Eleven Must-Read Books for The Serious Job Searcher

Back in the days before I had a wife, two little girls, a growing business, and a honey-do list the size of Texas, I used to read a lot. I even got to read for pleasure. Now, I only get to read in those precious few minutes of solace before going to bed.

I do my best to keep up on the newest books in the personal branding and job search categories, and the following list represents what I think are the best books to help the ambitious professional excel in their job search.

HeadStrongBookHeadstrong: The Keys To A Confident And Positive Attitude During Job Search by Tim Tyrell-Smith A typical executive-level job search lasts an average of six to nine months, which means there will likely be some periods of disappointment and frustration. Tim Tyrell-Smith’s book lays out a nice blueprint to help you keep a positive frame of mind to endure the job search grind.

Six Things to Consider When Choosing a Professional Resume Writer

Choosing a resume writer to use is very similar to selecting an attorney or accountant. You want to find a true professional who has the right amount of experience and expertise, at a fair price, to lead you though the process. Here are six things to consider when choosing a resume writer:


1) Do they pass the 10,000 hour rule? In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, he goes in depth about the idea that it takes about 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to really master a subject area or skill. The idea applies for athletes, actors, musicians, doctors, and yes, resume writers. 10,000 hours comes out to about five years of full-time work or 10 years of part-time work. After 10,000 hours, you can be sure that your writer has seen just about every client scenario possible and developed a clear understanding of what works and what doesn’t.

Keep in mind that a tremendous amount of experience doesn’t always translate to exceptional work. Trends in the job search and resume writing realms change often, so it’s critical to find a writer who isn’t stuck in their ways and can adapt to the constant technological and social changes.

2) Are they well-versed in your industry and function? Today, we live in a world of specialists. The jack-of-all-trades is finding it more and more difficult to survive. When paying good money to have somebody prepare your resume, you want to work with somebody who specializes in your line of work. Writing a resume for a lawyer is very different than writing a resume for a programmer. There are countless nuances specific to each profession, and there’s not a writer alive today who is well versed in all of them. If you’re in sales, find a writer who knows sales. If you’re a non-profit executive, find a writer who understands the non-profit arena. At The Executive Element, we often turn away clients outside our areas of expertise because we know that are other writers out there that better understand their background and will ultimately provide a better service.

3) Do they have a strong online presence? A website is no longer an optional marketing tool, it is a requirement. Any professional resume writer who doesn’t have a basic website that lists their credentials and services isn’t really a ‘professional’ resume writer. For those writers that do have a website, is it modern and well-written? I’d be hesitant to hire a writer who claims to be an expert in ‘personal branding’ if their brand is being communicated through a website created in 1997. Additionally, you should be able to check out your writer on LinkedIn, and hopefully, view recommendations from satisfied clients.

4) What is their process? How does the writer go about collecting enough sufficient information to write a quality resume? Do they use worksheets or schedule a phone consultation? Most good writers will usually do both. While worksheets can be a bit cumbersome for the client, they are the easiest way to collect sufficient basic information such as job titles and dates, basic job responsibilities, education, associations, etc. The worksheet should also ask the client to try to list quantitative achievements whenever possible.

While the worksheet is a great starting point, a phone consultation can help tie all the information together and provide an opportunity to communicate information that may not fit into the worksheet format. If you’re spending hundreds of dollars on a new resume, you have every right to speak to your writer and discuss the project as you see fit. I would be very leery of any service that doesn’t make every effort to collect as much information as possible before starting the project.

5) Have you seen samples of their work? Some writers are hesitant to post samples on their website because they think potential clients will just copy their samples and never purchase their services. We’ve found that this rarely happens. When viewing a writer’s samples, think like a hiring manager. Does the sample resume have a contemporary format? Are the most important pieces of information easy to find? Can you get a clear understanding of the client’s core skill set and value he or she can bring to an organization? Are cliches overused? If you’re impressed with the samples, chances are good that you’ll be pleased with their service. If the samples are underwhelming, move on and find somebody else.

