When I was new to the careers industry, about 25 years ago, my executive resume writing style included trite phrases most of us shun today, like “results-oriented” and “experienced professional”.
With experience, mentoring and training, I quickly came to understand that a resume is a personal marketing document.
I came to understand that targeting and research need to precede the actual writing of the resume.
Putting myself in the shoes of those reading my clients’ executive resumes would lead me to write content that would resonate with their target employers.
And, before personal branding had a name, I came to understand that personal marketing is all about differentiating the value that person offers their target audience, over their competitors . . . which is what personal branding is all about.
Over-used resume-speak does very little to differentiate and market unique value. Instead, it reinforces sameness.
Experienced, savvy executive resume writers know enough to write fresh, compelling content designed to showcase what makes job seekers a good fit for the employers they’re targeting.
Experts Discuss Best Executive Resume Writing Practices
A few years ago a colleague of mine, career coach Bob McIntosh of MassHire Lowell Career Center put out a challenge on LinkedIn (The post may no longer be accessible) and tagged a handful of other career professionals, myself included.
“I think the most common words in the resume’s Summary is: ‘Dynamic, results-driven professional….’ Please, people, stop writing this on your resume. I’m sure my valued connections would concur. Are there other offenders? Does it matter any more?”
He clearly struck a nerve with both career professionals and job seekers.
Here’s my contribution to the discussion:
“Given the constraints on length for resumes, all the areas in these documents need to be populated with value-driven content that differentiates that job seeker from their competitors. Wasting space with tired, anemic, vague terms like ‘results-driven’ or ‘results-oriented’ is a big mistake. What makes sense, instead, is taking the time to identify words that will precisely convey your value to the employers you’re targeting.”
Many career professionals chimed in with evergreen advice. Here are some of the standout contributions:
Laura Smith-Proulx of An Expert Resume
“As you can see, you’ve really hit a nerve. There are MANY other offenders, including “highly accomplished” and “experienced” (seriously?) that lead me to believe summary writing is a struggle. I either remove the summary or keep it to 3-4 lines, max.
Yes, I’m sure it matters. Recruiters and employers probably don’t even glance at these tomes anymore. I feel for anyone who has to wade through resumes all day and find the hidden nuggets.
On a side note, this is actually what propelled me from IT into resume writing. I couldn’t tell a great candidate from a mediocre one based on the resume, and we sometimes passed on an applicant who would have been a wonderful fit. (I knew some of them personally and my colleagues screened them out based on the resume, in case that doesn’t make sense.)”
Adrienne Tom of Career Impressions
“These words are exactly why I avoid including a Summary in the majority of the resumes I create these days, especially at the more senior level. I think a lot of professionals feel compelled to share a Summary which then comes out forced, with generic word choices. Instead, a better strategy is to focus on value-points. Share with the reader the ‘hows and whys’ (provide the proof) and word selection won’t matter as much.”
Wendy Enelow of Emerald Career Publishing
“I agree 100% … with what you wrote and with all the wonderful comments from our colleagues. Resume real estate is so valuable and a generic summary does absolutely nothing for any job seeker. I want to capture my readers’ attention in a nanosecond with facts, accomplishments, branding statements (when appropriate), and other career highlights so that my clients are instantly memorable.
Our industry has developed and matured so much in the 30+ years that I’ve been involved and that is a wonderful thing to see and experience. Yeah, resume writers!!!”
Maybe using resume-speak isn’t so bad?
Gillian Kelly of Outplacement Australia
“The more words I see added to this growing thread the more I think we shouldn’t demonise particular words or the opening summary. Some words are great and serve a definite purpose if they describe the person. That’s ok to use these. We don’t want people worrying now about what words you can and can’t use according to quick shifting trends. People already do way to much over-thinking on resumes.
No hirer will be worried by these words – they’ll just skip on to other parts of the resume if they feel they aren’t interesting or relevant. Many of these are on here just because we have used them a lot and have been popular words. Often they have been popular because they are used by hirers.
Many of these words will be in the samples of past resumes considered great! An opening summary is valuable if it gives a snapshot of the person. If the word fits use it. Just don’t over use or adjective stuff.”
