The Perfect Resume
By Margaret Heffernan | June 23, 2011
As a former CEO, I’ve hired plenty of people. Only a few resumes stand out as exceptional. I’m not talking about how they were written or designed, but the experience and skills they reflected. A career trajectory that said simply, “I can excel at anything.”
So how does a resume show that? I’m going to tell you a story about a woman who was applying to work for me. She had worked at both large companies and entrepreneurial ventures. The conventional wisdom is that you need to do one or the other, that few people are well-suited to both. I vehemently disagree.
Big Corporations Train You
This woman, who eventually worked as my Chief Financial Officer, had started her career working for Johnson & Johnson, a huge company with a great deal of process and many, many rules. There she had learned structure, order and why some rules really do matter. She got excellent training, both in corporate finance and corporate politics. But she was young, bright and energetic and so, not surprisingly, she eventually got frustrated at the slow pace at which things had to happen. So she left and worked for a start up.
Start Ups Stretch You
In Silicon Valley, she learned to do everything: find office space, negotiate leases, buy office furniture, do the monthly accounts – and speak up for herself. There wasn’t any process so she put some – not too much – in place. She was very good at asking searching financial questions about some rather exotic strategies. Eventually the chaos of hyper-growth, combined with the CEO’s preference for action over thought, led her back to a big company – this time Toshiba.
Big Companies Give You Clout
This time, though, she had so much great experience on her resume that her work was a lot more interesting and she had far more responsibility. With clout, working in a big company is more fun. She was able to take more decisions and get more attention. Because she had had so much responsibility at her start up, she knew more than many of her more narrowly focused, process-driven peers. That meant she was included in more projects at a more senior level. But if big companies can be sclerotic, this Japanese company (she told me) was obsessed with detail – to a degree that even she eventually couldn’t stand. Which is when she came to work for me.
Flexibility Wins You Flexibility
At my company, hers was a serious but lively voice. She didn’t insist on process but she knew when we needed it. She was fierce in asking tough questions – but open to the answers. When she had her first child, she came to me with an immensely detailed plan of how she’d return to work and was visibly relieved to be told: Do what works for you and I’m sure you won’t let me down.
Of course, she didn’t – but she enjoyed a far higher degree of flexibility than most conventional businesses would have afforded her.
A Great Employee Can Do Anything
When, many years later, we parted company, she went to work for Fidelity. And yes, that eventually drove her nuts and she went to a start up. But by then she had such a dazzling resume, she could have worked anywhere. What her resume said was this:
- I can manage any kind of budget, large or small.
- I understand the timing and financial implications of long and short product cycles and their commensurate financial risk.
- I can operate with complete autonomy or under a great deal of scrutiny.
- I appreciate the cultural and emotional differences in groups and am nimble in navigating both.
- I can work with anyone.
She had superb skills, honed in blue chip companies, combined with a brilliant and flexible attitude. Who wouldn’t want to hire her?