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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 executive job seekers, 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 . . . or you’re not happy with your resume.
You may be unaware of how much executive resumes have changed in just the past few years.
Your executive 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 modern resume 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. Many surveys show that the vast majority of them social recruit. That is, they source and assess candidates through Google search, LinkedIn, Facebook, 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 online presence are the ones who are noticed and chosen over those who have little or no presence online.
So why bother with an executive 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 a LinkedIn profile, other social media profiles, a website, or web portfolio before doing the initial branding, targeting and research 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 content for 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 network and interview well.
Understand that before you can write a great resume, you need to lay the groundwork with these critical first-steps – targeting, research and personal branding.
Also understand that you should ALWAYS include a cover letter when you send out your resume. Some people won’t care, but you never know who will care, and who will toss you out of the running if you don’t include one. So play it safe.
Write an Executive Resume That’s a Knockout
My 10 steps below provide the basic guidelines to write your executive resume. But to do an even better job, use my Executive Job Search Worksheets Package.
This includes an in depth Career History Worksheet, along with the other 3 comprehensive worksheets I actually use with my clients . . . to write knockout LinkedIn profiles, executive resumes, biographies, cover letters, etc.
The 4 worksheets combined will take you beyond writing your executive resume to help you position yourself to land a great-fit new gig!™
10 Steps To Write an Irresistible Executive Resume
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 and Research
Identify the employers you want to work for and research each one to discover their pain points. What current pressing needs do they have that you can help them with?
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.
2. Personal Branding and Value Proposition
Branding is not optional anymore. In a nutshell, branding links your passions, key personal attributes, and driving strengths with your value proposition, in a crystal clear message that differentiates you from your competition and resonates with your target audience.
The things that differentiate 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.
3. Career Success Stories
Storytelling helps you explain how you make things happen – how you were able to capture profitable advances for your past employers.
It helps your target audience zero in on what you’ll do for their organization. They begin to picture you doing the same things for them.
Follow a “Challenge – Actions – Results” (C-A-R) framework to illuminate your critical contributions to employers.
Concise C-A-Rs stories are especially helpful in preparing for interviewing. See my post, How C-A-R Storytelling Gives Executive Resume Branding Zing.
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.
Write your executive resume
4. Resume Header
Don’t lead your resume with the job you have now. Use the job you’re seeking with that particular employer, that your whole resume has been customized for.
Back that up with a few of your top areas of expertise, for a header such as:
Vice President | SVP Technical Operations | CTO – Airline Maintenance Operations
Predictive Maintenance Expert
Process & Performance Improvement and Transformation with available resources
Or, maybe even better, with a brand statement, for a header such as:
CERTIFIED CHIEF INFORMATION SECURITY OFFICER
A clear, transparent communicator and trust-building business leader,
I can talk about cybersecurity without using one technical word
5. Real Estate and Strategic Positioning
Busy executive recruiters and hiring decision makers typically allow only 10 seconds or so for a resume to draw them in. They may read no further than the top part of the first page when screening your resume.
You need to capture and hold their attention right there, and compel them to want to read the entire document.
Solution: Brand yourself above the fold.
As much as possible, make that section stand on its own as your calling card. Some suggestions for above the fold branding:
- Generate chemistry by balancing your personality with your hard skills, or 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 metrics.
- Instead of just including keywords here, provide an example of how you benefitted the company by using that area of expertise of yours.
And, while we’re looking at the above-the-fold area: Show that you’re social media savvy. Include a link to your LinkedIn profile, unless you don’t have one or it’s lacking much content. Also include other professional social media accounts (if you’re active there), along with your online publications and/or other supporting online info.
Many hiring decision makers review resumes on their phones, meaning tiny screens.
When they open a document or web page, it’s more likely to capture and hold their attention with concise 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.
The same readability issues apply to people reading your resume on a large screen. Make it appealing looking and easy to read.
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 at the top of each page of your resume is correct.
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.
Debate continues over whether an executive resume should be no more than 2 pages, or even only one page.
Typically a one-page resume should be avoided because it likely won’t provide enough information.
But don’t sweat the resume length too much. If you stick to 2 or 3 pages, you’ll be fine.
Let the content drive the length of your resume. What’s important is positioning yourself as a good fit for the employers you’re targeting, based on which current needs of theirs you can help them with. And nothing you include should be arbitrary.
If you’ve had more than a handful of different roles over your career, you’re going to need some space to describe your contributions and the value you offered, using storytelling. That can easily take 3 pages, especially because you don’t want to cram in the content just to fit it to 2 pages.
A 3-page c-suite executive resume is perfectly acceptable. In fact, almost all the resumes I create are 3 pages, because they needed to be.
A tip: If your resume spills over to 3 pages, make sure the third page content fills up at least a third of the page. If you only have, say, 5-10 lines on the third page, you can surely edit and tighten things up so that your resume is only 2 pages.
And, with a 3-page resume, don’t hide anything important and relevant on that last page. Bring those things forward into the summary at the top of the first page.
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 keywords. Use strong words like pioneered, envisioned, accelerated, benchmarked, incentivized, leveraged, etc.
Don’t waste precious space in the “Professional Experience” section reiterating obvious responsibilities. Readers will already know the basic duties for your jobs.
