHOULD YOU FEATURE? exact age, while still highlighting their experience. They can
Opinions of résumé writers are mixed as to whether an executive summarize the earliest experiences, including notable employer
with more than 25 years experience should include all of that names and accomplishments and leave out dates. However, in
experience on his or her résumé. this case, executives should also remove the dates from their
educational accomplishments," Kursmark adds. "With this
Jan Melnik, president of career management and résumé writing strategy, readers will assume there is a gap of 'some period
firm Absolute Advantage, argues that all work experience of time,' but not know exactly how many years. Completely
shows how an executive has developed his or career into its omitting the early experience can cause an executive to appear
current state. "Typically, these individuals present a progression too young in some cases. If you are running a company, a division
of advancement and contribution that frequently began with or a department, it's perfectly okay to be over 40."

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Executives must be careful not to be deceptive as they attempt through language, such as: "Selected for series of high-profile
to diminish references to their age within their résumés. interim management positions with such firms as XXX wherein
"Executives run into serious problems when they try to dumb key objectives were exceeded, new distribution channels were
down their résumés to make themselves look younger," notes identified."
Rachelle Canter, PhD, president of San Francisco-based executive
development firm RJC Associates. "The minute they walk into Barrett-Poindexter says that if a short stint isn't relevant to an
an interview and are not 30, the interviewer feels conned. executive's target goals and won't leave a gap on the résumé,
Instead, I recommend that executives focus on quantifying it's acceptable not to include it. She adds that candidates don't
accomplishments, including showcasing big things they've been necessarily have to provide a reason for short-term employment
able to do fast (generally a way to show how experience can save on their résumés either. "But if listing the reason quickly and
time and money) so prospective employers can see that they can succinctly will defer the reader's concerns about the short term
potentially get more from a seasoned employee." of the employment, then list it (for example, if the company
folded and 'everyone' was laid off, then list it)," notes Barrett-
EXPLAINING A GAP Poindexter. However, Dumas says she never recommends that
Another challenge executives face is determining what they clients provide such an explanation on the résumé. "The résumé
should do if their job history includes several short-term should always focus on the positive," she says. "The purpose of
positions. They want to display their vast experience without the résumé is to get you called in for an interview. If asked, you
recruiters or hiring managers questioning their commitment. could then provide the explanation in person during
The best way to do that is to highlight the longer-term positions, the interview."
while not diminishing the value that short-term positions also
bring to an individual's career. "If your résumé is well designed, the emphasis should always be
on the value and results you produced while in that position,"
Paula Weiner, president of New York-based executive search firm says Dumas. "If you present these in a strong enough way, the
Weiner & Associates Inc., says that when she examines a résumé length of time you held a position will make little to
that includes many short-term positions, she first looks for no difference."
stability at some point during a candidate's career. "Then I look
at reasons for the short stints," such as a company being sold or Melnik says that she has noticed a trend in executives over 50
a candidate was working on a consulting assignment that was taking leaves of absence to care for an aging parent or seriously
meant to be short-term." ill spouse, sabbaticals that can typically range in time from a
few months to a few years. She notes that some clients who
She notes that some short-term assignments might represent took such leaves in 2006 and 2007 are having some difficult re-
new employers, but not new bosses as some candidates follow entering today's job market. Melnik suggests executives mention
bosses from one company to another. "So you might not have this type of gap on their résumé, but "without melodrama."
consistency of company, but who you worked with," adds Weiner.
She provides this example of how to address it: "Took sabbatical
It's equally important for executives to communicate how short- to care for out-of-state parent in end-stages of a serious illness
term stints were valuable components in their overall careers. and to provide advocacy and management of healthcare, living
"In those circumstances [of short-term employment], you want and financial planning services on a full-time basis. Having
to see that somebody learned something, applied it and did attended to all final matters, I am fully ready to return 100
better next time," she says. percent to career."

The amount of space reserved on a résumé should be in line with IF YOUR RÈSUMÈ IS MISSING A "REQUIRED" QUALIFICATION
how long an executive held each feature role, suggests Weiner. Oftentimes, an executive will uncover a job posting that fits their
Short-term positions should be included in a small section on expertise with the exception of one or two requirements; one
a résumé, while longer-term roles should command a more of the most common is the employer's desire for a candidate to
prominent position on the page. If a candidate has a history of possess an MBA. Most résumé experts agree that while some
many short term roles within the same field or industry, Melnik recruiters and hiring managers will only consider candidates who
combines them into an "Interim Management Experience" match a job description perfectly, executives should still apply for
section within the résumé. She says they can be connected positions that ask for an MBA if they don't have one.

