As an executive resume writer, I am always addressing questions regarding the resume ad cover letter combo–are they both essential and are cover letters still critical in the executive job search. The answer? It all depends on how you approach it.
Executive Resumes and Cover Letters: The Perfect Personal Branding Mashup
With an ever-evolving job search process, many senior-level job seekers are left wondering if they should send a stand-alone executive resume or include a cover letter with their submission. If they put the effort into creating a cover letter, will it be read or simply tossed aside? Are both documents required for a C-suite job search?
To answer that question, a recent poll from recruitment firm Robert Half found that 90% of executives consider a cover letter to be essential when assessing candidates.
Yes, even in the 21st century, executive resumes and cover letters go hand in hand and are a critical component in executing a successful job search. Both documents provide the opportunity for the job seeker to showcase their value + qualifications in a slightly different way.
While your executive resume is a more structured presentation of what makes you a high-impact leader – highlighting your leadership style, vision, philosophy, unique value proposition, and career stories – your cover letter dives deeper by pitching your talent, experience, and competencies in direct alignment with the specific job requirements.
At the executive-level, candidates face stiff competition and must find a way to rise above other applicants. The first step is shifting your mindset from what you have done in your past roles to how you can add value to the role you are pursuing and then creating a clear, consistent message throughout your documents.
Two Vehicles to Drive Interest in Your Candidacy
In the COVID-era, companies are still seeking top-level talent that can help them resolve challenges or take their business to the next level. Even at the most senior-level and with an abundance of qualifications, your executive resume + cover letter must connect the dots between the value you bring to your next employer and their needs; therefore, it is imperative you replace any duties, tasks, and/or responsibilities with engaging examples of your value in action throughout your document portfolio.
While both your C-level resume and cover letter need to highlight your most impressive accomplishments, each contains unique information that supports your candidacy for the role you are pursuing. Your resume summarizes your most relevant career experience and your cover letter takes a deeper, more targeted dive into answering why you are the CEO, CIO, CTO, CMO, CFO the company needs.
A strong executive resume is not a long-detailed account of every position held, but rather a dynamic marketing document that touts your personal brand and summarizes your key qualifications, experience, and value proposition.
As Wayne Gretzky once said, “… skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.” In resume writing, that translates to leveraging your most impressive work history + accomplishments that are aligned with the role you are targeting rather than focusing on the responsibilities you’ve held in past roles.
One of the biggest executive resume writing misconceptions that is widely circulated is that your resume is all about you. While fundamentally true, the foundation of every resume is framed around the candidate’s career history, the document is actually a sales pitch in which you align your experience and value add to the employer’s / industry’s needs – assuring the reader that you have the expertise to solve their problems.
Your executive resume begins with a high-impact summary statement that highlights your brand (who you are and how you are the answer to your target employer’s needs) and showcases your career progression along with relevant milestones and success stories. Other notable sections included are education, professional training/certifications, and professional memberships.
Your Executive Cover Letter
Your cover letter takes a deeper dive into your career story and precisely aligns your value and expertise with the pain point of the company.
To ignite interest in your candidacy, write your executive cover letter from a value-add standpoint rather than “here’s more information about my past.” Open with a question that connects those dots between their pain and your expertise:
Creating solutions that exceed quality patient/consumer satisfaction is my passion and improving the financial performance of healthcare facilities is my expertise.
Then write three or four paragraphs that briefly tell the story of your career –making it crystal clear as to how your leadership experience and success stories are the answer to their needs. The key here is to remember that your cover letter should complement your resume and never repeat it.
Similarities and Differences
The goal is for each document to showcase your unique value in a slightly different way by summarizing your experience, qualifications, and accomplishments as clearly and concisely as possible. Both should individually answer how you have the expertise needed to lead the company to the next level of business with the resume providing a broader view of your career history and your cover letter focusing on the specific ways you can deliver.
While your C-suite resume does not include personal pronouns, your cover letter uses a narrative voice that is less formal yet laser-focused on answering the specific employer’s question, “why are you the candidate we need?”
Both the executive resume and the accompanying executive cover letter must be ‘dressed’ the same, radiate professionalism, and elicit a ‘wow’ factor. In both, every entry is weighed for non-essential information and replacing redundant entries with verbiage that highlights the value you bring to the position via the outcome you delivered.