7 Deadly Sins of Executive Resume Writing

by Meg Guiseppi on March 3, 2014


If your executive resume isn’t doing its job landing you interviews, and you know it doesn’t present you well, it may need an intervention.

Is your resume in such bad shape you can’t deny it any longer?

Are you ashamed to use it, because it doesn’t really say who you are and the value you offer?

Does it lack personal branding, which you know is very important these days?

If it’s so bad you won’t use it, or if you’re using it and getting little or no response, your resume probably needs help . . . maybe professional help.

Let me qualify this first. If your only job search efforts have been posting your resume to job boards, there may be nothing wrong with your resume.

When you use job boards and respond to job postings, your resume gets dumped into a database, to be parsed using an Applicant Tracking System (ATS), and matched with job openings. Even the very best branded resume, that clearly differentiates you and the value you offer over your competitors won’t make the cut, if it doesn’t contain the precise matching keywords used to search the database.

More in my post, Can You Avoid the Executive Resume Applicant Tracking System (ATS) Vortex?

I’m talking about the response you got when your resume was viewed by actual human eyeballs, which means you’ve been job-hunting the best way – networking your way into your target companies.

You want your resume to be an interview magnet. Here are some of the reasons your resume may not be getting response:

1.  No Differentiation From Your Competitors

It may seem counterintuitive, but you don’t want your resume to look and read like those competing against you. You’re not like everyone else, are you?

Resumes are marketing documents designed to “sell” you over others. If your resume mimics everyone else’s, how can you possibly stand out and position your unique promise of value?

On top of that, if your resume is a typical, lifeless, boring document, who’s going to care to read it and spend a little time getting to know you?

A really great resume that’s doing its job will differentiate you and immediately capture the interest of readers. Hiring managers typically allow only about 10 SECONDS for a resume to interest them before they move on to the next one.

If you were ever in the position of reviewing resumes and job candidates, how much consideration did you give to same-old resumes?

2.  Functional Format

Recruiters and hiring decision makers generally dislike the functional format. It sends up a red flag that the candidate is trying to hide something, which is often the case. Don’t start your job search by turning off the people you need to attract.

A combination of functional and chronological works well, in most cases. This allows you to highlight on the top third or half of the first page (prime resume real estate) your promise of value by bringing forward top achievements that in a strict chronological resume would have landed on the second page.

Following your hard-hitting, brand-focused initial profile (or resume summary), format the remainder chronologically, so readers can clearly see your career progression.

More in my post, Executive Resume Branding: Differentiate Your ROI Value Above the Fold

3.  Anemic, Time-Worn Objective Statement

Objective statements are so yesterday, and waste that valuable above-the-fold space. If you’re still using one, you’re way behind the times with current executive resume writing best practices.

No one cares what you want. They want to know what you will do for them, and what makes you the best hiring choice.

Instead of leading your resume with an objective statement, create a professional headline that states what kind of position you’re seeking, such as:

General Manager – Global Business Development and Technology Product Management

4.  Too Generic and Lacking Targeting

You may think that you can capture more opportunities with a general resume that covers a lot of bases. Not so. A resume without a clear target probably won’t hit home at all.

Keep in mind, as I always do when I’m writing a client’s resume, that the recruiters and hiring decision makers reading your resume are looking for specific areas of expertise and personality traits. The better you meet their needs, the better your chances of making the short list of viable candidates.

People assessing executive candidates don’t have the time or inclination to ponder whether you have the goods to deliver in that job. Your resume has to hit them in the face with it. Everything in your resume has to be aligned around how you will meet their current needs.

More in my post, The Biggest Executive Resume Writing Mistake

5.  Lacking Personal Branding and Chemistry

Your resume lacks any sense of what kind of person you are. Companies are looking for candidates who appear to be a good fit, so chemistry is very important to them.

Last week a VP of Sales client told me that, in his hiring manager role, he had reviewed hundreds of resumes over just the past year. The candidates who got a call back were the ones whose resumes made them come alive on the page and indicated the kind of person they were to work with.

Defining and communicating your personal brand will help you generate chemistry, and can position you among the who’s who in your field and areas of expertise, marking you as the best choice.

More in my post, What a Personally Branded Executive Resume Does For You

6.  You Didn’t Show Them the Money

People assessing you want to see clear, monetized evidence that hiring you is a good investment. The key is to link your brand to your value proposition and ROI, by providing proof of how you tap into your “softer” skills to deliver results that impact bottom line.

If you can’t quantify in dollars your value to past companies, look for other ways to quantify in areas such as time-saving processes, production/performance improvement, etc.

Concisely describing a before-and-after situation can have a powerful impact. What was happening within a particular functionality before you stepped in? How fast and how much did things improve once your initiatives took hold?

7.  Poor Formatting with Too Much Tightly-Packed Information

Put yourself in the shoes of people reviewing your resume. They’ll probably be reading it on a very small, hand-held screen. Make it easy for them to quickly access and digest what you need them to know about you. Your mission is to provide just enough compelling information to pique their interest and compel them to contact you.

Keep your resume to a reasonable 2-3 page length and create supporting collateral documents (Leadership Initiatives Brief, Career Biography, Reference Dossier, etc.) to provide deeper slices of key contributions and further support your brand. Save some of your supporting documents to distribute once you’re in the interviewing process.

Don’t use more than two different fonts and don’t use underlining. This kind of formatting can be dizzying to readers and turn them off.

Work in plenty of white space by breaking up long chunks of information into no more than about 3-4 lines.

Use bullet points to help break up information and call attention to it.

Remember that your resume is a personal and career marketing document, not a career history. It’s not necessary, nor a good idea, to include every job and every accomplishment you can claim. You typically don’t need to include jobs you held more than 15 or so years ago.

Figuring out how to create a really knock-out executive resume these days can be a challenge. Knowing which strategies work best, what to include, and what to leave out can be daunting.

If all this is too much for you, it may be time for a professional resume rescue.

Related posts:

How to Write an Irresistible C-level Executive Resume in 10 Steps

Does Your Executive Resume Position You as the Best Hiring Choice?

What a Personally Branded Executive Resume Does For You

photo by Nguyen Vu Hung


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