Companies are awash in resumes, even at the executive level. Somehow you have to find that special angle – or, more realistically, a collection of angles – to set yourself apart. What does it take? Here’s what recruiters recommend.
Let’s start with the obvious… your physical appearance. Are you wearing something appropriate to interviews and networking meetings? Even the range of colors on your necktie or purse should reflect the baseline image of the industry. Think conservative and muted for financial services, brighter but classy for creative organizations. Personal hygiene should go without saying.
Now let’s look at your executive resume. Is it cluttered? Streamline the content; keep your statements brief and bullets to one or two lines as much as possible. Are you tripping over commonly confused words, like “effect” and “affect”? Better clean those up. Even people with advanced degrees have found Grammarly a useful resource for grammar checking. Choose a classic, simple font like Arial or Verdana that puts readability above all else.
In every document you create – and, ideally, in every conversation you have – it is critical to prepare a consistent, compelling story about yourself in 15-, 30-, 60- and 90- second sound bites (also referred to as “elevator pitch”) to use, depending on the situation. Each variation must communicate what you’re doing right now, based on your last several years of experience along with proof points that demonstrate you are a top achiever in your field.
“I’m wowed when I see candidates take the same approach to branding themselves as I take to branding our business,” said Carrie Corbin, talent attraction leader in an article in Business Insider. “Those with cohesive messages about strengths, goals or overall work style show me they are thinking not about how to get hired or say the right thing, but about how to showcase a cohesive message and tell me something meaningful about themselves.”
To craft your sound bites, craft a core sentence or two around your brand statement, with sentences of more and more detail around them, which you can add progressively to expand each one. To do this effectively, know your skills, strengths, and brand (what differentiates you). It’s not enough to say you developed a new process. Pair it with the result (% or $ or #) and how that is unique.
This example (part of a sound bite) has all of the right elements: I created a new process for streamlining X that saved $ annually and helped our company move from 4th to #1 in market share.
Have compelling stories about how you solved problems
This is more specific than your brand statement but follows the same basic principles. Great companies want leaders who can solve their business problems, even (especially) when the leaders have never encountered those exact problems before. Be able to say, I identified problem X and came up with solution Y, with results Z. It’s clear, succinct, and convincing. The more anecdotes you can draw upon that fit this basic template, the better.
Taking the time to get to know people – executive recruiters and other contacts
Show an interest in the people that you want to connect with, whether inside your industry or outside. Build those relationships. You never know when someone will take an interest in you, and where that conversation will lead, so there are no real formulas here. For example:
“I met a very interesting executive search professional via social media. She reached out to me via Twitter to learn more about our company,” said Arie Ball, vice president of talent acquisition in an article in Business Insider. “We set up a time to talk, and she asked questions… Over the next several months we had several conversations on various topics, and I was able to see her depth of knowledge and diversity of thought, and her genuine love of the profession… When we had an opening in our Talent Acquisition Group, I immediately thought of her.”
Be sincere about what interests you and pursue it with relentless curiosity, and that human connection will take care of itself. Obviously, you don’t want to come across as aggressive or self-serving, but people will send cues when you are doing so – especially in person – so just be open to that feedback and adjust accordingly.
The right balance of humility and confidence
Everyone loves the firm handshake, the warm smile, the solid eye contact, and the short, sweet anecdotes that demonstrate how you’re the best thing that’s ever going to happen to their company. Do you know what else they love? Humility. Recognize your limits, which, in a knowledge-based world, are mostly about knowing what you don’t know. Accept criticism graciously and show that you’re taking it as an opportunity to learn, not as an offense. Understand your strengths and limitations.
The job search process and intense competition of talent in the marketplace can be daunting.
Recruiters agree that executives who are “wow-worthy” are typically very prepared, engaging throughout the interview, communicate well, can articulate the value they add to an organization, and also let their personalities shine through. The above principles – presentation, branding, demonstrating your problem-solving skills, interpersonal connection, and humble confidence – can help you be the candidate that recruiters want.