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

by Meg Guiseppi on April 27, 2010

When was the last time you used your executive resume? When was the last time you even thought about it or looked at it?

If you’re like many of the senior-level executives I work with you’ve either never needed a resume to get noticed and land a job, or it’s been many years since you’ve needed one.

You may be unaware of how much resumes have changed in just the past few years.

Your resume may be dangerously old-fashioned.

Before dusting off your old resume (if you have one), merely updating it with your latest contributions and career history, and expecting that, when you put it out there they will come, you need to get a handle on today’s resume 2.0 and what part it plays in the new world of executive job search.

And guess what? A great resume alone probably won’t get you into your next great gig. Your paper/digital resume will probably NOT be your first introduction to recruiters and hiring decision makers. Numerous recent studies show that the vast majority of them source and assess candidates through Google search, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media.

If you don’t have a strong online footprint providing them with plenty of on-brand information supporting your value proposition, you’re likely facing a prolonged job search.

All things being equal – skill sets, qualifications, relevant experience, education, etc. – job seekers with stronger web presence are the ones who are noticed and chosen over those who have little or no presence online.

Traditional personal marketing communications like resumes have shifted to short-form brand-supporting, value-driven writing, to accommodate hiring professionals’ use of PDAs to review materials and social media to source candidates, and their lack of time.

Then why bother with a resume at all? Why not go straight to your online personal and career marketing? Three good reasons:

1. You need to get your brand and value proposition together before moving them online, so that you send a clear consistent message across all channels. Slapping up online profiles (LinkedIn, Google Profile, ZoomInfo Profile, etc.), a VisualCV, websites, or web portfolios before doing the back end work is a mistake.

2. You’ll still need a paper/digital resume at some point in the hiring process – it’s still recognized job search currency. So make sure it’s a knockout.

3. The work you do defining your personal brand and developing your resume (and bio and other career documents) forms the foundation for all your personal marketing materials, online and offline, and offers many benefits:

  • Helps you develop messaging designed to resonate with your target audience.
  • Energizes you with what differentiates your unique promise of value from your competitors.
  • Prepares you to speak confidently and knowledgeably about the value you offer.
  • Provides a wealth of on-brand information to repurpose for each of your online profiles and any web pages you create.
  • Prepares you to interview well.

Understand that before you can write a great resume, you need to lay the groundwork with two critical first-steps – targeting and personal branding.

Here’s your 10-step executive resume worksheet. Remember, I’m using the word “resume” but, along with creating a paper/digital resume, what we’re doing here is developing your personal marketing messaging for all your brand communications, offline and online:

Information-mining and development.

1. Targeting

A generic resume that tries to cover too many bases will probably fall flat. If you don’t write to a specific target audience, your resume won’t speak to the recruiters and hiring decision makers reading it or help them connect you to the job they’re trying to fill. They don’t have the time or inclination to sift through irrelevant information to see if you warrant interviewing.

Everything in your resume has to align with what they’ll be looking for in candidates. Find several job descriptions that look like a mutual good fit to work from when writing your resume. Indeed.com is a good resource.

2. Personal Branding and Value Proposition

Branding is not optional anymore. Especially in a bad job market, personal branding is more critical than ever. In a nutshell, branding links your passions, key personal attributes, and strengths with your value proposition, in a crystal clear message that differentiates you from your competition and resonates with your target audience. What differentiates your unique promise of value from your job seeking competitors is what will sell you.

Companies are looking for vitality, good fit, and personal chemistry in executive candidates. Branding generates chemistry and makes you come alive on the paper, digital, and web page. To learn how to bring it all together, see my post, 10 Steps to an Authentic, Magnetic Personal Brand.

As you’re building your brand, create your brand positioning statement and a tagline to lead your resume and use elsewhere. An encapsulated version serves as your LinkedIn professional headline and can be used for Twitter and other social media bios.

