Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Resume Guide
You’re at the top of your profession. You know how to lead. You bring vision to your company. That vision has you looking forward in your own career, wondering what your next challenge will be. You know you’re ready for it, but where should you start?
The higher up the ladder you are, the longer your job search will take and the more careful you have to be about how you present yourself. It’s imperative that you take a hard look at your career, your industry, and your skills and attributes. While you don’t need experience in a specific industry to be hired as a CEO within it, you do have to know which of your attributes are most desirable and how to present those transferable skills.
Then, you must create a resume that will differentiate you from the competition. Although you’re accustomed to working under pressure and answering to a demanding board of directors, resume preparation presents unique challenges. This guide provides you with all the information you need to develop a resume that gets you noticed.
After reading, consider whether you want to spend your valuable time writing an executive resume or whether you’d rather delegate the job to the experts. If you decide you would rather take advantage of an executive resume writing service and use your time to expand your network and uncover new job opportunities, you can request a 1-on-1 consultation with one of our experienced team members.
Understanding the Big Picture
Job hunting at the executive level requires different tactics than lower-level searches, but your resume is still the top sales tool you will use to get that coveted interview. Preparation and research along with the important strategies presented in this guide will enable you to get your resume through applicant tracking systems (ATS) and human resources representatives.
Let go of the notion that your resume is simply a list of your previous jobs. Instead, think of it as a career success story about your growth and achievements as a strategic leader. It explains to prospective employers how you are going to help grow their business by showing them what you are capable of and have already accomplished.
As you begin your job search, remember that your resume must reflect your climb to the top and project an image of visionary leadership. To do that, it must:
- Look the part with crisp organization and design.
- Quickly sell your value with an excellent executive summary.
- Detail your achievements with examples and data-driven evidence.
- Be completely free of formatting, spelling, or grammatical errors.
Now, we’ll look at each section of your CEO resume in detail.
Layout and Design
While you want to stand out, an overly complex resume design isn’t the place to do it. It’s your talents that you want recruiters to remember, so resist the temptation to get too creative with your layout.
Why do executive resume designs follow predictable patterns? Because those patterns work. Your goal is to make the job of reading your resume as easy as possible for busy recruiters. Look at it from their perspective. They are hired to find great candidates in short timeframes. They are triaging candidates and need to quickly scan your resume to confirm that you are a CEO candidate they want to put forward.
You understand that the responsibility of running a company as a CEO is serious business: your resume design should reflect that and more.
Organization and professionalism are important keys to presenting a strategically designed career profile. Skip the bells and whistles, and focus on a layout that demonstrates why you are the right person for the role.
Most of the time that means clear titles for your section headings, bold job titles, acceptable fonts, and bulleted descriptions. It also means you should forgo a portrait picture and the use of excessive color or graphics. You don’t have to strip all the personality out of your design. There is still room to show off your style within typical resume constraints; however, it’s best to save most of your creativity for writing the text of your resume.
Finally, when it comes to layout, proper use of white space is critical. It allows an executive recruiter, hiring managers, and board members to quickly scan your career success story and focus on the most important content.
Speaking of the content, let’s cover the details.
We don’t have to tell you that your contact information is incredibly important. Your goal is to get that phone call or email that says you’ve made it past the initial screening and they want to speak with you. Make it as simple as possible for a recruiter to make contact.
Here’s all you need to know about this:
- Do not use your street address and only add your city and state.
- Choose one email address only.
- Do add your LinkedIn profile URL.
- Include your phone number.
Your Title and Summary
Here’s another area where simplicity is best. Your title should be Chief Executive Officer. The only time to change that is if you are applying to a company that calls its CEO by a different title.
Following your title, your executive summary is included at the top of the first page. Your summary has to convey, in just a few sentences, your Unique Success Proposition™. This includes your top accomplishments and how they prepared you for your next challenge. Think of this as a super-summary because while you do have to sum up your career, you have to do so in a way that shows recruiters and potential employers how you will elevate the company with your talents.
Does that sound like a lot to accomplish in 3–5 sentences? Once you break it down, it won’t be difficult at all. Your first job is understanding what the decision makers are looking for in their Chief Executive Officer. At your level, the other members of the C-suite assume you have the leadership and know-how to get the job done. That’s merely your foundation. Your soft skills will also have a significant impact in influencing others.
You need to demonstrate your ability to communicate, build bridges among business units, ensure that teams understand how their work impacts others, and create an environment where other executives have the autonomy to get the job done. Talent development and retention also rank high as desired skills.
Don’t neglect the fact that you must be able to work with your colleagues in the C-suite, explaining how your vision will support the overall culture and strategic plan for company growth.
The best way to present these abilities is to describe the methods and style you used to achieve your greatest successes. As with all areas of your resume, details and data add weight to your statements.
The CEO Institute lists six styles of leadership:
- Pacesetting—Leads by example
- Coercive—Demands immediate compliance
- Coach—A talent developer
- Authoritative—Focused on the end goal and a common vision
- Democratic—A seeker of team consensus
- Affiliative—Aims to develop emotional ties and a bond with the company
Your style is probably a combination of these, but you may lean heavily toward one or more styles. This would be a good time to step back and view yourself from someone else’s perspective, or better yet, ask colleagues or team members you trust for the words they would use to describe your leadership style.
Complete the chart below to give you a better sense of what leadership style you gravitate toward and examples of your successes in each style.
Core Competencies/Skills and Accomplishments
This is the perfect place to add in the keywords and phrases that will get you past Applicant Tracking System (ATS) software. While ATS algorithms are sophisticated and do more than rank your resume based on the number of relevant keywords you use, you definitely need to include the skills your potential employer considers to be of high value.
