Getting a Résumé Right

Six tips from executive recruiters about how finance executives can catch their eye, and then win them over.

One might think that asking the opinion of a half-dozen executive recruiters on an issue might get you a dozen answers — or more. But in their day-in-day-out experience dealing with résumés and deciding which executives to represent, there’s surprising unanimity. Indeed, they seem to agree that there are six areas where job-seekers must pay special attention when submitting a résumé to recruiters and asking for help.

Their central theme: Make sure you present a concise, clear record of problem-solving, and the strong character that’s needed for such a critical calling.

We talked to top recruiters — either finance specialists or those most familiar with finance at their firms — and broke down their suggestions:

Tip 1: Keep It Short

With all the substantive suggestions that recruiters are aching to communicate, to a man and woman they start off with brevity. To paraphrase the old adage: “Brevity is the soul of search.” But it’s a special kind of abbreviation they seek, of course.

Most experts suggest preparing at least two versions of your résumé, but paying special attention to a “short form” that may not see a second page, and never sees a third. “Résumés should be two pages, period,” says Lorraine Hack, a former CFO herself who’s now a Heidrick & Struggles partner.

“A recruiter is going to make a decision probably within 30 seconds whether they’re going to read it or not,” says Walter Williams, a partner and finance-search specialist with Battalia Winston International. But that brief introductory résumé should just be one of a number you prepare, holding back longer ones for other purposes once you’ve got your recruiter. “If you’re really thinking about two or three different directions in your career, you probably want two or three different ésumés. Hoping to go from finance into operations? Prepare one for that.”

For that more-detailed version of the résumé, “I don’t have a problem with length because CFO searches usually involve people with 30-year careers,” says I.H. “Chip” Clothier, managing partner of boutique search firm HFC. “But you have to know when to stop.” Enough said.

Tip 2: Prove You’re a Problem-Solver

After briefly dealing with length, recruiters turn quickly to suggesting ways that finance executives can highlight their ability to solve the many problems that a CFO is heir to.

That calls for being specific about areas of experience or expertise. “IPO experience, M&A or international experience. I would say those things would be highly noticeable, and you don’t have to use a lot of words to express it,” says John Wilson, CEO of J.C. Wilson Associates. “Simply put under ABC Co., ‘I helped them go public in June 2004.’ That’s a simple way to telegraph something that’s really noticeable.”

“I like to see an element of creative problem-solving that ties back to accomplishments,” says Clothier. “For example, describe how your Sarbox compliance program was completed for less, in terms of cost, than at comparably-sized companies. Or note how one of your initiatives changed upstream business processes to deliver better data to the finance department.”

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