Market Trends & Perspective

Executive Recruiting — the value of an experienced professional partner

First Impression

The resume is the first impression a candidate makes on the hiring decision-maker. Success in moving forward is largely dependent on how relevant the resume content is to the leadership characteristics the board has identified as important. Candidates who are invited into the search process are those whose resumes closely fit the profile of the leadership characteristics the Board is seeking.

Tailored Resumes

Successful candidates position themselves for making it through the first narrowing of the candidate field by tailoring their resume. Enterprising candidates modify their resumes for each CEO position they pursue. They focus on the hiring criteria described in the opportunity notice and demonstrate in their resume that they meet the criteria. If the opportunity notice is thin on criteria, as they often are, then the candidate can research the credit union’s performance through the website, 5300 report, and Callahans’ Peer to Peer to gain an understanding of the strengths and challenges of the credit union’s business model. From that analysis the candidate can extrapolate and intuit the probable qualities the board will be seeking in their new CEO.
If the opportunity notice or the research indicates that building quality loan portfolios, managing expenses or fueling growth are some of the desired skill sets for the next leader, then the candidate’s resume should be tailored to highlight their experience in those areas. However, it is not uncommon for candidates’ resumes to highlight accomplishments the candidate is particularly proud of without considering or anticipating the qualities credit union’s hiring decision-makers are seeking. Tossing a static resume into the candidate pool that highlights only what the candidate thinks is important without tailoring it to the specific opportunity at hand makes it a much more difficult for the recruiter to identify the candidate as a good prospect.

Archeological Dig

Another concern with static resumes is that they are layered over time. With each new position the candidate has earned, another layer is added. These resumes often resemble an archeological dig. Of particular concern is dated language that is often used in describing the earlier employment of the candidate. If the resume is a stack of layered information written in segments over the years, beginning with the first employment experience, it should be reviewed for the vibrancy and relevance of the language used. What was “data processing” in the 1980s is now “information technology”, and the phone center is now the contact center. The language used should represent the candidate as the accomplished and up-to-date professional they are. Good sources for dynamic and appropriate language can be found in the articles and advertisements in Harvard Business Review, the Economist, Credit Union Times, Financial Times, and Wall Street Journal. Phrasing found in these and other top rated journals offer language and ideas that are fresh and best captures the state of today’s financial services environment.

Biases about Core Competencies

Almost all boards search for CEO candidates that have a breadth of experience beyond their core competency. The candidate’s core competency – financial, lending, technology, operations, marketing or human resources – helped their rise to the senior management team. Boards respect core competencies and functional expertise and know they are valuable and necessary to the success of a credit union. However, each area of functional expertise has drawbacks that trigger possible biases in the minds of some hiring decision-makers. CFOs love spreadsheets… people not so much, CIOs struggle with communication that is not binary, Chief Marketing Officers oversell the success of their ideas and blow budgets …etc. While these examples are facetious they serve to make the point that a candidate’s core competency may have some drawbacks in the minds of others. Astute candidates are aware of the conventional wisdom about the style traits and biases associated with their core competency and use the resume to subtly offset this concern and make it a point to show themselves as a well-rounded professional who is more than their core competency. It is important to understand the biases that may exist about core competencies and subtly address them in the resume, showing the candidate as a well-rounded professional; by, for example, specifying their efforts to make their credit union a Best Place to Work, volunteering in the community as board member on United Way, teaching classes on financial management to the membership, etc.

Bringing Sand to the Beach

Top candidates are also wary of bringing sand to the beach and piling redundant qualities on their resumes that needlessly reemphasize their core competencies. Once a Board member knows you are a CFO, CLO, COO, etc. they pretty much know what you do. CFOs who list ALCO, investment portfolio expertise, preparation of financial statements, serving as the liaison between the examiners and the auditors, and list this information with each CFO type position they have held throughout their careers, are examples of this non optimization of their resume – dumping buckets of sand on the beach. Savvy candidates realize that expertise and experience related to your core competency should be detailed, but they do it only once and use the balance of their resume to demonstrate the experience they have beyond their core.
These candidates additionally highlight complex projects they have led such as participation in designing and launching mobile technology delivery channels, initiatives that have grown membership of millennials, teaching members what drives their credit score or leading case studies of member focus groups exploring potential products or services. This information takes the reader well beyond the candidate’s core competencies.

Broadening Experience

The dream candidate has two core competencies. Often this is difficult to achieve. We recently worked with a credit union where the CEO diligently pursued succession planning and gave generous notice of his retirement date. He also believed that given the culture of the membership and the organization, an internal successor would be best for serving the membership. He had three talented mid-career potential successors on his staff – the CFO, CLO and COO. He allowed each potential successor to switch Chief positions with their counter parts and spend two years in each of the three Chief positions. At the end of the succession process each of these individuals possessed powerhouse resumes. One of them was recently named the credit union’s CEO. Stay bonuses, strong compensation packages and genuine acknowledgement of the contributions of the two individuals not selected are tools the Board has used to retain the other Chiefs.
Most Chiefs wishing to pursue a CEO position will not get this type of opportunity to broaden their core competencies. An alternative approach is for aspiring CEOs to make their wishes to broaden their career path known to their CEO. The win for the credit union and the CEO is they get to keep the executive longer as they help drive credit union success by leading new initiatives. The win for the executive is they have the opportunity to gain this broader experience in their credit union where they are a known and respected contributor. Gaining this experience within the relative safety of their credit union has a lower career risk than joining another organization to broaden their experience. It is ideal if a rising Chief or VP can gain this additional expertise at their current shop.


Boards are sensitive to transitions on resumes. Frequent moves beg questions about stability. After reaching their career mid-point, CEO candidates would ideally spend 4-5 years with their organizations before transitioning to another organization. Shorter transitions in the early career stages are readily understood as the candidate is emerging into leadership roles. However, once leadership at the VP or Chief level is attained transitions should make sense and should not be too frequent. A quick turnover of position will beg the question, “ why”. Discerning candidates anticipate this question and take it head on in their resume with a short bullet point explaining the circumstances; organization merged, opportunity to broaden experience, illness of a parent or spouse. There is no need for much detail, just a hint of the underlying reason is all that is needed. With unexplained frequent transitions, the reader of the resume will almost always “go dark”; candidates who are aware of this tendency take the initiative to head off the darkness with a brief explanatory note. They are prepared to go further in depth when they are contacted by the recruiter or questioned by the board.


The best resumes are a blend of art, science and awareness of the audience. Strong resumes better inform hiring decision-makers and this leads to better hiring decisions and more successful credit unions.
Credit Unions for Kids reflects the values of the credit union movement. If you are an aspiring credit union executive for a C level or VP position and are willing to make a contribution in an amount of your choosing to Credit Unions for Kids, we will review your resume and offer suggestions to improve the presentation of your experience and capabilities at no additional cost.

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