Analyze the job listing and make sure you use exact phrases. If the job listing says “profit and loss management,” don’t limit your language to just P & L. Spell it out. In fact, do both to increase your chances.
While there is no one standard CEO job description, many skills are ubiquitous. At the C-suite level, recruiters need to know that you have the vision to lead and the management skills to accompany that vision. A unique combination of both hard skills and soft skills is crucial. According to Indeed, here are the top ten traits of an effective CEO:
Choose 6–10 soft skills and hard skills that best differentiate you and also meet the specified requirements of the job description.
Common CEO Skills
Employment History/Professional Experience
Your professional history is more than a list of the responsibilities you have had over the years. Think of your experience as a compelling career story about your journey to the top.
You’ve distinguished yourself through your ability to learn and grow in each position. You’ve also solved problems and exceled in positions of increasing importance. You’ve worked hard to get where you are. Now you need to demonstrate your talents and achievements.
This is a time-consuming section, but you need your resume to clearly demonstrate why you belong in the role of CEO. Start by brainstorming about your achievements for each job. You need to show a wide range of skills and an array of accomplishments. Then, be honest with yourself and cut anything that doesn’t explain how you will handle future challenges. Also, delete repetitive skills or achievements that demonstrate the same idea. Remember, you only have two pages to craft your concise career success story.
Next, you need to describe the highlights of each job. There is no need to go back further than 10–15 years. Although the professional experience on your CEO resume will be organized in reverse chronological order, you should start at the beginning when you put this section together.
Think about what you did at each job and how it led you to your next position. Add a short paragraph describing your role, then stick with bulleted items from there: big paragraphs of text are off-putting. Briefly outline the problem or task with which you were faced, describe the actions you took, and use data and details to illustrate your results. Then scrutinize your content:
- Have I backed up my assertions with quantifiable achievements?
- Do my achievements show the skills and experience the job requires?
- Have I demonstrated a pattern of growth in knowledge and responsibility?
- Am I leaving something in because it means more to me than it will to a recruiter or future employer?
Your resume must convey your ability to communicate strongly and accurately, since that is an absolute requirement for your position, so clear descriptions are important. Be aware that you must also show that you are a person of action. Every word matters, so use powerful verbs and descriptors to make your case.
If you get stuck, you might consider an executive resume writing service. Request a 1-on-1 consultation with an experienced team member and determine the plan that best meets your needs.
Education and Awards
You’re well into your career, and you’ve proved yourself well beyond university. Your education section will be a breeze after all the work you did on your summary and employment history.
All you need to do is list your bachelor’s degree, major, and the university where you earned your degree. Then, repeat the process if you have a master’s degree and again if you have a doctorate.
You are well beyond the point in your career where you need to mention your GPA.
Here are a few other sections to consider (if you have space):
- Awards and Accolades
- Professional Affiliations
- Professional Certifications
Finished Resume Example: Putting It All Together
As a Chief Executive Officer, it’s your job to look at the big picture. Put that to use as you take a step back from examining each section of your resume and review your presentation as a whole. Study our example. Then, take these last tips into account:
- Make sure every word counts; use strong adjectives and action-oriented verbs.
- If you’ve gone a bit overboard and your resume is too long, cut it back to two pages.
- Read every word carefully looking for mistakes. (Hint: If you read backward, you may catch typos, missing, or extra words more easily.)
- Then, have someone else edit and proofread. You haven’t come this far to miss out because of a minor error.
Finally, you’ve done your fair share of hiring, so ask yourself the most important question yet. Would you hire someone with your resume? The answer should be a resounding YES!
After reading this guide, have you calculated the time and effort it will take for you to do all this on your own? Do you want your resume to stand out from the crowd?
We invite you to request a 1-on-1 consultation with one of our expert resume writers and let us help you get that interview.
How We Help Professionals Like You
We work exclusively with executive-level professionals like you. By leveraging our decades of experience and our proven process, our clients get hired faster and negotiate higher compensation packages. Our approach is to uncover your unique talent brand, the things that truly make you the best candidate for an executive position.
The Power of a Professional Executive Resume
What does your personal brand say about you? Experienced executives leverage our team of certified resume writing experts to position them as the expert in their field.
You need more than just a resume; you will also need a cover letter, LinkedIn profile, and professional biography.
Here’s what our clients are saying about our process…
“I took some time last night to review the materials and some time this morning to re-review with fresh eyes. I cannot identify one edit that I would like to make. I appreciate the time we spent upfront to go through my background. I honestly believe it paid off big time. Those conversations pushed me in ways I really needed to be pushed and I am extremely grateful.”
– Executive Leader in Large Financial Firm
“I would like to personally say thank you for all of your efforts relating to the development of my resume and other collateral (cover letter, thank you notes, etc). It’s always a pleasure to meet someone like yourself [who] is so professional and who really exhibits awesome skills in really understanding the current landscape at the senior executive level. Your ability to ‘write the story’ and present the career lifeline in a way that the reader of these documents can follow and quickly ascertain key career successes and achievements was outstanding. I also appreciated the depth of our conversation and your knowledge from a business and industrial perspective as you pursued gaining a better understanding of me as we walked [through] the materials that I provided for your review. Your attention to detail was really outstanding, [as was] your ability to [dive deep] [into] several of the elements of my background. Your guidance and advice during the process was greatly appreciated and provided me with a strong sense that the end product was going to turn out very nicely. Again, thank you so much for your efforts and the final product — superbly done!”
– Chief Executive Officer and Founding Partner
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