Executive Resume Guide
You’re a successful business executive. 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 necessarily need experience in a specific industry to be hired 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 developing impactful presentations, 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 this guide, you may 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. If this is your preferred path, 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 grab the attention of recruiters.
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 progressive achievements and project an image of 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 executive resume in detail.
Let go of the notion that your resume is simply a listing of your previous jobs.
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 visually scan your resume to confirm that you are a candidate they want to put forward.
Let your design echo your professional persona by developing an efficient, precise, and organized layout. Keep it simple. This will allow your achievements to stand on their own without overly flashy design. Skip the bells and whistles, and focus on a layout that helps to demonstrate 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; however, it’s best to save most of your creativity for writing your career success story.
Finally, when it comes to layout, proper use of white space is critical. It allows executive recruiters and hiring managers 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.
This is an example of how you might present your contact information:
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.
- Add your LinkedIn profile URL.
- Include your phone number.
Your Title and Summary
Your title reflects the job for which you are applying. This is an area of your resume that you may have to tweak depending on the position you are targeting. Make sure that your title matches that of the job listing.
Following your title, your executive summary is included at the top of the first page, the most valuable real estate on your resume. Your summary has to convey, in just a few sentences, your Career 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 must do so in a way that shows recruiters and potential employers how you will elevate the company with your talents.
Here is where you demonstrate why you are the right person for your targeted role. That means not only highlighting your career achievements but explaining how those accomplishments have prepared you for this new position. You’re an expert in your vertical, so show off some of your knowledge here, too. You should also describe your management style and why you will be a valuable asset in your new position. Include all of that in about 3–5 sentences.
One strategy for this section is to brainstorm a list of your attributes, pick the ones that match your target position, and use them to describe yourself here. Avoid flowery language, and use industry-specific terms whenever possible.
One way to think about who you are as a successful business leader is to consider these categories: builder, doer, learner, persuader, strategist, or some combination of those. Each persona brings different competencies to the table.
As we move on to the next part of your resume, keep those categories in mind to help you create a coherent presentation of yourself and your skills.
Your style is probably a combination of these, but you may lean heavily toward one or more of these categories. 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.
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 used by most companies. 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 target job listing and make sure you use exact phrases found there. 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.
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.
Take stock of your skills. Make an all-inclusive list. Then decide which skills best show off your strengths and style. Part of the job of your resume is to let recruiters know who you are. At the C-suite level, companies are looking for a great fit, as well as a talented executive. Be honest with yourself, and you will have a better chance of finding the right position.
Once you have honed your list of skills, categorize them. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Is my list weighted too heavily toward soft or hard skills?
- Have I chosen my highest-level skills? (You don’t need to state the obvious, instead focus on abilities that help distinguish your candidacy.)
- Does this list give an accurate picture of who I am as an executive?
- Will my professional experience section offer details of the skills I have listed here?
Choose 6–10 soft skills and hard skills that best differentiate you and also meet the specified requirements of the job description.
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 excelled 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. 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, even though you have decades of experience, you only have two pages to craft a 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 executive 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 often skipped by recruiters. Briefly outline the problem or task you 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?
Now for the actual writing. 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.
Try using the C-A-R format for each item: Describe the challenge, the actions you took to address it, and the results you achieved. Quantifiable data bolsters your case, so use it. If you led an initiative that increased revenue 43 percent or spearheaded a business expansion that increased market share by 23 percent, include those numbers.
Finally, open up your thesaurus app and find those powerful adjectives and verbs that show you’re a person of action and vision.
If this effort is something that you’d rather leave to the experts, you might consider hiring Executive Resume Writers. You can 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 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
Now that you’ve considered each section in detail, it’s time to take a step back and look at the big picture. Peruse our example. Then consider all the advice we’ve imparted so far. There are just a few more pointers you should take into consideration:
- 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 words, 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.
You’re almost there. All you have to do is ask yourself one question: Would I interview someone with this 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 free one-on-one 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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