If you’re being considered for a C-suite position, the hiring manager knows you’ve got the technical experience to do the job.
At this point, it’s more about convincing them you’ve got everything else: soft skills, leadership ability, and the willingness to take on new challenges. Your résumé should do just that.
Business Insider spoke to a series of experts about what makes the C-suite résumé special — in particular, how it differs from the résumé a more junior candidate might submit.
As it turns out, there’s some disagreement about how much a perfectly polished résumé helps you land a C-suite role. Many C-suite hires come through executive search firms or internal recruiters, as opposed to LinkedIn or a job website.
“Unless you have the name recognition of Meg Whitman or Elon Musk,” ZipRecruiter CEO Ian Siegel wrote to Business Insider, “having a résumé outlining your previous relevant experience is a must,” so the headhunter can evaluate the fit.
Roger Duguay, managing partner at the executive-search firm Boyden, felt differently. Duguay pointed out that often, the best C-suite candidates are perfectly happy and aren’t actively searching for new opportunities. They’ve had neither the time nor the inclination to update their résumé.
Generally, that’s not a problem for the headhunter or recruiter, Duguay said, because they’ve already been keeping tabs on the candidate and are familiar with the person’s background. In those cases, “you don’t need to sell yourself as much,” he said. “The CV is almost irrelevant.”
What’s more, said Erica Keswin, workplace strategist and former executive coach, once you speak with the recruiter or headhunter, they’re “putting your background into their own special format anyway to present you to the company.”
You’ll definitely need a résumé if you’re new to the C-suite
There are, however, a few situations in which experts agree you’ll definitely need a résumé to nab a C-suite role.
Duguay estimated that 20% of C-suite candidates are actively seeking a new position. Maybe, for example, they’ve had 25 years of experience at two jobs, but they’ve been out of the market for a year and are looking to jump back in. That person’s résumé “needs to be strong,” Duguay said.
A résumé is also a must-have if you’re new either to the industry or to the C-suite in general. “You’re ultimately positioning yourself to complete strangers,” said Melissa Llarena, CEO and founder of coaching firm Career Outcomes Matter. In that case, the résumé plays “a role,” Llarena said, but doesn’t ultimately determine whether you get the job.
And if you wind up advancing through the interview process and going before a company’s board of directors, they’ll want to have your résumé on hand.
So, what should that document look like? Read on for key pointers:
Stick to 3 pages, max
A C-suite candidate has a lot of experience and accomplishments to share. But Siegel recommended targeting two pages and setting a hard limit at three.
Keswin said you can include an executive summary at the top and say “further experience available upon request” at the bottom.
Did you increase annual revenue by $3 million? Bring in 80 new hires? Be as specific as possible.
“Providing detailed success metrics arms the recruiter with a results-oriented narrative they can use when advocating for you in hiring deliberations,” Siegel wrote. “Think of it as the story of ‘what you did’ and ‘how you did it.'”
Highlight relevant challenges you’ve faced
Llarena recommended thinking about the “huge burning challenges” that your prospective employer is currently up against. Then, indicate on your résumé “that you’ve done things similar or more complex.”
Maybe, for example, you helped scale a midsize company or took a small company public.
Emphasize how you’ve been a brand champion
A C-suite executive is a public representative of the company. “The more senior you are, it’s more about those soft skills and leadership skills,” Llarena said.
Duguay said you want to include information that he “might not know just by looking at you on the internet.” For example: What have you written that makes you a thought leader in your field? What panels have you spoken on? Have you won any leadership awards?
List any boards you sit on
Duguay said your board experience is an important indicator of your readiness for a C-suite position. As Llarena put it, it shows the relationships you’ve formed beyond your specific employer.
Share examples of your ability to influence people …
Llarena said it’s important to show your ability to persuade others as a leader. Use action verbs to start out every bullet on your résumé, she said.
For example, “persuaded cross-functional partners to bring pilot to market.”
… and times when you acted bravely
Llarena called them “acts of courage” — think closing down an office at your former employer and letting people go while still maintaining their respect.
“You don’t hire a leader to do the easy jobs,” she said. “They do the hard jobs.”
Play up any C-suite experience you’ve already had
Even if you haven’t formally served in a C-suite role, Llarena said you can mention if you’ve been “a trusted adviser to people that are already in the C-suite” or if you’ve ever served as interim C-suite executive while someone was, say, on leave.
That experience suggests you might already be well-positioned for the C-suite.
Tell a story
C-suite résumés are read by (human) recruiters, and not robots, unlike more junior candidates’ applications. So don’t bother simplifying your job descriptions.
As Duguay put it, “You’re not trying to please a system or have keywords that you’re going to make sure get you noticed.”
Siegel wrote that you can “employ a more narrative style to highlight how your experience matches the company’s needs.”