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If you’re like many executive job seekers, you’ve either never needed a resume to land a job, or you haven’t updated your resume in several years.
Consequently, you probably don’t know how today’s power executive resume needs to look and read.
Maybe you’ve tried writing or updating your resume yourself, but ended up overwhelmed by the daunting challenge of encapsulating a 20+ year career into a tidy, short document, and you’re dissatisfied with your efforts.
You probably hear all the time about the things you should put in your executive resume. But what about the things you should NOT put in it, some of which could sabotage your chances.
Some of the items in my list of 22 below are severely outdated resume writing practices that may not even be on your radar anymore.
Things like including an objective statement or references.
If you’re still including things like those, it’s time to upgrade your tired, tweaked-to-death resume and make it a modern digital document. This serves several purposes:
- Helps diminish age discrimination because you present yourself as an up-to-date person, as evidenced by your up-to-date resume.
- Provides better, deeper information about you than an old-style resume
- Because a modern resume includes personal branding, you’re not only highlighting your hard skills or areas of expertise. You’re also giving people a feel for your personality and the softer skills you possess that drive your ability to make those hard skills work.
- Because your resume DOESN’T include the 22 things listed below, you’ll outdistance your competitors who still circulate their old-fashioned resume.
Before I get into the specific things to keep out of your resume, understand that all the information you DO put in your resume needs to be relevant to the kind of job you’re seeking.
This may require ruthless editing, but starts with targeting.
Before writing your resume, you should have determined who your target employers are and what qualifications and qualities they’re looking for, so that everything in your resume is crafted around what will resonate with them.
When you’ve determined your good-fit skill sets, strengths, values, and personal attributes, that align with your target companies’ needs, don’t veer off course. Great as it was, don’t include that career-defining achievement from 10 years ago that has nothing to do with what your target companies are looking for in candidates.
22 Things NOT To Put in Your Executive Resume
1. Your headshot
There are certain industries, such as entertainment, that require a headshot, but for most people it should be avoided.
There are EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) concerns for employers when they see a headshot on a resume. This can open up avenues of discrimination in the hiring process based on race, gender, gender identity, and age. They may be required to toss your resume without reading it, to protect themselves.
Sure, you have your headshot on your LinkedIn profile, which anyone assessing you as a candidate will also look at. But different rules apply to headshots on social media accounts than headshots on a job search document.
2. Too much or the wrong kind of contact information
I haven’t included a physical address on executive resumes in years. I doubt that recruiters and hiring decision makers will take the time to write and snail-mail you a letter, and they probably don’t need to know which street you live on.
Consider the safety issues of having your home address floating around out there online. People can piece together a lot about you with this information, and potentially compromise your safety. Your general geographic location (“Atlanta, GA area”) is enough.
Most importantly, make it easy for people to get hold of you. Since you’re likely to be contacted during business hours, include a phone number where you can be reached directly during the day, and an email address that you check frequently.
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 the voicemail for.
Get a new email address if yours is unprofessional or in any way off-color. I’ve seen some downright offensive email addresses. Don’t turn people off before you give them the chance to consider you. And a silly, unprofessional email address may land your email message and resume in a spam filter.
Best practice: Purchase a domain name for “yourname.com” (or similar) and set up a private email account associated with the domain name. It’s more professional and safer than using Gmail.
Don’t use a phone number or email address associated with your current employer. They could easily be monitoring them, so it’s not safe for you. And this tells your next employer that you think it’s okay to use company equipment for personal purposes.
3. An objective statement
Frankly, no one cares that you want a “growth position that will utilize my expertise in XYZ”. They want to know what you’ll do for them.
Pay close attention to what lands above the fold on the page. The top third or quarter of page one is prime real estate. Busy hiring authorities generally allow only 10 seconds or so for a resume to capture their attention. They may go no further than that initial page. As much as possible, make this section stand on its own as your calling card.
Instead of leading your resume with a statement saying what YOU want from the job, start with a professional headline spotlighting your areas of expertise. These words will represent the relevant key word phrases the people assessing you will be looking for.
Then follow with a few examples of contributions you made to employers in the recent past that will help your target employers see what you’ll do for them. Make it abundantly clear that you’re a great fit for them.
4. Professional references
Put them in a separate document, to provide when/if asked for them. Be sure to prep your references so that they’ll be ready to be contacted and will say what you need them to say.
5. Out-dated and irrelevant areas of expertise
Don’t include obsolescent certifications, professional development or technologies you’ve mastered or skill sets that will have nothing to do with the work you’ll be doing. This includes languages in which you may be fluent, but will not be needed for the job.
6. Personal information
Never include your age, marital status, number of children or other personal data. This may be acceptable in some countries, but not the U.S. These things can also have EEOC implications. Recruiters and other hiring professionals may be required to ignore resumes with such information in them. They’ll toss your resume aside and take you out of the running.
The exception would be if your hobby(ies) are deeply related to the work you will be doing.
8. Your GPA and college activities
This applies if you graduated more than, say, 10 years ago. And including this information can contribute to age discrimination.
9. Salary history
Don’t play your cards before you get into an interview and have the opportunity to negotiate. Salary and compensation negotiation is part of the hiring process.
10. Anemic, resume clichés
Those imprecise, overused resume clichés and phrases such as “responsible for” and “managed cross-functional teams” don’t clearly differentiate your unique promise of value to your target employers.
