Leadership Resume, résumé, Andrew Stein, SteinVoxI’ve helped dozens of executives and managers craft their leadership résumé.

In my work helping teams, companies, and projects transform, change and evolve, it is inevitable that one or more team members don’t make the transition. That’s expected, reasonable, and often liberating for an individual that is holding back their career while at the same time holding back the group.

On the outcome side, being a mentor and coach to someone you have put in transition has been a cornerstone of my interaction with other leaders. It is to be paying it forward – and an activity that I believe is core to servant leadership. It may be something you do, or want do do more, as a leader. Read on.

Rearranging, reassembling and reorganizing management teams is a challenging task. Those that perceive this work to be well beyond the financial stakeholder’s interests and that mentor people who become the consequences of this work are true leaders.

The first thing to do is to remind ourselves and our colleagues that the goal of résumé is not to convince an employer to hire the person described in the résumé. It is instead to incite and motivate the reader to reach out and invite the candidate to a phone call or a meeting.

Framing A Leadership Résumé Is Hard Work

I’ve found myself writing the same comments repeatedly. Not because I didn’t invest the time to review each unique résumé, but because so often, it happens that leaders are not the best marketers of their own knowledge, skills and behaviors. All too often, people write their résumé when they must write it – and they use legacy résumé writing approahes that lists activities in bullet after bullet. There is a better way. This post is a summary of those pointers.

Recruiter’s Reading Pattern

A number of articles have already shown how a recruiter’s eyes travel across your résumé. This research is worth considering in structuring the content in your résumé. Here’s my summary, which should drive your focus when writing your own leadership résumé.

  1. Recruiters first look at the top for titles of what the job seeker is looking for.
  2. If (and only if) titles match what the recruiter is sourcing at that specific moment they then read the opening paragraph to learn how your leadership résumé demonstrates a consistent behavior and leadership attitude relative to your results and accomplishments.
  3. The reader will look at your most current role, title, and results achieved there.
  4. If the recruiter is still interested, they look at the end, to see if you have the requisite check-list items for degrees and education.
  5. Finally, if at all, the recruiter may look at your chronology of jobs held – but more likely just at the company names to match to a preferred company sourcing list.
  6. They will also look at titles you have held to observe your growth through progressive positions of greater responsibility
  7. At this point, you may get a screening call that will focus on performance-based questions around: can you do the job they have open?

Leadership Résumé Guideposts

First Third of Page One

  • Name and contact info. Omit street address if you have privacy concerns. Include city and state, professional email address and phone number, and LinkedIn profile URL.
  • List the role you seek at the top of your résumé. Make it clear that you are not fishing for “anything” but targeting a specific few roles that your résumé supports. While you may think being “open” to any role – in reality, recruiters and hiring managers will pass over résumés that require them to connect the dots to fit you into an opportunity they are searching candidates for. Your odds are better if you list the role/titles.
  • Your résumé’s opening statement should be one line – a position statement that in bold, differentiates what you are and do over the other candidates whose résumés are being reviewed (skimmed) that day. For a recruiter to get this far, you have caught their attention in 2 seconds. If you have not caught the reader’s attention at this point, reading, and your consideration for the position also stops.
  • Your summary paragraph is not a summary of history, but an engaging summary of “what you can uniquely do” for this company. You have 4 seconds of reading by a recruiter or hiring manager. Use it wisely, get feedback from your peers, and avoid hyperbole, while being unique. Ask reviewers if it says what you can do, or if it says what you have done. Include knowledge and skills, but beware that your leadership behavior and attitude is what really matter. This is your one chance to ignite the reader’s attention on how you function and think; it is not about what you have done.
  • Rules of thumb: keep this paragraph 4 lines or less. Use line spacing of 1.5 lines spacing to make it easy to read. If you have a rich career, then two paragraphs of 4 lines, but break it up, and have a tight topic phrase for each paragraph that invites more reading – first paragraph on how you achieve great results, second paragraph on team leadership and mentoring, for example.

Second Third of Page One

  • Next is a rigid list of your competencies. Recruiters look for keywords; make them easy to find in this two or three column list of bullets, all items one line. This is challenging to write. It has to be brief, but cover the main competencies that a recruiter is looking for. It’s not a list of accomplishments, to be sure. It must be a list of what you can do and that if possible, matches the keywords in the target job description.
  • Be sure you can back up every competency with an experience where you delivered. If you get the interview, you will be asked: “tell me about a time you applied <insert your competency bullet here>, and what were the results?

Final Third of Page One

  • Include your current or most recent position here.
  • Why on page one? Because, if you are lucky, a recruiter will read this far. Look back at the order/process that a recruiter reads and reviews your resume. You want your most recent and relevant role to be on page one. Page 2 and page 3 are superfluous, generally.
  • Getting all this on page one will be the biggest challenge as you will have to write less, and throw away less relevant information that is not immediately and directly related to the role you seek in the future.