6) How much does it cost? There is a tremendous range of fees that writers charge for a resume and cover letter. You’ll find people offering resume writing services on Craigslist for $29. You’ll also find established writers that charge $1500+. Both are fairly ridiculous. Somebody charging anything less than $100 would have to do several projects per day to make a decent living; meaning, volume is their priority, not quality. On the other end of the spectrum, there are more experienced writers (often published) who charge a fortune simply because they can. They have the credentials to demand top dollar and they tend to be very selective with the clients they choose to work with. There are plenty of high quality firms that charge somewhere between $300 and $700 for a resume package, which is a fair price to pay for the average management- to executive-level client.

Clearly, there are lots of things to consider when choosing a resume writer, but ultimately, it comes down to selecting somebody that you’re comfortable with. A referral from somebody that had a great experience is obviously a good way to go, but in the absence of a referral, do your homework and ask lots of questions.

Appropriate Email Address for a Resume

It’s 2012 and I’m still amazed at how many people still don’t understand the importance of having an email address that is suitable for the job search. Below are some samples (slightly altered) of email addresses that I have seen on resumes lately:


puppyluvr5@yahoo.com – Not only is this one a little creepy, it also screams “Please don’t take me seriously!” Sure, most everybody loves puppies, but making this the online moniker that every potential employer will see is not a wise idea. Use your name – only your name – in your email address! If your name is John Smith, chances are that jsmith@gmail.com is probably not available, but do your best to keep your name the central part of the address. Add a number, a middle initial, or some other simple alteration as needed.

daveandsandy@hotmail.com – So you really share your email account with your husband or wife? I can understand a married couple having a shared email just for use with their kids and grandkids, but not for a job search. Two people on one email account is a bad idea for many reasons, but it may be telling potential employers that you’re not savvy enough to handle an email account on your own, or even worse, that you can’t be trusted by your own spouse!

gregjones@netzero.com – Netzero was a free online email service that came out in the mid 1990s, which was when it signed up the vast majority of its users. They were actually one of the first services to offer free dial-up Internet, which shows you have ancient this company is in the online world. Most people have replaced their Netzero email addresses with a Yahoo, Hotmail, or Gmail account as time went on. Those that are still using a Netzero account (or one of its brethren – Juno, AOL, etc.) may be signaling that they’re a bit behind the curve. See this article of an extreme take on this concept.

The bottom line – your email address is an extension of you, and you need to be aware of how it effects your personal brand. Recruiters and hiring managers are paid to be judgmental (in a completely legal way, of course), so don’t let something silly like a ridiculously outdated or inappropriate email address overshadow what could otherwise be an exceptional resume or cover letter.

One Sneaky Trick for Writing a Job Description

I’ll let you in on a little secret: You don’t have to be a world-class writer to put together a great resume. While most professional resume writers are above average writers, the best-of-the-best possess two key elements – 1) They understand how a resume should be structured given each client’s unique background and skill set, and 2) They are resourceful and able to find important information that makes the writing process much, much easier.


As we discussed in the third installment of How to Write an Awesome Executive Resume, writing a job description for each position is critical as recruiters and hiring managers need to be able to understand what the job entailed, what your primary responsibilities were, and how your role fit into the organization as a whole.

When most people think about how they can summarize what their role entails into a few sentences, they draw a blank. Or conversely, they make a list of 20 different things that fall under the job description and end up with too much information that overwhelms the reader.

So what’s the trick to writing a great job description? The trick is that chances are somebody else has already written one for you. You just need to find it and tweak it to make it your own. For example, if you’re an VP of Human Resources for a mid-sized company, you should be able to go to one of the aggregate job search engines (I recommend Indeed.com) and search for “VP of Human Resources”. Dozens of postings should come up and you just need to find the one that most closely matches what you do.

Find the top two or three sentences that describe the role at a high level and include a final sentence of your own that details very specific information such as the number of direct reports beneath you, budget responsibilities, etc.

Don’t make writing a job description harder than it needs to be. Leverage the power of the Internet and find one that somebody else spent a lot of time and effort to write. Don’t plagiarize! Make each sentence your own, but feel free to use the basic framework that you see online.

