I see lots of resumes every week – some are sent in by my hiring team, some come to me from absolute strangers via LinkedIn & some come via referrals from friends & acquaintances.

Often, I have experienced a difference between the persona reflected in the resume, and the person you meet in reality. Based on my real-life experience, here’s my take on what C-level cover letters & resumes should look like: 

  • It is about the role, not you: In 99% of the cases, the resume is person-centric. It talks about the person’s accomplishments, even if they are irrelevant to the role. If I were to apply the simple analogy of a doctor’s prescription, while he can treat many ailments and know about several medicines, he is focused on the patient’s need at that point in time. The resume clearly has to offer a solution to the role!
  • Accomplishment, not role description: In many cases, the resume is a listing of the expectations of the roles the person has performed. Again, it is a marketing document, not a human resources toolkit. The resume must clearly highlight the top 3 accomplishments of the person in every role he or she has been in.

  • Specific, not generic: Many accomplishments are generic. Examples I have seen include “I have saved cost, I have increased customer satisfaction, I increased sales etc.” The point here is to be specific – for example, “I increased sales by 45% over my 2 tenure in the role” clearly highlights the quantum of accomplishment to the reader.
  • No frills: C level resumes are read by an audience typically short on time. So, when I read resumes where I have to literally find the needle in the haystack, I’d rather go for the one where the headlines help me size up the candidate in seconds. Keep it crisp, only content, no frills on unwarranted personal details, career objectives et al.
  • The newspaper test: The beauty of a newspaper is its layout – front page for highlights, back page for sports, specific sections in the inside pages for business / entertainment etc. Similarly, the resume should be clear & easy to read – highlights at the top, professional experience clearly demarcated into roles in chronological order with top 3 accomplishments for each role, educational qualifications, any other item (only if relevant to the role) etc. Simple but effective! The first thing I do in every interview is to get a measure of the candidate before doing a deep-dive. So, this helps!
  • Tell me something about yourself, not “everything” about yourself: This is a test most candidates fail. In these cases, the resume is a bible, not a blurb. The candidate tells you everything about himself, whereas you just need to know the aspects of his experience which are most relevant to the role!
  • Be genuine: While this sounds simple, I have rejected many candidates for “white” lies. Hiding gaps between roles, not being very forthcoming about education etc. If the initial conversation is not based on trust, there’s no question of its conversion into an offer!

While cover letters are not universal, my view is that it helps as long as it is just that – a cover letter and not an entreaty for the role! I have seen several cover letters which are mini-resumes. In that case, they are just not read. The key is to have a note which is very simple & crisp. One note which impressed me recently was on the following lines:

Education: XXX

Experience: Firm A, Firm B, Firm C, Firm D.

Key skills: Skill A, Skill B, Skill C.

Can you evaluate person A for role X that you have?

You are the CEO of You Inc. The resume and the cover letter are your marketing documents for the role. As long as you keep this in mind and act accordingly, you are very likely to stay ahead of the pack!


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