3. Career Success Stories

When you explain how you make things happen – how you were able to capture profitable advances – you help your target audience zero in on what you’ll do for their organization. They can begin to picture you doing the same things for them. Follow a “Challenge – Actions – Results” framework to illuminate your critical contributions to employers. Concise C-A-Rs stories are especially helpful in preparing for interviewing. See my post, Storytelling Propels Executive Branding and Job Search.

Use your C-A-Rs stories to help you develop value proposition messaging that is monetized and linked to your personal brand. SHOW THEM THE NUMBERS! And show them how you accomplished those advances with specific examples.

Writing your executive resume.

4. Forget the Objective Statement

Employers don’t care that you want a “growth position that will utilize my expertise in XYZ”. They want to know what you’ll do for them. Objective statements waste valuable space and prime real estate, and don’t capture attention.

5. Real Estate and Strategic Positioning

Brand yourself above the fold – the top third or quarter of page one. Busy decision makers generally allow only 10 seconds or so for a resume to draw them in. They may go no further than that initial page view when screening web pages or digital documents. As much as possible, make this section stand on its own as your calling card. Search engines pay more attention to relevant keywords at the top of online profiles or web pages and rank web pages with better keyword density higher.

Some suggestions for above the fold branding:

  • Lead with your personal brand statement which should be loaded with your relevant keywords.
  • Add a powerful quote from a recent performance review or someone you work with.
  • Include 3 or 4 value-driven bulleted statements with numbers.
  • Put together your relevant keyword list of areas of expertise in an attractive graphic box.

6. Readability

Consider the Blackberry effect. More and more hiring decision makers review resumes on their PDAs. When they open a document or web page, it’s more likely to capture and hold their attention with concise on-brand, value-driven statements surrounded by plenty of white space. Avoid densely packed, hard-to-read information. Shorter chunks of information are easier to read and will draw the reader’s eye to continue down the page.

Keep it as close to 2 pages as you can. Obviously, a web page doesn’t have page breaks like a paper/digital document, but the idea is the same. Remember that this is a career marketing communication, not a career history. It needs to incorporate just enough compelling information to generate interest in you. Everything in your resume must be there for a reason. Nothing should be arbitrary.

7. Typos and Grammar

Doesn’t it go without saying that typos and errors in grammar are the kiss of death? They may also convey misinformation. Proofread several times and have someone else do it, too. Don’t rely on spellcheck. Make sure your contact information is correct.

8. Formatting

Keep the formatting attractive, consistent, and clean. Don’t use more than 2 different fonts (one for headings, another for content), and don’t choose frilly, unprofessional fonts. Use graphic lines sparingly, and avoid underlining text alltogether.

9. Blah Resume-speak.

Write your resume from your own voice. You’re not like everyone else. Find the precise words that describe what makes you unique and valuable. Keep the content interesting and don’t fall back on dull phrases that don’t differentiate you, such as results-oriented, visionary leader, excellent communication skills, proven track record of success, etc.

10. Passive Verbs and Repetitive Job Descriptions.

Avoid the over-used, boring phrase “responsible for”. Show your vitality with robust action verbs and explain your niche expertise with relevant key words. Use strong words like pioneered, envisioned, accelerated, benchmarked, incentivized, leveraged, etc. See my post at the Brand-yourself blog, 65 Power Personal Branding Verbs to Nail Your Executive Value Proposition.

Don’t waste precious space in the “Professional Experience” section reiterating obvious responsibilities. Readers will already know the basic duties for your jobs.

Bottom Line

Always keep in mind that real people with particular sets of criteria are reading your resume. Put yourself in their shoes and give them the information they’re looking for in a document or web page that’s easy to read and digest. Make it easy for them to assess your “fit” for the position and corporate culture. Make it easy for them to hire you.

To see how it all comes together, take a look at a sample executive resume I created for a Senior Acquisitions and Business Development Executive.

Related posts:

How to Write a C-level Executive Career Brand Biography

Does Your Online Identity Scream “Hire Me”?

2010 Top 10 Executive Personal Branding and Job Search Trends

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