In order to win a coveted executive position whether it be at Director/VP level or Chief Executive Officer, you MUST have an executive resume that presents a compelling synopsis of your value proposition to that potential employer. Your executive resume needs to provide a powerful answer to the reader’s question, “What’s in it for me if I hire this person?” (known as WIFM).
Preparing such documents is of course the raison d’être (“reason for being”) of my firm, Creative Keystrokes Executive Resume Service. However, if you plan to write your own executive resume, a good place to start is by reviewing executive resume samples for executives with similar backgrounds to yours or who occupy the type of position you are seeking. You can browse the Web for sample executive resumes via Google, or search LinkedIn (where you can view profiles and in many cases also the resumes of individuals found there).
CORE PRINCIPLES FOR EXECUTIVE RESUME WRITING
- Don’t worry about trying to squeeze your accomplished executive career into a one- or two-page resume. A three-page document is well-accepted by boards of directors and hiring committees reviewing candidates for executive-level positions. However, don’t write just to fill up pages… every word should contribute to painting the picture. Avoid needless repetition or granular detail. In our modern world of instant information and reading on small mobile device screens, less is more.
- Make sure that your reader is half-sold before they reach the work history section of the resume. Your opening section should:
→ Provide an effective branding statement
→ Briefly summarize your overall experience and skill set, and
→ Give the reader some “appetizers”—briefly stated examples of some of your most notable accomplishments (which by implication could be repeated to the benefit of your prospective employer).
- Always think in terms of the results and benefits of your activities with each employer.
- Lengthy listings of responsibilities do not impress.
- Well-stated, succinct stories of challenges you faced, strategies you came up with and executed, and results of your actions DO impress.
- Pay attention to appearance and readability.
- Allow for enough white space to be pleasing the eye.
- Use bullets to draw attention to important information, but do not OVER-use them.
- Resist the temptation to use numerous fonts, italicize or bold excessively.
- Judiciously include graphics, if at all.
MAJOR DO’S AND DON’TS FOR YOUR EXECUTIVE RESUME
- Use pure chronological or functional format.
- The chrono format leaves it up to the reader to glean the “big picture” about your value proposition from your work history.
- The functional format leaves them hungry to know where and how you accomplished things or gained skills that you claim.
- BETTER: A “hybrid” format with a strong profile/summary section that spotlights your functional capabilities and a chrono section that demonstrates your skills in context is the best of both worlds. (See sample executive resumes.)
- Take your detailed career history back too far. Recruiters and hiring executives are going to have limited interest in anything you did more than 15-20 years ago, and will primarily be looking at the last 8-12 years.
- Include an “objective” statement.
- Your summary/profile section should make where you would fit in an organization obvious without necessity of an explicitly stated target position or goal.
- An objective statement will make your resume appear extremely outdated. Fortune Magazine rates this as #1 on their list of the Top 5 Mistakes on Executive Resumes: Fortune’s Top 5 Mistakes on Executive Resumes
- Bog the reader down with long blocks of text… small chunks of information are much more appealing and likely to be read than densely packed text.
- Be overly modest: If there was ever a time to “brag,” this is it. Your resume is a marketing document and as such requires you to sell yourself. If you don’t, you can be sure your competitors will.
- Think you can cheat the system by copying the format or worse, the content from executive resume samples you may have found online or examples from a resume template site. Your career and value proposition are unique and need to be treated as such. Plus, never mind the consequences of an interviewer noting that your content is identical to that of another candidate!
- Waste valuable space by displaying boring titles such as “summary” or “profile” at the top of your resume. Instead: Create a headline that describes briefly who you are/what you do. For example:
General Management/Operations Executive
IT Operations Executive
Senior Human Resources Executive
Healthcare Administration Executive
CEO – Restaurant Industry
Strategic Information Technology Consultant
International Manufacturing CEO
Global Marketing Executive
- Load your resume with generalized accomplishment statements such as “Improved employee retention,” “Increased efficiency.” Instead, quantify wherever possible to make your contributions concrete in the reader’s mind, e.g.: “Boosted employee retention by 15% with launch of innovative employee engagement program” or “Championed and introduced new computerized system that reduced lead time for product development by 25%.”
