Most executives working on their own resume, or working with a resume writing professional, go into the process striving to create the perfect executive resume.
Is it even possible? And what exactly IS a perfect resume?
Simply put, the perfect executive resume is one that perfectly positions that executive as the right fit for the companies/employer(s) and type of role they’re targeting.
It needs to clearly show you meet the qualifications for that role in that company.
There is no perfect format or style or length.
Space is limited in a resume, so this may require excluding some things. Even though you feel something is a great achievement, it may not be something your target employers will care about. Reserve the limited real estate you have for the most important things.
Before we go further, a critical point: Don’t think you can just sit down and write a great resume without first doing some homework.
Some background and first steps for the perfect executive resume
The key thing to keep in mind as you gather information and write:
Your resume, LinkedIn profile, bio and other job search materials are all personal marketing communications.
One of the main rules of marketing is to know your target audience, what their needs are, how you can meet certain needs of theirs, and then convey that in your content.
That means that you have to put yourself in the shoes of the people who will be assessing you through your resume: recruiters, hiring managers, HR, and others at your target companies.
And that means it needs to contain the information about you that hiring decision makers want to see for that kind of role.
Also be aware that when you send people your resume, you should ALWAYS include a cover letter. Not everyone will care, or will read them, but you never know who will or won’t care, so play it safe.
How do you put yourself in their shoes?
You need to find out what things they’re looking for in candidates for that role, and build your resume around those things.
And you need to identify and include relevant keywords and phrases that typically represent your good-fit qualities and qualifications.
If you’re working from a well-written job description, it should provide everything you need. But there may not be a job description, or it may not be comprehensive.
Otherwise, research the company and industry in these ways:
- Research online
- Use LinkedIn to research
- Conduct informational interviews with your target companies’ employees and those in their circle
Start with a deep dive into information-mining
You’ll first need to devote time to uncovering a lot of specific information about your skill sets and other qualifications, past achievements and contributions.
And you’ll need to research what makes you particularly valuable to the employers you want to work for. My set of proprietary worksheets for job search will help you with:
- Targeting and research
- Personal branding
- Career history
- Resume, LinkedIn Profile and Biography development
Keep in mind that there is more than one right way for a perfect resume to look and read. It can be formatted in various ways. But it should be easy to read . . . easy for people to quickly see that you have the goods.
And, of course, it should be grammatically sound and error-free. And it should conform to modern resume standards.
Be aware that an old-style resume can date you. People assessing you through your resume will probably peg you as older right off the bat, and you could experience age discrimination.
Modernize your perfect executive resume for today’s job search.
Beyond minimizing your age, a modernized resume presents you as social media savvy and up-to-date with the new world of work.
Create Your “Kitchen Sink” Resume
It should be helpful to first create a kitchen sink resume that includes everything in your career history, going back to the beginning. This is not a document you’ll put into circulation. You’re the only one who will see it and use it.
It’s an archive of ALL your career-related experience, skills, qualifications, achievements, metrics, areas of knowledge, areas of interest, etc.
This is your master resume . . . a lifelong repository from which you’ll grab bits and pieces to create or tweak the resume you WILL circulate, based on whatever companies you’re targeting in the job search you’re conducting at the time.
How to Tackle the Various Components of a Perfect Executive Resume
Working from your kitchen sink resume, you’ll create the targeted resumes you’ll send to recruiters, other hiring professionals and people you network with. Details for creating these resumes are outlined below.
Branding should be evident throughout the resume, not just in the summary . . . and not just in the form of a “brand statement”.
Generate chemistry for you as a person and as a potential employee by giving a feel for your personality. Don’t be afraid to tell people about the positive personality traits that you’ve relied on, that have benefited your employers.
Nothing in your resume should be arbitrary. Every piece of information in it is there to help employers see why they need you and how you will help them meet current pressing needs.
As noted earlier, the information (or content) throughout your resume needs to zero in on the things that make you a good fit for your target employers.
Targeting and research are the first steps:
- Target several companies that will be a mutual good fit and that will meet your various career goals.
- Research each company to identify specific needs of theirs that you are qualified to help them with.
Make it an interesting read by including storytelling. People relate better to stories that weave together hard and soft skills, than the drab resume-speak achievements typically used by job seekers.
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).
Choose 4-5 (or more) standout contributions you’ve made to each of your employers, in each of your positions, in terms of business value.
Tell the story in depth, step-by-step and don’t worry that you’re compiling too much information. Your efforts will be well worth the time.
Include metrics and numbers whenever possible. Along with quantifying your impact on past employers, numbers have a visual impact. They pop out on the page. Eyes are drawn to numbers, so they’ll be noticed and remembered.
After detailing the entire story, go back, consolidate, and hone the information to create concise value-driven stories. You’ll need to edit ruthlessly to end up with a resume that is reasonably long.
Avoid weak writing
Overall, your resume needs to read well and make sense.
According to executive resume writer Donna Svei:
“Research shows that General Mental Ability (GMA) is the best predictor of job performance. Sadly, decision-makers often receive résumés that include content that doesn’t make sense. When that happens, they may think less of the applicant’s GMA (and are often less likely to interview that person).