Yes, your resume needs to have plenty of relevant keywords in it, but for the highly-formatted version, you can lighten up on them. Instead, jam-pack your ATS-friendly (or text) resume with relevant keywords. This is the resume version that will go into Applicant Tracking Systems (or databases) when you apply through executive recruiters, HR and online job postings. (More about this below)
More Executive Resume Tips
Executive job search strategist Adrienne Tom offers this additional advice:
- Customize content for every job – general resumes don’t work
- Make your value known
- No need to list all career history. 15 years of recent employment detail is typically sufficient
- Highlight top career achievements and provide the proof
- Focus on achievements, not tasks in your resume. Yes, everyone has results to share
- Lead with results and front-load points throughout for greater impact
- Let the resume be storytelling in nature
- Weave the right keywords throughout the file that relate to the target role and audience
- Use an active voice with lots of action words
- Employ a bit of strategic design to emphasize key content and make your resume look unique
- Include appropriate white space; make it easy to read
- Content is king, but presentation matters too
- Use strategic content to de-emphasize any employment gaps
- Remove any possible resume red flags to help improve application success
- Increase emphasis on soft skills — but be sure to be specific with examples
- Add pandemic career wins to your resume. Employers want to see how you adapted and succeeded these past few years
- Stay abreast of current resume trends. Keep up with modern strategies as the resume continues to evolve!
And Some Resume FAQs That May Apply To You
In what format(s) should I create my resume?
You’ll need 3 resume versions, for various purposes:
- A nicely formatted, visually appealing MSWord version.
- A PDF version so that formatting of the above will set up exactly as you meant it to.
- 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.
Some career professionals advise creating just one MS Word resume version that covers both bases – formatted for visual appeal but will also get the resume through ATS.
But there are more than 200 kinds of ATS out there. Some accept various enhancements and some don’t. You won’t know which version the company is using and how much formatting enhancement will be okay. It’s safer to have a designated ATS resume version as I described above for the times you know your resume is going into an ATS. And reserve the nicely formatted Word version for human eyeballs only.
More in my post, What’s the Best Executive Resume Format and Length?
How do I deal with employment gaps?
First, don’t panic.
If your gap is only a few months long, you may be able to somewhat cover it up by only using years on your resume, instead of months and years.
If you did any volunteer work, that can easily stand in for a job . . . whether or not you were paid.
If your gap is longer and you weren’t involved with any volunteer experience or relevant non-work activities, it may be best just to embrace the gap. Treat it as a “career break”.
But explain what you were doing in that gap, in terms that will resonate with your target employers and further support your good-fit qualities.
For more tips see my post, How to Deal With Employment Gaps in Your Resume and LinkedIn Profile
Do I really need to include a cover letter?
Studies have shown that even if hiring managers DON’T read them, they want to see a cover letter with a resume. And they often eliminate those candidates who didn’t include a cover letter.
Best practice is to include a customized cover letter that provides further info about you, beyond your resume.
You’ll never go wrong including a cover letter, but you can easily go wrong if you DON’T include one.
More in my post, Do I Really Need a Cover Letter for My Executive Resume?
Do I even need a resume if I have a good LinkedIn profile?
First of all, lose the mindset that LinkedIn is an online resume. If it ever was, it’s not any more. There’s a lot more going on at LinkedIn – social branding, networking, curating content, etc. – than the ability to publish your career history online.
For another thing, you can only have one LinkedIn profile, but you can (and should) have several resumes, customized for each of the employers you’re targeting, based on what makes you a good fit for them.
A LinkedIn profile needs to be somewhat more generic so it will appeal to a wider audience than just one employer. Obviously, you can’t customize your LinkedIn profile for each target company, but you can indicate your job-type and industry preference.
Your resume shines when you’re actively networking your way into the companies you’re targeting. To hit home with people, you’ll customize your resume (as much as possible) for each target company, and send it to select people at, or associated with, each company.
Unless you post your resume on job boards, which isn’t a great idea, only the people you send it to will see your resume. Not so with your LinkedIn profile. It’s there for the whole world to see.
More in my post, Does LinkedIn Make the Executive Resume Obsolete?
Bottom Line When You Write an Executive Resume
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 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.
More Help to Write an Executive Resume
7 Things I Learned About Resume Writing That Changed Everything
20 Things NOT To Put in Your Executive Resume
Worried About Age Discrimination? 9 Things on Your Executive Resume That Show Your Age
5 Reasons Why Your Executive Resume Is Not Working
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Hitesh Sahni says
Great article Meg. I especially liked step 2 about personal branding. You’re absolutely right in saying that branding is now a necessity. It connects what you can do with what you stand for and provides a way for you to be different and memorable.
Employers aren’t hiring people just based on skills mentioned in resume but also on their authenticity and other traits which show their human side. Branding helps you have control over how you are perceived and what kind of emotions you trigger in your target audience.
Meg Guiseppi says
Just like you said, Hitesh. Personal branding is the way you help employers (and others) understand what kind of person you are, and how you operate. Thank you for commenting!
Erick Edmonds Odhiambo Ogallo says
To whom it may concern.
Please show me the latest sample resume format with the ideas you have listed.
Thanks and regards
Meg Guiseppi says
Thanks for commenting, Erick. You can see samples here — https://executivecareerbrand.com/get-started-get-unstuck-executive-job-search-strategy-session/executive-resume-and-career-biography-samples/