- Describe your accomplishments with passive/weak instead of active/strong verbs:
Passive: Helped, Assisted with, or the dreaded “Responsible for” (not even really a verb phrase). Avoid “resume-speak” or HR job description wording!
Active: Delivered, Spearheaded, Forged, Transformed….
- Include pronouns in your statements. Resume “shorthand” uses the implied pronoun format: Say “Ran a tight ship” versus “I ran a tight ship.”
- Write in the third person (implied ‘he’ or ‘she’ in sentences). Always use first person (implied “I” in sentences). YOU are speaking directly to your audience; someone else is not telling them about you.
- Include a photo: A no-no unless your profession warrants it (rarely the case for executives, except for specific country formats for international candidates).
- Let TYPOS slip through! The kiss of death—enough said!
ON THE OTHER HAND, DO:
- Have a clear idea in your mind of what is important to your audience, and focus your content on showing them that you possess it in abundance.
- Target your resume—don’t try to be all things to all people.
- Give the reader concrete benefits they can visualize you delivering to their organization. Money saved. Revenues increased. Accounts won. New markets opened. Competitors trounced. Demonstrate your business and financial impact, and do it quickly!
- Provide the reader with a context for your accomplishments, the “story” behind them. Letting them know that you increased sales by 30% means a lot more if couched in terms that show them you did it against firmly entrenched competition, during an industry-wide downturn, or with little to no additional funding or personnel. Vividly show your business problem solving skills.
- Disperse relevant keywords (words and phrases relevant to your profession that a recruiter will be likely to search for) liberally throughout your executive resume.
- Limit use of embedded tables, text boxes, and graphics. A little is OK, but even though you will be directly submitting your resume to the hiring executive (You will, won’t you?), it may still have to go through an ATS (Applicant Tracking System) at some point.
A WORD ON THE MOST IMPORTANT SECTION OF YOUR EXECUTIVE RESUME: THE HEADING/SUMMARY AREA
This is where your personal brand and value proposition must shine. It is your first opportunity to show your audience what differentiates you from your competition. If you haven’t done so in this section, they are not likely to read further.
This section should include:
- A branding statement or tagline that dominates the top of the resume and in a short but powerful phrase or sentence communicates the essence of your value proposition.
- Keywords and phrases relevant to your target role—skills and knowledge that you possess and that are demonstrated throughout the resume.
- A succinct summary paragraph that communicates your key skills, cumulative experience, and unique qualifications. Don’t forget intangible qualities such as leadership, ability to inspire and build rapport, creativity, etc.
- A handful of short but powerful examples of what you have been able to achieve that duly impress but also make the reader hungry to learn more about it.
Other optional features:
- Your favorite motivational quote.
- A flattering observation from a colleague or superior or perhaps from a recent performance review can add power to this section as well.
ALL OF THIS needs to occur “above the fold” on the first page of your resume, leaving plenty of room to start a work history section that proves everything you said above.
ACTION WORDS AND PHRASES TO CONSIDER USING IN YOUR EXECUTIVE RESUME:
Paved the way for
Set the stage for
THE BOTTOM LINE
An executive resume is a carefully crafted document that informs a potential employer about your skills and qualifications. It describes what you can do, what you have done, and what contributions you will make. Most of all, your executive resume is advertising! Whatever your occupation, when you’re out there in the job market you’re a salesperson, selling the most important product you’ll ever sell — yourself!
SAMPLE EXECUTIVE RESUMES
For executive resume samples that follow the above advice, see:
MORE INFORMATION ON HOW TO WRITE AN EXECUTIVE RESUME