Why Executives Need To ‘Lose’ Their Resumes

Resumes can never replace self-knowledge and the ability to communicate one’s strengths and weaknesses.

resumeWhen the CEO of a large, well-known company asked if I would critique his resume, I couldn’t believe what I was reading: page after page of job descriptions. Nothing in this listing of companies, titles, and responsibilities captured anything about who he is and what distinguished his leadership. His resume just didn’t cut it.

The competition for jobs at the top of organizations remains fierce. Knowing the huge cost of hiring the wrong leaders, organizations need executives who have a full slate of leadership abilities, especially to motivate and inspire others. Understanding and articulating one’s capabilities doesn’t come from polishing the “rearview mirror” of what’s on the resume. More important is the view ahead. That’s why executives need to “lose the resume” (read: don’t expect it to be more than 10 percent of the job-search process). This document can never replace self-knowledge and the ability to communicate one’s strengths and weaknesses.

“The secret to success is learning about yourself and the truth of who you are.”

Know Thyself

Most people (including C-level leaders) have no clear idea of what they want next in their careers. They don’t have a handle on their strengths (often overstating them) and they don’t understand their blind spots and weaknesses (usually underestimating them). Without that clarity, they undermine their job search—or, worse yet, end up in the wrong position.

The secret to success is learning about yourself and the truth of who you are. Granted, most self-explorations are not much fun and definitely require the right attitude. In our business, we encounter even accomplished CEOs who resist formal assessments. Yet self-awareness is a key leadership skill and learning about one’s strengths and weaknesses is key to becoming a well-rounded leader.

When I think of people who were willing to engage in the process to truly know themselves, I’ve seen some amazing success stories. Some years ago, “Pamela” was the chief marketing officer of a retail chain and among the half-dozen internal candidates being groomed to possibly take over the CEO position within the next five years. While Pamela had definite strengths, particularly involving strategy and motivating people, she knew she had blind spots, such as developing her financial acumen. When the company wanted the leading succession candidates to be assessed against the requirements of the CEO position, Pamela embraced the process. The feedback was hard-hitting: The assessment revealed additional blind spots; she needed to work intensely on developing a global perspective and tolerating ambiguity.

To her credit, Pamela took it all in, knowing that if she wanted to advance in her career she needed to close these gaps. Within a week, she had a plan to get three stretch assignments from the CEO and was seeking bi-monthly feedback. To solidify her commitment, she hired a coach to work with her. Today, she is the CEO of a Fortune 1000 company.

None of these things would have happened for Pamela if she stayed with who she thought she was by virtue of the positions listed on her resume. Only by losing the resume and its inherent rearview mirror perspective could she gain a clear vision of her leadership and all she was capable of becoming.


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