A Resume Guide for Senior-Level Professionals
You’ve risen through the ranks. You started with internships and entry-level scutwork, made your mark as an individual contributor, and now you’re finding yourself in the midst of leadership as a senior manager, director, or a member of the executive team. But when it comes time to update your resume, do the rules change for someone with top-level experience? We’ve written over 1000 resumes each year, many at the director level and above, and we’re happy to share some key differences top-level performers need to keep in mind.
Show Progression and Trajectory
While it might be common for mid-career professionals to make lateral moves and small career changes, a senior-level professional’s resume needs to show a clear trajectory. Recruiters should quickly see your rise in the ranks, clearly outlining your move from individual contributor to manager, and underscoring the key achievements in each role that propelled you to the next. Each new job should carry more gravitas, impact, and scope of influence. The earlier jobs can focus on tactical and skill-driven achievements, but the more recent positions should accent the strategic and creative elements of the role.
Shed Your “Individual Contributor” Skin
We’ll pick on IT directors in this example. One of the toughest decisions an IT manager must make as he transitions into leadership is when to leave his technical skills and “ground-level” abilities in his wake. You may have an impressive list of IT skills, programming languages, or marketing campaign management chops. But once you move into senior leadership territory, your merits lie in your ability to drive a team towards performance, set strategic initiatives, and outline vision for your department. Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t have to write another line of code for the rest of his life, and nobody’s going to hire him because of his skills with Python or Java.
Outline Your Influence, Scope, and Depth of Role
Resume piles across the country are filled with mid-level individual contributors posing as “leads” and “managers”. We see titles like “Director of Account Management”, but no mention of any team or direct reports to speak of (because there aren’t any). In a day where many people embrace the fogginess of jargon ambiguity on their resumes, a leader clearly outlines the parameters of his role. The first bullet for each of your positions should state which departments you direct, what budget or P&L you manage, how many direct reports you oversee, and what influence you have over the business. When everyone else tosses around vague superlatives, you can rise above them with numbers, figures, and concrete facts.
Show Restraint and Brevity
This might be the toughest part. An entry-level graduate typically writes a 1-page resume stuffed to the brim with skills, jargon, hobbies, and broad, sweeping statements about his expertise in a wide range of fields. You, with 12+ years of experience driving companies to new heights and excelling in your field, need to show you can condense your talking points into roughly the same space (1 to 1.5 pages). A concise, one-page resume is a truly wonderful thing when written from the perspective of a senior professional. It shows an understanding of what information is truly relevant. It displays top-level leadership and achievements, and hints of “There’s more where that came from”. Our favorite clients are those with 15 years of experience who happily truncate their entire professional career into sound bytes and bullet-friendly concepts. At this point in your career, the resume is simply a teaser. A quick list of high-level experience points that tells the recruiter “We need to bring this person in ASAP and learn more.”
Resume writing is equal parts science and art. While every writer on our staff has served as a recruiter or hiring manager at some point, we still conduct regular interviews with recruiters and job-fillers, using hard data to inform our choices on everything from resume length and section titles to fonts and margins. But truly great resumes also have a narrative flow, and lend a voice to the candidate. Our entry level resumes have a different tone and style than our senior-level counterparts, and your resume should show strength of voice, leadership, and poise. If this isn’t something you can do on your own, or if you find yourself having trouble following all the “rules”, you can always hire a team of pros to give you a helping hand.