Putting together an executive resume is a daunting task. Even career professionals can find them challenging to write. Over the years, I’ve kept track of some of my clients questions about resumes (and cover letters and bios). These are the executive resume FAQs job seekers ask me the most:
1. My executive resume stinks. How do I get it to represent who I really am and what I have to offer?
Start by making your executive resume an interesting read.
How do you do that? With targeting and personal branding.
Targeting will help you zero in on specific areas where you can add value for specific employers.
Personal branding will help you differentiate your unique combination of skill sets, qualifications and personal attributes that make you a good fit for them.
And personal branding helps you generate chemistry for who you are and what kind of employee you’ll be.
Don’t be afraid to tell people about your personality – how you work with and lead people, how you make things happen for a company, what you’re known for by peers and others at work, etc.
If your executive resume is still partying like it’s 1999, you need to think like a resume branding pro, with 10 Do’s and Don’ts.
And always be mindful that grammar and spelling errors really matter in your resume, biography, cover letters, LinkedIn profile, and any other personal marketing content.
2. How many pages should my resume be? Is 3 pages too many?
For the 25 years I’ve written executive resumes, I rarely held fast to the rule that they should be no longer than 2 pages. I feel that 3 pages, when necessary, are perfectly fine . . . especially for c-suite and senior-level executives. It all depends upon what information truly needs to be included, to best position my client as a good-fit candidate for their target employers.
Here’s the deal:
Resume length is not so much the issue. Including the right content (with nothing arbitrary) is the key.
Additionally, around half of the first page should be a snapshot carrying the most important points. This will draw the reader in and encourage them to read the whole document, no matter how long, while concisely showcasing the candidate’s value, if the reader only has time for a quick scan.
This pertains to the nicely formatted version of your resume, designed for human eyeballs as you network your way into jobs.
These days, in the age of Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), job seekers need another version of their resume to make it through recruiters’ and HR departments’ databases.
An ATS-friendly resume is a barely formatted text version, that needs to contain enough of the right keywords searched to call up the resume for a particular job. For this version, length doesn’t apply. In fact, longer is better. More content means more relevant keywords and a better likelihood of succeeding through the ATS.
More about details in my post, What’s the Best Executive Resume Format and Length?
3. How do I deal with the employment gaps in my career history?
With a long career history, many c-suite and senior-level executive job seekers may have employment gaps for various reasons. It’s better if you don’t, but there are some ways to deal with these gaps in your resume and LinkedIn profile.
To downplay gaps, you can use years only for employment length, not months. This is standard practice and can cover up fairly long gaps.
Better still, plan ahead to avoid future employment gaps with preemptive tactics like these:
- Go back to school, either online or in-person, and take courses or earn certifications to upgrade relevant skills.
- Secure temp work.
- Find consulting gigs or interim work, or set up a consulting firm and take on relevant assignments.
- Volunteer at charities, schools, hospitals, civic groups, etc. Even though you may not be paid, this kind of work definitely counts as professional experience.
4. Should I have a biography to supplement my resume? How do I use a biography?
An executive brand biography is a storytelling tool that breathes life into an otherwise flat rehash of your resume. For job search and career management, a bio affords the opportunity to reinforce your brand through storytelling, in a way that’s more difficult to accomplish in a resume.
What a biography does better than a resume:
- Showcase your leadership and management acumen through softer skills and “good fit” attributes, and link them to your value proposition.
- Personalize your Challenge – Actions – Results (C-A-Rs) stories and use them to reinforce your brand attributes and key strengths.
- Generate chemistry around how you use your key personal attributes, passions, strengths, and motivated skills to benefit employers.
- Help employers connect with you and envision you on the job, having a positive impact.
When I create LinkedIn profiles for my clients, I generate chemistry and showcase personality by using biography-type content with storytelling for the About section.
For more ways to use a biography, see my post How to Write and Use An Executive Brand Biography.
5. Do I really need a cover letter with my resume?
In a word, “YES!”
As you network your way into “hidden” jobs at your target companies, you’ll be emailing your resume to select people. You’ll need to introduce it with some kind of covering message or letter.
Although there are recruiters and hiring decision makers who will skip right over your cover letters, others will read them religiously and judge candidates by them as strongly as they do their resumes, LinkedIn profiles and online presence.
Doesn’t it make sense to include a cover letter – one that’s as hard-hitting and brand-reinforcing as your targeted resume and LinkedIn profile?
My research and experience over the years revealed that NOT having a cover letter may ruin your chances, but HAVING a cover letter will never hurt your chances.
At the very least, a covering letter or email message is an expected courtesy to the reader, and specifies why you’re writing to them.
When emailing your resume and covering message to people, be sure to avoid these 10 worst job search email mistakes.
More About Executive Job Search
Check out the rest of my series of posts on executive job search Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):