How to Write an Awesome Executive Resume – Part Three

In our previous post in the How to Write an Awesome Executive Resume series, we went into great detail about the importance of crafting a strong Executive Summary. That section sets the tone for the entire resume, and if done correctly, should entice the readers to want to explore the executive resume further. So you want to be sure to maintain the momentum from the Executive Summary and create a Professional Experience section that showcases your career progression, highlights your major contributions, and supports the branding statement in the opening summary.

experience image2

In the Professional Experience section, I like to break each position into two parts:


  • A clear scope of the position
  • Major contributions and quantifiable achievements

Separating the job description from the accomplishments is critical as recruiters and hiring managers need to be able to differentiate 1) what the job entailed and 2) what you were really able to achieve in the role.

Scope of the position

Quite simply, this should tell the reader what you were hired to do. In a three to four sentence paragraph, you need to clarify what your primary responsibilities were and how your role fit into the organization as a whole. For example, if you were a Human Resources Director, you would want to describe what functional areas your managed, the top strategic goals you were working to achieve, the number of direct and indirect reports beneath you, budget responsibilities, etc. Avoid getting into too much detail or focusing on the more tactical aspects of the role.

Sometimes it helps to imagine that you’re explaining what you do to 10-year old. Describe your role in simple, easy to understand terms that anybody can understand. This helps to avoid including too much “industry speak” and extraneous details of the role that many not be necessary.

Quantify your achievements

This is easier to do in some positions (sales and operations) than others (strategic planning and organizational development), but anybody in any kind of role should be able to describe the impact they had. For a sales executive, recruiters would want to see proof of your success such as beating your quota by x percent, growing year-over-year sales by x percent, securing major client accounts, etc. For an organizational development executive, hiring managers would want to see specific initiatives that you development and rolled out and what the impact of those programs were. Did they increase retention? Improve company morale?

The real gold nuggets within a resume are the bits of information that demonstrate the true value you brought to a role and how it impacted the company. If you can’t show that you can perform and consistently exceed expectations in your previous roles, why would a prospective employer have any incentive to bring you into their company. The job-seekers that consistently win interviews are those who can prove (hopefully with verifiable numbers) that they have been an asset to previous employers.

Example of a well-crafted position

Notice how easy it is to understand what this person was hired to do. And if somebody was quickly scanning through the document, the bulleted achievements stand out on the page and are easy to find.

Other quick tips


  • 99% of job seekers should use the reverse chronological format
  • Only use the functional forrmat if you have zero relevant experience
  • Consider describing the firm in a short if this will impress the reader
  • Avoid including months in the dates, unless you had the job for
  • Use the heading “Professional Experience” rather than “Experience” or “Work History”


I think the Professional Experience section of the resume is a bit easier to write than the Executive Summary because it’s more objective. Keep in mind the suggestions I’ve provided and you shouldn’t have any problems creating a summary of your experience that succinctly explains your career history and the specific value you provided in each role.

Managing Expectations for Your Resume Writer

One thing I tell every potential client I speak with is that creating a truly great resume is a process. Sure, there are instances when I can just take a client’s existing resume, and with little bit of input, turn it into masterpiece (not to toot my own horn…). But more often than not, it might take a round of two of revisions until we can consider the project complete. Why? Because I’ve probably never actually met you in person, worked with you in any capacity, or performed the exact same job function. But that doesn’t mean that I still can’t create a great resume for you. It will just take a little bit more time and communication for me to really understand the scope of your job, what you accomplished, and how I can best position you for the next step in your career.

Does this mean that you’re better off finding a friend or co-worker who knows you well to write your resume for you? Absolutely not. There are numerous benefits to having a stranger (who is also a professional resume writer) handle the project. First, it’s much easier for somebody you don’t have a personal relationship with you to remain objective about your background and skill set. Second, you should be able to give much more honest feedback throughout the process since you won’t have to worry about hurting a stranger’s feelings like you might with a friend. And finally, chances are you aren’t friends with somebody who writes high-level resumes for a living and understands all the nuances associated with creating such a document.

The moral of the story – be patient and collaborative throughout the process, and I can almost guarantee that in the end, you’ll be happy with the result. If you see that we’ll need to make some changes to the first draft, understand that that is just part of the process. Ultimately, we always get it right, but we need your help to get there.