A job seeker chimes in with many job search concerns
And here’s what one job seeker said, voicing what I’m sure is a universal frustration:
“Sadly, following all the advice from all the professionals out there has lead to confusion and frustration for me personally.
I need to write something catchy about myself, but be professional. Tell my work life story, but keep it as short as possible. Use bullet points, but be as descriptive as possible so there isn’t any misunderstanding. Include relevant past employment, but keep it limited to only the past 2, 5, 7, 10 years. Don’t use big words, but use big words if you know what they mean and can prove it. Use the buzz-words listed on the job posting, but don’t use too many as you’ll never get past any humans reading your application. List any and all accomplishments, but not too many or you’ll come across as a braggart. Reach out to the hiring manager, but don’t as it’ll make you seem desperate. Reach out to the job poster, but don’t as you’ll come across as a stalker.”
My response to her:
“Catherine, I understand that the advice my colleagues and I have offered in our answers here probably adds to the confusion about how to write a standout resume. But resume writing strategy is complicated . . . something those of us in the careers industry need experience and training to master.
This may help: Your resume is a marketing document and should be designed and written around content that differentiates the value you offer, and will resonate with, particular employers you want to work for. So, step one, before you write your resume, is to target specific employers, then research them to find out why they need you and your expertise. Find out where they’re bleeding . . . what problems they’re having . . . and position yourself in the content as someone who will help them fix things and meet pressing needs.
If you start by knowing who you’re writing the content for, you’ll be that much ahead of the game. I hope this helps a little.”
Make it easy for people reading your resume
And here’s some excellent advice from another executive resume writer and former recruiter, in a LinkedIn post of hers:
Lisa Rangel of Chameleon Resumes
Recruiters are overwhelmed with resumes from candidates earnestly seeking new roles. They need simplicity. Knowing this, we tell our clients: Being qualified isn’t enough!
Those qualified will rise to the top . . . but will ONLY have their resume read if it’s idiot-proof. (Of course ‘idiot’ doesn’t pertain to my recruiting brethren. I’m a former recruiter. It’s just more fun to say idiot-proof than ‘simple resume’ or overwhelmed-proof, right?)
An idiot-proof resume ensures the reader knows what position you’re applying for by reading the resume on its own using a branded title. Make it easy.
And you must assume the resume will be separated from the cover letter . . . so will your resume stand on its own?
Ask yourself: “Will a hiring manager know exactly what I want by reading my resume only?” If yes, then your resume’s in good shape. If ‘no’ or ‘I don’t know,’ do this to help hiring managers know which position you’re vying for:
Kill the word “summary” as your resume heading. Use a title that mimics that of the position you seek and for which you’re qualified.
Feature a summary paragraph under the branded title heading that supports the title. Briefly outline what you bring to the table and the results you’ve accomplished.
Use keyword bullets under the summary to punctuate your qualifications and experiences. Be sure the keyword phrases you use describe your background further specifically and aren’t so generic that they tell the reader nothing.
FAQs on Executive Resume Writing Practices
Avoid trite phrases like “results-oriented” and “experienced professional” as they don’t effectively market your skills.
A resume is your personal marketing tool, showcasing your unique value to potential employers and differentiating you from competitors.
Before writing a resume, it’s essential to conduct research and target specific employers to understand their needs and tailor your content accordingly.
Personal branding involves differentiating yourself from competitors by highlighting your unique value, which is precisely what an effective resume should do.
Overused resume phrases reinforce sameness and fail to differentiate you. Savvy executive resume writers focus on fresh, compelling content.
Generic resume summaries waste valuable space and fail to capture a recruiter’s attention. Recruiters may skip over resumes filled with generic language.
Some professionals omit the Summary section to avoid forced, generic word choices and instead focus on demonstrating value through specific accomplishments.
The resume writing industry has matured, emphasizing the need for capturing a reader’s attention instantly with facts, accomplishments, and branding statements.
Using common words and phrases sparingly is acceptable if they accurately describe you. However, it’s essential not to overuse or excessively embellish your resume with adjectives. Tailor your language to the specific job and employer you’re targeting.