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"Whether it is a graduate degree or undergraduate degree that is can outweigh any missing qualifications," says Canter. "Many
sought, if the individual has a proven track record of experience mature candidates that I have worked with recently have gotten
and accomplishment spanning several decades or more, this good jobs in a relatively short time, but always with a strong
usually trumps formal education when presented properly," accomplishment-oriented résumé and the use of contacts."
says Melnik. "An extremely well-written two-page executive
résumé plus addenda pages providing leadership experience Melnik agrees that executives, particularly over age 50, need to
and results will almost always mitigate need for the degree in an network, becoming visible thought leaders in their field. And,
accomplished and confident executive." they should be active participants in the social media world,
including links to LinkedIn and/or Twitter profiles in a résumé,
How exactly can a résumé help an executive communicate that, and then ensure the profiles are "updated and contemporary
despite the lack of advanced degree or other desired criteria, he or sounding/looking," including the photo is important too.
she is still qualified for a particular position? "Embrace current trends," Barrett-Poindexter encourages.

"Consider what it is about that advanced degree that stands For younger executives, the challenges are similar, and the
out as important to the decision-maker and then map your strategies they can use regarding their résumé are nearly
experiences to those traits," says Barrett-Poindexter. "For identical as well. "To overcome lack of years, flesh out stories and
example, an MBA candidate generally is required to pass the be ultra sensitive to communicating abilities as a leader within a
General Management Admission Test (GMAT) based on scoring more senior environment _ prove that you are well received and
Quantitative and Qualitative sections; an MBA candidacy also even embraced in environments in which you may be junior in
requires personal qualities such as 'leadership' as the foundation years," says Barrett-Poindexter. "Talk the talk of those with more
for success, distinguishing candidates in a compelling way. An years under their belt. The résumé is not the time to cower or
executive may wish to position his most riveting abilities as a defer acclaim."
leader to stand shoulder to shoulder with other candidates who
hold an MBA." If you're the best candidate for the job, age shouldn't be a
factor, some experts say. Dumas notes that employers seek
Dumas suggests executives use the résumé to highlight "the candidate who can deliver results _ the candidate who
challenge-action-results statements, "as this will help has clear and demonstrated ability to make them money, save
differentiate them and illustrate exactly how they have the them money, increase efficiency, and/or solve some challenging
ability to meet challenges and produce results," says Dumas. problem," says Dumas. "In today's job market, a top-notch,
"Particularly at the senior levels, your résumé must be concise, impeccably professional résumé that clearly communicates the
but still have a deep and complex message that illustrates value you have to offer in the workplace _ value that you will
strategic impact." deliver to your employer in a more profitable way than your
competition (other job seekers) _ is essential."
"Remember that an achievement has three parts _ the challenge
faced, the actions you took and the results of your action (CAR). "If your résumé accomplishes this, the actual number of years of
Overall, readers will be most interested in the executive's results, your experience will play little to no role in the hiring decision. If
and these should be the focus of the document; but all three parts you are under 30, but persuasively make your case that you will
are important. I always advise my clients to succinctly tell the deliver a higher return on the employer's investment in hiring you
'story' behind each position, demonstrating to the reader that than the next candidate, your age simply won't matter. Likewise,
they have the ability to solve problems, fulfill goals and the same is true for the over-50 candidate. It is really all about
meet challenges." the bottom line." n

COMMUNICATING YOUR MESSAGE


Canter says that one strategy in which all job seekers should use
during their search for a new position is to use their network
to uncover inside information on target companies and to gain
personal introductions and recommendations. "It is always
wise to have at least a 70 percent fit with the job qualifications,
but if you are missing a crucial one, a personal introduction

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A RESUME TOOLKIT: WHAT IT SHOULD _ AND SHOULDN'T _ CONTAIN
Communicating your value proposition in a résumé can be a daunting task. We asked résumé experts for their list of résumé DOs
and DON'Ts to help guide executives as they create the most impactful résumé that showcases their skills and qualifications. Here's
what they said:

Do Include: Don't Include:

• Specific educational degrees and certifications. • Subjective claims. Avoid using adjectives or adverbs,
• A knockout professional headline, followed by your personal such as "creative" and "results-oriented."
or leadership brand and three or four short (3 or 4 lines) • Personal information, such as hobbies, marital status,
brand-driven statements of the value you offer, including health status, political/religious affiliations, number
the quantifiable results you can be relied on to deliver. of children.
• Relevant key word phrases throughout your résumé, and • Extracurricular activities.
keep each chunk of information short and surrounded by • GPA _ if an executive has been out of school for many
plenty of white space. (Make it easy to read and digest for decades.
people reviewing your résumé on their PDAs).
• Special attributes in communication style, such as innate
ability to persuade, influence, buy-in and follow the lead
without bullying to earn long-term (sometimes career
lifetime) allegiances of peers and staff.
• Abilities in taking calculated and boundary-pushing risks
that ultimately provide financial wins for the company.
How did you organize and oversee task forces or steering
committees to execute large initiatives?
• Abilities to crystallize and communicate complex,
technically burdened subjects for ease in evaluating and
decision-making, customers or vendors.

Sources: Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter, Rachelle Canter, PhD, Jan Melnik and Meg Guiseppi.

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