Page 2 and 3

  • Use Page 2 and 3 for the remaining valuable list of roles you have held. You have to be comfortable that this list is the right list, for the positions you are seeking.
  • Avoid going to page four, unless absolutely necessary. It’s more likely the case that you need to drop some roles that are not relevant. If you want to publicize your wide, varied and rich job history, put that on your website, or your LinkedIn profile, but not on a document that you are trying to get someone’s attention to read – leave ancient historical roles off you résumé.
  • Move Education to the end – keep it shorter, one line per school. MBAs and degrees are more of a checklist item, and have likely already been checked by some Applicant Tracking System (ATS). All recruiters and hiring managers look to the end of your resume for education, don’t put this on the first page.
  • Put all experience in the historical section by first listing your title – this is about you, with dates at the right. On the next line, list the company name, and location (city, state). Then put a one line sentence (craft it from the company’s position statement on the employer’s website About Page. Don’t write this from scratch as it needs to position the company accurately in the recruiter’s mind which gives your role there credibility and associates you with building that brand during your tenure there.
  • All your bullets for each employer should be no more than two lines, each. No, don’t make the font smaller, trim the text, be relevant, write to get the interest of the recruiter to call you and ask for more. Small font will not achieve that.
  • Limit each job to no more than the most relevant three key bullets. Save other accomplishments for when you get a face-to-face meeting. Put the most powerful and impactful achievement in your resume based on their likelihood to get the reader to pick up the phone and call you to ask: “how did you ever achieve that?
  • All Bullets in your history/job chronology must be written in the form of “Challenge / Action / Outcome.” Write this way because it is the way recruiters and hiring managers need to see you work. Describe I a few words what the challenge you encountered in the situation. Follow that with the action you took, both individual, in a leadership role, and as a contributor. End your bullet statement with a quantitative result.
  • Leadership résumés never list activities performed.

Takeaways You Should Get From This Post

Takeaway #1: Write your leadership resume for the reader and audience it serves, not you. The objective is to get a conversation going, not get hired.

Takeaway #2: Your page one, is really all that matters. No one is going to get to page two or three, if you don’t catch attention in the first third of  your page one.

Takeaway #3: The primary interest of a recruiter and a hiring manager is your leadership behavior and attitude. Secondary interest is the competencies you possess as demonstrated by your performance results. Third is your list of former rolesjobs and companies. And fourth and last, your education.  In short, if you fit the culture, and can perform the job, you win over anyone else who may have 10 years experience in the exact role.

Takeaway #4: there are no other takeaways. The recruiter’s 6 seconds time on your résumé is up.

To Ponder

It’s never too early to keep a biography of your accomplishments. The value later in having a written record documenting your achievements, the challenges you faced, how much it contributed, and who was involved comes in handy later when preparing for interviews, writing a custom résumé, cover letter and bio. Start yours now. Never distribute it, it will get long and you should keep the details for your own interpretation and future preparation.

If I have not included it above, don’t add it to your résumé. Anything else is superfluous, and distracting to the reader. Never put in your résumé why you left a company. The answer to that question is only to be addressed in a call, face-to-face, or other meeting where you can position it relative to the conversation. Including it in your résumé ensures you will be eliminated.

There are many résumé resources, and writers that for $500 to $5000 and even more money will help you write your résumé as you enter the job market. Use a professional if you like, but don’t abdicate the responsibility to produce the information you must, in order to enable your writer to be successful in achieving your goal.

Please leave a comment, share a pointer you have learned.

Image credit: woodleywonderworks via photopin cc

6 Responses to The Leadership Résumé: Framing Is Paramount

  1. […] The Leadership Résumé: Framing Is Paramount […]

  2. […] The Leadership Résumé: Framing Is Paramount […]

  3. John says:

    Great article, Andrew! What’s unique is the point where you mention that stating job activities isn’t relevant, but rather focusing on challenges and outcomes is what grabs the recruiter’s attention. Excellent read!

  4. Andrew Stein says:

    My friend Nicola James, of Thomas Brooke International and a search professional focused on chemical and processing industries shared a few additional pointers, I’ll paraphrase and add here.

    Recruiters are very interested in the context of your experience in terms of scope and scale (another quantitative factor – follows the pattern). This includes the company size, business unit size, number of reports and other factors that articulate the reach of a leader’s influence.

    Don’t forget industry and market keywords that relate your contribution to the industry you are pursuing – in the bullet lists and chronology. You need both results / outcomes, as well as industry relevance.

    Avoid self-aggrandizing hyperbole in your role/position descriptions – it turns recruiters off. You have one place for that, at the top in the paragraph, but leave the rest to be clear relevant context.

    As a managing partner and co-founder of her firm, Ms. James further shared that it is to your advantage to have all job titles back to the beginning of your career. Detail is not necessary for the ones over 10-15 years ago. It raises a red flag without that full history. The result is recruiters ask “what is the candidate hiding.” The fact is that companies will or won’t hire based on the complete extend of experience, succession planning, and progressive roles of increasing responsibility and achievement.

    In the end, your resume is going to be a balance of an introduction to drive a conversation, and a clear document of your abilities and performance over time. The first page being the most important.

    You can’t predict what recruiter will be more focused on brevity, and then follow up with a phone call, or who will prefer to see detail up front. You also may need to balance detail across your LinkedIn page and other online presence – like your blog’s bio, for example.

    There’s a lot here to synthesize. One thing for sure is that your leadership resume describes an ongoing journey, and in that light never describes a destination, but demonstrates a path you are taking to your future.

  5. JT Pedersen says:

    Hello Andrew,

    This was a great piece you’ve created on the topic of resumes. Clear. Constructive. Useful.  Glad I took the time to read. So many of the ‘resume’ articles that I encounter are just rehashed trash with zero value-add.  Worse, many…attempting to be one thing to everyone…can actually cause damage.

    Well worth sharing,


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