First, check to see if your résumé makes sense. To do this, ask someone you respect to read your résumé. Get help, because it’s hard to spot confusing language after you’ve immersed yourself in the document. Fixing simple errors in the readability of your résumé could be the difference between getting an interview or crickets.
And we have to talk about typos and grammatical errors. Too many preventable mistakes also make decision-makers question an applicant’s GMA.
To avoid that problem, spell-check your résumé. Then, run it through proofreading software [like Grammarly] to pop other errors. Typos will not impress hiring managers.”
The contact info should be easily accessible at the top of the resume, not sheltered at the bottom in a Word footer.
Include links to the social media accounts that you actively use. If you have a link to your Twitter account on your resume but you haven’t tweeted in more than a year, how do you think that will look to people?
Include only one phone number and one email address. Neither one should be associated with your employer.
Headline and Summary Sections
A resume should begin with a headline and summary section that encapsulate the most compelling points about the candidate’s good fit. It should compel the reader to want to continue down the page of your resume.
Personal branding should be abundantly evident here above the fold.
Use 2-3 of your most important CARs stories here, in very abbreviated form.
All of this makes the top part of the resume, in effect, stand on its own as your calling card. A strong summary also convinces the reader to continue through to the end of the resume.
Include hyperlinks in the Summary and throughout the resume to further information, as needed. For instance, if you’ve published a relevant article online, link to it in the Summary.
Experience, Education and Other Sections
The Experience section, of course, details the jobs you’ve held, with job descriptions, your job responsibilities, and relevant contributions you’ve made.
Also add in other relevant CARs stories you’ve developed.
One good way to add personality to the typically dry Experience section is to include a quote within a job description from a co-worker or team member at that job. Similarly, a quote or two could be used in the Summary section.
The Education section is obvious. Include what will be important to your target employers.
Other sections may include (if relevant) professional associations, training, certifications, credentials, publications, patents, etc. But please note, if your credentials are highly valued, for instance, you may want to put them upfront in the Summary section, too.
I’ve worked with clients who had extensive lists of relevant credentials and publications. I created a separate document for them, to keep the resume to a reasonable length.
No matter what you’ve heard, two pages for an executive resume is not a hard and fast rule. Length is driven by how much pertinent information (based on your research) needs to be there.
Of course, 5 or 6 pages is not a good idea, unless a recruiter has told you to provide so much information in your resume that it goes to that many pages, or more. They know what their client companies want, so do what they request.
Otherwise, a 2-3 page resume is fine, as long as all the information really needs to be there. And I have written 3-1/2 to 4 page resumes from time to time, when warranted.
More about the best executive resume format and length.
Design and Formatting
I’ve seen too many resumes with a dizzying array of enhancements, making it hard for readers to find, sift through and digest critical information.
Remember that you need to put yourself in their shoes. Make it as easy as possible for them to quickly find what they need in your resume.
Make it attractive and clean-looking. Add enough white space to make it easy on the eye.
Refrain from underlining anything. Underlining can be confused with hyperlinks.
Along with being grammatically correct and error-free, whatever formatting you settle on should be consistent throughout the document. For instance, make sure serial commas set up the same way every time you use them.
You’ll need 3 versions of your resume
To meet the needs of the various kinds of people and technology reading your resume, you’ll need 3 different versions:
- An attractively formatted Word version
- A PDF version of the above so that the formatting will look the same no matter what device it’s called up on
- A plain, barely formatted ATS-friendly Word version (with little to no enhancements) that will make it through any of the several hundreds of different Applicant Tracking Systems software used to match candidates to jobs
The first two versions are for networking. You can add some enhancements to these two versions and perhaps some color to bring forward critical points.
Why you need an ATS-friendly resume version
Here’s what happens when you send your resume to recruiters and employers, and when you respond to job postings with your resume. This is why you need a text (or ATS-friendly) resume version:
- The document is put into a database or ATS, along with thousands of other resumes.
- The ATS attempts to match candidates to jobs. The database sifts through the resumes and parses their content for the relevant keywords they’ve fed into it for that particular job.
- The only resumes selected are those that are formatted in a way that the ATS can “read”. And they have to contain enough of those relevant keywords.
- Resumes are not selected if they are incorrectly formatted, don’t contain enough of the right keywords, or don’t fit the bill in some other way.
The ATS-friendly resume version has no length restrictions. In fact, the longer it is, the more likely it will contain plenty of the relevant keywords needed to help it get through ATS.
The 3 resume versions come into play in these ways with your job search and resume distribution strategy:
- Networking with (and providing your resume to) all kinds of people to access the hidden jobs at the companies you’re targeting that are never advertised.
- Conducting informational interviews and providing your resume, only if requested.
- Sending your resume to recruiters in your niche and maintaining relationships with them.
- (To a lesser degree) Responding to job postings on job boards and company websites.
Sync Your LinkedIn Profile with Your Resume
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 it on your profile.
For instance, let’s say you completed some very impressive, relevant projects at one company that need 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 the following in the Experience section for the appropriate company, with a hyperlink on “my LinkedIn profile”:
“Please refer to the Projects section of my LinkedIn profile for further information.”