How To Manage Your Executive Résumé

Answer these key questions, and you're ready to communicate your experience and smarts in a way that appeals to executive headhunters

If you're an executive, your résumé can be a marketing vehicle of immense consequence, but only if it's managed effectively. That means it must convey your career story accurately and compellingly, and must be delivered into the right headhunter's hands at the right time.

But don't be alarmed if it's been a while since you last updated your résumé. Whether you've already taken a headhunter's call(BusinessWeek, 09/13/2007) or are hoping to be referred to one, what matters is that you have an accurate record of your employment history and professional accomplishments from which to create your new résumé. (Of course, that requires that you to do some record-keeping along the way so you can put together a résumé fairly easily and quickly when called upon to do so.)

Before you start writing (if you're lucky, an enterprising headhunter has offered to write it for you and merely wants you to answer his questions), think about what you're trying to achieve. Where exactly do you want to go next? What kind of senior-management position will most effectively leverage your education, experience, skills, and leadership abilities? And what do you believe you're really capable of doing?

Be Straightforward and Honest

Once you've answered these and other end-game questions to your own satisfaction, you can begin to craft a compelling résumé that communicates your experience and smarts in a way that may appeal to the executive headhunter.

Having a good grasp of the general direction you'd like to see your career move in is essential, not only to help identify the recruiter(s) who might plug you into the best opportunities but also to differentiate yours from the dozens of résumé your target headhunter(s) already has on hand. The best way to identify those targets is to ask trusted friends, colleagues, and other confidants who may have already built relationships with key headhunters or who may know the most influential among them.

Despite your considerable accomplishments and the insertion of some catchy action words to highlight results that you've helped deliver, your new résumé may strike you as being rather homogenous. Don't worry if that's the case. Even the most polished, professional résumé can't convey the full fabric and substance of your leadership experience. What it can and should do is package your unique story in a way that is easy to read, appealing in tone, and truly reflects what you've already done. At this stage of your interaction with a headhunter it's most important to prepare a straightforward, honest, and chronological retelling of where you've been, what you've done, and how you see your new career objective.

You want to make it easy for the reader to single out your most critical experiences and responsibilities in a way that mirrors and reinforces the two or three key elevator speech messages that you—or someone you know—used to get the headhunter's attention. Here are some tips to make your résumé and cover letter as appealing as possible:

COVER LETTER: This is the audition that will determine whether the headhunter adds your name either to a short-list of leading candidates for a current or future search or decides not to take the relationship further. Points awarded for clarity and brevity. It should never exceed one page. Be sure to accommodate ample white space as opposed to cramming too much text into your cover letter.

RÈSUMÈ: Put your experience first, in reverse chronological order so the headhunter can easily reconstruct your most recent career moves and understand the choices that guided your ascent into senior management.

•Focus on the results you've delivered. But don't stretch or oversell. Keep it accurate and honest, or pay the consequences at a later date.

•Keep it to two pages in Microsoft (MSFT) Word or Adobe Acrobat PDF format.

•Avoid the temptation to distribute your new executive résumé to a broader audience than the headhunter who is now courting you as a candidate. Don't post your executive résumé on a public Web site or database. Once it's out there, you lose control over it. Even though many of the sites and databases have safeguards against your current employer seeing your résumé, information spreads fast in today's networked world.

•Do not send it unsolicited to other headhunters. If you're lucky, anyone you send it to unsolicited won't even read it. But if they do, you've risked exposing yourself as an active job seeker, one who will be assumed, perhaps unfairly, to be in some kind of career peril.

Your résumé is your calling card, your first impression. Take care that it makes a positive first impression thanks to attention to detail, an honest and straightforward accounting of your experience, careful handling, and a measure of discretion with regard to message, style, and audience.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE