Most executives don’t know how to write an executive resume for today’s job search.
All too often I see resumes that look and read like the ones I was writing 15-20 years ago.
If you’re sticking to a resume with the same look and kind of content you’ve been using for decades, you’re probably in trouble.
People assessing you through your resume will probably peg you as older right off the bat, and that could increase your chances of experiencing age discrimination.
It’s time to modernize your resume for today’s job search.
Here’s one of the things many job seekers don’t understand about today’s executive resume, as I noted in another article, 7 Things I Learned About Resume Writing That Changed Everything:
“A resume is a personal marketing document, not just a career history.”
For many years resumes consisted of a chronological list of jobs with maybe responsibilities. Education, training, honors, and other distinguishing information followed the professional experience section. Sometimes an objective statement or brief generic summary might lead the resume.
Today, and for a long time now, a resume needs to market the candidate by reinforcing what makes her potentially valuable to the employer. It needs to convey personality, so employers will get a feel for how she works with others, and if she’ll fit with the company’s culture.
The easier a resume makes it for an employer to connect the dots between the candidate’s qualifications and abilities, and what their unique needs are, the better the resume will work.
This also means that the formatting of the resume needs to be attractive and reader-friendly, with important points highlighted to draw the eye to them.
With all of this in mind, you can see that merely tweaking your old-fashioned resume from 10 years ago probably won’t cut it.
As you’re reading my tips below, be aware that they mostly apply to the highly-formatted “pretty” version of your resume that you’ll use while networking your way into jobs.
You’ll also need a plain, unadorned (or ATS-friendly) resume version when you apply for posted jobs. Read about this version at the bottom of the list below.
Also, don’t forget to include a cover letter whenever you send people your resume. Cover letters matter. Some people – recruiters, other hiring professionals, and other people – won’t read them or care whether or not you include one. But you never know who will and who won’t care.
25 Tips To Write an Executive Resume for Today’s Job Search
1. Do some research and information-mining before you start writing.
Here are the things you need to identify and learn about:
- Determine which companies and kind(s) of jobs you will target
- Determine why your target companies need you. What problems will you help them solve?
- Define your personal brand around what makes you unique and valuable to your target employers
2. Customize your resume for each employer or job.
The better you draw a direct line from you to the job (or kind of job) you’re targeting, the easier you make it for employers to see you as a good hiring choice.
So, if you don’t customize your resume around the specific things you will be able to do for them, and what makes you a good fit, people assessing you as a candidate won’t clearly see your potential. They may pass you right by.
3. Be empathetic towards the people reading your resume.
As you’re crafting your resume, always have in mind the people who will be reading it and assessing you for the jobs you want – employers, recruiters and other hiring professionals.
Be sure your resume makes it abundantly clear that you have what they need . . . and make it easy for them to find this info in your resume.
They shouldn’t have to search through the document to get to the meat. Don’t hide important things on the second page. Put them on the first page where people will immediately see them.
4. Don’t include things in your resume that don’t belong there.
Some things are no longer included in resumes, like your street address in the contact info. Some things never should have been there like an objective statement, your headshot or professional references.
If you’re over 50, it’s especially important not to put things in your resume that will show your age.
5. Keep all the content focused on what makes you a good hiring choice for that particular employer.
That means ruthless editing to exclude irrelevant information, like outdated training and certifications from 20 years ago. It also means excluding great accomplishments that have nothing to do with the job(s) you’re seeking.
6. Make it an interesting read.
You can imagine how many resumes hiring professionals put eyes to every day.
Your resume is much more likely to be read (and probably entirely read) if, along with an appealing format to capture their attention, it pulls them in with vibrant content that makes you come alive.
7. Get your personality and soft skills in there by building in personal branding throughout.
Similar to the item above, generate chemistry about who you are, how you get things done and how you operate.
Resume branding is not just a catchy brand statement in the summary section at the top. Your personality should be evident throughout the document.
8. Modernize and optimize it.
Add hyperlinks in your resume to:
- Your LinkedIn profile in the contact information at the top.
- Your other social media accounts in the contact information, if you’re active there.
- Any relevant articles, publications or media coverage you’ve noted anywhere in the content.
- Your personal website in the contact information, if you have one.
- Your employers’ websites (in the Professional Experience section) for your more recent jobs.
9. Don’t write about yourself in generic terms. Be specific.
One mistake I see all too often: People generalize the content in their resume. They use same-old descriptions of what they do that could apply to anyone else like them.
Sameness won’t sell you. Differentiation will.
You do this by including specific examples of contributions you made to past employers that will resonate with your target employers.
10. Streamline your resume header.
To avoid confusion and keep your resume header clean, include just one phone number – the one you’re most accessible via and will frequently check voicemail on. That’s typically your cell phone.
Set up a designated job hunting email account (not associated with your current employer) to put on your resume with an address using your first and last names.
11. Pack a punch above the fold.
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.
Some suggestions for above the fold branding:
- Forget the objective statement. Lead with the job title/kind of role you’re seeking, backed by relevant keywords.
- Include a personal brand statement that showcases both your hard and soft skills.
- Add a powerful quote or two from a recent performance review or someone you work with.
- Include 3 or 4 value-driven bulleted statements with metrics.
12. Lead your achievement statements with the WOW result.
This you already know: People read from left to right, so they’ll see content at the beginning of the sentence first.
So loading the impressive metrics of your achievements at the beginning should make perfect sense.
For instance, the first example here is okay:
Led the HP team through a 12-week data center assessment and business case development that saved $1.4B over 5 years.
But put the big metric at the beginning like this for better impact:
Saved $1.4B over 5 years leading the HP team through a 12-week data center assessment and business case development.
13. Don’t rely on boring, anemic resume clichés.
Phrases like the following won’t differentiate and distinguish you from your competitors:
- Responsible for . . .
- Demonstrated success at . . .
- Proven track record of success
Imagine the impact on recruiters and other hiring professionals when they see these and other bland phrases show up in resumes over and over again.
These clichés get in the way of real and useful information about you.
Information that will make them interested in you and lead them to put you in the running.
14. Include how you navigated work challenges during the pandemic.
Although we’re all hoping the pandemic will fizzle out completely sometime soon, its impact will likely be felt for years to come.
Employers will want to know if you played a signficant role in helping your company deal with the challenges of the pandemic.
Describe your contributions with storytelling using the C-A-Rs approach described in #24 below.
15. Tell the truth and tell your own story!
Your resume must be 100% truthful and be your own story.
Stretching the truth or including outright lies will catch up with you, and damage your credibility and reputation.
Even a little white lie can result in your being suddenly out of the running, or subsequent immediate termination, if you’ve managed to squeak through and get hired.
By the same token, don’t copy the content from someone else’s resume. It could easily get you into BIG trouble.
16. Make it eye-catching, impactful and easy to read.
Use design elements like graphic boxes, shading, colors and bullet points to make the most important points stand out.
But don’t overdo the enhancements! Going overboard with this can make you look unprofessional and make your resume dizzying to read.
17. Don’t cram in information.
Include plenty of white space to make it easy to read and help draw readers’ eyes down the page.
Break up long chunks of information into no more than about 3-4 lines.
Overall, keep in mind that many people will be reviewing your resume on the tiny screens of their phones.
18. De-emphasize or explain employment gaps.
The stigma of employment gaps has diminished since the pandemic, but you’ll need to clearly explain that you were being productive during that time.
Describe what you were doing in work-related terminology that will help employers see that you were upskilling and have more to offer them because of the experience.
19. Think twice about using a video resume.
Don’t put a link in your resume document to your video resume. In fact, it may be best not to use a video resume at all.
Job seekers rarely come off well reading on camera from a script based on a typically boring resume.
But the right kind of video is one of the best ways to promote your personal brand while at the same time improving your online visibility.
Use video in your job search (and career long), but choose video that uses animation with kinetic typography. You’re not on camera, so this kind of video does a better job of presenting you well and it won’t “out” your job search.
20. Don’t include certain personal or irrelevant information.
- Personal information – date of birth, marital status, health etc.
- Hobbies – save those for your bio, if relevant
- Personal/professional references
- Irrelevant certifications, professional development, awards, etc.
- Any superfluous information that doesn’t zero in on your good-fit qualities for your target employers.
21. Don’t worry about having too much information.
You’ll be gathering a lot of information for your resume.
Initially, don’t worry that you won’t be able to fit it all into 2 or 3 pages. Nothing will go to waste.
Excess information can be used in your ATS-friendly resume version. It’s actually a good idea for this document to be much longer than the nice-looking formatted version. More content means more of the keywords that will help your resume sail through the Applicant Tracking Systems.
Any extra information you’ve culled can also be used in collateral supporting documents and/or for interview prep.
22. Keep your resume to a reasonable length.
Don’t get bogged down by confusing dictates you may have heard about resume length, like “your resume must never be more than 2 pages”.
Focus instead on detailing what makes you a good fit for your target employers, based on the research you’ve done to determine their current pressing needs, and how you’re uniquely qualified to help them problem-solve.
A three page resume is fine, especially for c-suite and senior-level executives . . . if you’ve ruthlessly edited down to the essentials, and included only the things that will matter to your target companies. Include a link to your LinkedIn profile – which should include the whole story – and direct people to find more details there.
That advice applies to most situations, except for these two (and perhaps others):
- Executive recruiters have been known to ask for a lengthy resume (sometimes 5 or more pages) including ALL your career history in depth. Provide them whatever they require. They know what their client companies want.
- An ATS-friendly resume has no length restrictions. In fact, longer is probably better. More content means it will contain more of the relevant keywords the ATS will be looking for. (More about ATS resumes below.)
23. Sync your resume and LinkedIn profile.
You’re probably aware that your LinkedIn profile allows for much more content than you can reasonably put in your resume. You can put additional career information in your LinkedIn profile (here’s where the “Projects” profile sections are very useful), and refer to it in your resume.
You can then include a link in your resume to your LinkedIn profile and note where people will find the info on your profile.
For instance, let’s say you completed some very impressive, relevant projects at one company that needs to be described in detail. But you can’t fit all that information in your resume.
Put that information in a “Project” on LinkedIn, tied to whichever company is appropriate. In your resume, include a line such as this in the Experience section for the appropriate company, with a hyperlink on the phrase “my LinkedIn profile”:
“Please refer to the Projects section of my LinkedIn profile for further information.”
24. Use storytelling to help people better relate to and connect with you.
Storytelling helps you describe in more detail your contributions that benefitted past employers, and to back up claims you’ve made about yourself in more general terms.
A storytelling device resume writers have been using for decades is the C-A-Rs approach, or Challenge – Actions – Results, also known by other acronyms such as S-T-A-Rs (Situation – Tasks – Actions – Results).
25. Create an ATS version of your resume.
You’ll need a nicely formatted version (as described above) in both Word and PDF formats.
You’ll also need a stripped down, barely formatted text or ATS-friendly version to make it through Applicant Tracking Systems. This can be created as a Word document.