Do Engineers Make The Best Marketing Executives?

According to a recent ranking by Business Week of CEOs of the top 1,000 publicly held US companies, more chief executive officers majored in engineering – not marketing, not finance, and not law – than any other discipline.

I have noticed a recent trend that the majority of senior-level marketing executives that I have worked with don’t have an MBA or an undergraduate degree in marketing. They were engineers. While it may seem odd that engineering folks would be the most likely group to climb the marketing ladder, it actually makes perfect sense. In most cases, engineers are the people most intimately involved in the product development process. They’re the ones who are translating customer requirements into products that meet specific demands in the marketplace. Over time, they pick up on the various other aspects of the business, but they will always have an advantage over people with a general business background in that they have a much deeper understanding of the technical aspects of the business. In any product-driven business, that is crucial.

I graduated in 2002 with an undergraduate marketing degree, and although I feel that I received an exceptional undergraduate education, I didn’t leave school with a skill set that could immediately be applied in the workforce. Just nine years later, I could claim that my degree is horribly out of date – the term ‘social networking’ didn’t even exist when I was in college. Engineers, accountants, and programmers, however, were all highly sought after following graduation because they had a tangible skill set that could be applied immediately in a professional setting.

I’m certainly not saying that all engineers will be better candidates for senior marketing positions than other folks with an MBA or other non-technical degree. There are many, many talented executives with degrees in the liberal arts and some with no degree at all. However, if my kids ever seek my advice on a college major, I’ll try to steer them towards a technical degree that will give them a valuable skill set and enable them to learn the other aspects of leading a business over time. But let’s be honest, what 18-year old seeks and actually takes advice from their parents?

Terrific Cold Call Cover Letter Example

I read an interesting article this morning by Nicholas Carlson at the Business Insider about Tristan Walker, a Stanford MBA student who sent a letter (eight letters, actually) to the founders of FourSquare to ask for a job. Ultimately, he got the job and is now their Vice President of Business Development. He didn’t use a boiler plate cover letter like so many job seekers do, showing why it makes sense to break the traditional mold of a one-size-fits-all approach to cover letter writing.

Here’s the letter:

Hey Dennis and Naveen,

How’s it going? Hope all is well!

My name is Tristan Walker and Im a first year student (going into my
second year) at Stanford Business School (originally from New York).
Im a huge fan of what you both have built and excited about what you
guys have planned for FourSquare. It is an awesome , awesome service.

I would love to chat with you guys at some point, if you’re available,
about FourSquare. This year, I’m looking to help out and work
extremely hard for a startup with guys I can learn a ton from. Dennis,
with your experience at Google and the Dodgeball product, and Naveen,
with your experience at Sun and engineering in general, I know I could
learn a great deal from you both!

Before business school, I was an oil trader on Wall Street for about
two years and hated it! Moved out to the Bay/Stanford to pursue my
passion for entrepreneurship and the startup world. This past spring I
had the opportunity to work for Twitter as an intern and learned a
ton. Solidified my commitment to working at a startup that I’m
passionate about, and FourSquare is one of those startups that I
believe in.

I know you guys are probably getting inundated with internship-type
requests, but thought it’d be worth a shot! I can assure you Im humble
and Im hungry! Let me know if you’d be interested in chatting further.
I definitely look forward to hearing from you.

Stay awesome!

Obviously, Tristan’s a smart guy who would be a viable candidate for any job under the sun, but he did several of the key things that we preach to clients regarding the cover letter:


  • He knew his audience and tailored his message accordingly, stating why his background at Twitter would be a great fit at a start-up like FourSquare
  • He demonstrated his passion for working in a start-up culture and that he believed in FourSquare’s product.
  • He positioned himself as someone who was willing to learn and grow within the company, acknowledging the founders’ own specific backgrounds as an opportunity to expand his skill set.
  • He was persistent. It’s a fine line between persistent and annoying, but sometimes you do what you have to do to get noticed.
  • And finally, he asked for the job.


We can’t all have a Stanford MBA, Wall Street experience, and an internship at Twitter, but we can follow Tristan’s example and find better ways to connect with prospective employers.