Here are 10 bad resume words to avoid using, according to executive resume writer Donna Svei in a LinkedIn post:
Utilize, dynamic, passionate, proven, duties, expert, experienced, responsibilities, strategic, professional
And another I added in a comment on her post:
“Let’s not forget the enduring gem “detail-oriented”. There’s a certain laziness in using such words in resumes. They position job seekers as people who don’t take the time or care to specifically describe their value-add and their good fit for the employers they’re targeting. These words put them in that vast pool of sameness and do nothing to differentiate them.”
Instead, robust words such as accelerate, capitalize, innovate, propel, and synergize hit the mark more directly and reinforce your brand better.
Part of your personal branding work is to precisely pinpoint the various things about you that your target employers need. Generic phrases that apply to everyone competing for the jobs you want, and passive phrases like “responsible for”, just won’t do.
Don’t forget that the more interesting your resume is to read, the more interesting and compelling you will be to potential employers.
11. Typos and grammatical errors
Employers want to know that you will correctly and clearly communicate with everyone you work with. Proofread diligently and have others proofread your resume, too. Don’t rely on spell check.
12. Anything inaccurate or untrue
This includes exaggeration about accomplishments or contributions. Be aware that anything on your resume can easily be verified when employers contact your references.
And if you manage to land a job even though your resume contained inaccuracies or lies, you may be found out once on the job, and you’ll probably be fired.
13. Anything negative about a former employer
This also applies to anyone you’ve worked with. Putting past employers down or throwing them under the bus will only tell potential employers that you’ll probably do the same with them. Your negative words will most certainly come back to haunt you.
14. Unprofessional looking fonts and too many different fonts
Choose no more than 2 different fonts, but just one is usually better. Use standard, business-style fonts like Arial or Times Roman.
And don’t include glitzy symbols or “eye candy”. They can mark you as unprofessional.
15. Ghost-town social media accounts
It’s great to include links to your professional social media accounts (especially your LinkedIn profile), but only if you’re active there. Imagine how it plays when someone lands on your Twitter account that doesn’t include even one tweet, or shows little to no recent activity.
16. Company-specific acronyms and jargon
Assume that people reading your resume may not know what these things stand for, and why they’re important. It’s always wise to write out the full phrase.
17. Tightly packed information with no relief for the reader
You may be under the misguided notion that your resume must be only 2 pages long, so you cram as much as you can into that space.
Think about people reading all that information with no relief for the eyes. And think about the many people who will be reading your resume on their phones; in other words, on a very small screen.
When they open a digital document or web page, it’s more likely to capture and hold their attention with concise on-brand, value-driven statements surrounded by plenty of white space. Shorter chunks of information (4-5 lines at most, with white space above and below it) are easier to read and will draw the reader to continue down the page.
It’s okay if your resume spills over to a third or even a fourth page, if all that information really needs to be there. Adding an extra half page or so over the 2 pages will allow you to add in more white space.
18. Generic information about achievements
Be specific about how you did things and what the outcomes were. Use storytelling with your impressive metrics to illuminate what you offer.
19. Why you left a previous job
There’s no need to justify your career moves. And going down this road can lead you to say something negative about an employer or someone else you worked with.
If you’re asked this question in an interview, have a ready answer that has a positive spin about your career needs, but doesn’t trash the employer.
20. Graphics in your ATS-friendly resume version
You need to have two versions of your resume:
- A “pretty” version – a nicely formatted document with appealing enhancements like graphics.
- A fairly stripped down version, with little to no formatting and no graphics or special formatting that might interfere with Applicant Tracking System (ATS) software.
ATS are used when you send your resume to recruiters and when you apply to job postings, as a way to parse resumes for keywords that tell them (not very accurately, by the way) that you’re a good fit.
Putting graphics and other enhancements in your ATS resume could take you out of the running before you ever get the chance to show that you’re right for the job.
21. Skill sets you don’t enjoy using
This is one you may not have thought of, noted by executive coach Susan Peppercorn:
“If you are skilled in areas that you haven’t enjoyed or value, a good question to ask yourself is, ‘Would I like doing this type of work in a different organization, or is it just not in my wheelhouse?’ If the answer you come up with is that you don’t plan to pursue a role emphasizing those capabilities, minimize the amount of space you spend on it.”
22. Things that don’t apply to your overall career goal
Again according to Peppercorn, including personal interests and memberships is questionable:
“Professional affiliations if they are current and pertinent to the industry are fair game. If the memberships were ten or fifteen years ago, ask yourself, ‘Why would an employer be interested in my participation in this organization?’ Same with personal interests.”
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Mike Pollitt says
Great posting and useful information.
Other career coaches I’ve spoken with regarding the contents of a resume have taken the position that not including a physical address is a negative. They take the position that a recruiter may believe a candidate is masking something if an address is not included and will likely pass on the candidate as a result. It sounds like your experience has been different from this.
I’ve also been told that using the MS Word header for your contact informtion is a mistake as the automated software used to scan resumes does not read this area and causes a resume to be sent to the stack that must be manually reviewed (but seldom is) in order to be entered into a recruiter’s candidate data base.
Meg Guiseppi says
Thanks for commenting and retweeting this post.
You bring up two important points.
It has not been my experience that a recruiter will pass on a candidate with no street address on their resume. My understanding is that, if a candidate has all the goods and is of interest, recruiters will likely let her or him know if they’ve done something wrong on their resume. They’ll either make the revision themselves, or have the candidate do it, before passing the resume on to their client companies.
Good point to avoid using the Word header. I never do.