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The Do’s and Don’ts of Executive Resume Writing

You’ve got the degrees, the highly sought-after skills, the years of leadership experience, and the impressive job titles to boot. You are armed with incredible success stories to delight and impress interviewers, but so far, your resume hasn’t garnered enough interest for you to be able to tell them in person.

If you’re beginning to wonder why your phone isn’t ringing, maybe it’s time to ask yourself if that resume of yours is effectively marketing you for the role you are seeking.

executive_resume_writing_dos_and_dontsBelow are a few Executive Resume Do’s and Don’ts to help you ensure that you are reflecting your background in the best possible light in this critical executive job search tool.

DON’TWrite a vague summary section that doesn’t position yourself effectively at the executive level and that provides no information regarding your core expertise.

After reading resume summaries, I am often left wondering where the candidate fits on an organizational level because they have described themselves too vaguely. I often see summaries that offer no insight into what the candidate is truly an expert in. They focus too heavily on character traits or obvious characteristics that could describe nearly every executive out there instead of their veritable track record of wielding business wins and their core strengths as they relate to their current career goals.  

DOPosition yourself in the summary section for the exact role you are seeking, including organizational level, industry, and business challenges you would make a great fit for.

Write an information-rich summary with your career target driving your every word choice. For example, describing yourself as a “financial professional” brands you for any number of roles, including an entry-level analyst role. Thus, if you are shooting for a CFO role, describe yourself as such, or as a “Senior-Level Finance Executive”.

As to the industry, it does you no good to describe yourself as having “18 years of experience within the pharmaceutical industry” if you are hoping to transition out of that sector; thus, you’ll want to choose your words wisely to ensure that you are positioning yourself appropriately.

Be specific about where you have excelled in the past, and ensure that it is about YOU and not every executive under the sun. Perhaps you have a knack for seizing business opportunities at just the right moment; perhaps your forte is effectively managing risk for your organization by anticipating changes in the regulatory landscape; or perhaps you have a talent for stretching limited resources to meet organizational goals. Whatever the case may be, tell the reader exactly where your unique value resides.

DON’TMake readers’ eyes glaze over with lengthy, dense paragraphs and long lists of items.

Let’s face it—resume readers are busy people. They don’t have time to read that 10-line paragraph you so painstakingly drafted to determine if you are the right fit. Put yourself in a busy executive search consultant's shoes and rethink your core message, giving your reader the distilled (and thus more impactful) version.

The same goes for bulleted lists. Lengthy lists of more than five or six items is overkill, even if you are listing out-of-magnitude innovation and jaw-dropping accomplishments. Readers have a natural tendency to let their eyes wander when faced with the chore of reading an interminable list, so be selective and think of how you are presenting the information so that you don’t lose an otherwise interested reader.

DOThink of your resume in layers of information.

The first layer is what the person who spends six seconds on it will learn. With this in mind, you’ll want to craft a strategically-written headline—and perhaps subheading line—and use bold to highlight a few critical elements to give that six-second reader the most essential facts.

The second layer is what the person who spends 30 seconds to one minute will learn. This is the reader who has been compelled after six seconds to look a bit further. Make strategic use of shading, bold, italics, text boxes, charts, or graphs throughout your experience section to make those awe-inspiring achievements jump off the page. For your education section, again, format strategically! Did you go to Harvard? Your 30-second skimmer will be impressed if you format your institution name so that it stands out; otherwise, they may miss it.

The last layer is for the reader who really does end up reading every single word. With this in mind, you’ll want to ensure that everything that makes its way onto the page is fully aligned with your goals, and that absolutely no editorial mistakes of any kind can be detected. (HINT: If you are writing the resume yourself, have it professionally edited!)

DON’TOveremphasize your responsibilities.

While it’s important for readers to understand your expansive scope of executive authority, don’t make the mistake of boring your reader with details of what you were in charge of. Remember, what makes you unique is not what can be found in your official job description; rather, it is what you built, created, corrected, resolved, and turned around within the context of special challenges that presented themselves.

DOFocus your entire resume on your proven accomplishments and, if possible, quantify them.

Rather than telling readers you were in charge of developing strategic partnerships, describe that extraordinary partnership you secured that opened up a multimillion-dollar line of business for your company. In other words, be specific and give concrete facts, rather than offering generalizations with no impact.

Are you guilty of any of the DON’TS listed here in your executive resume? If you are hoping to get better traction in your search, follow the advice given above—ensuring that your resume effectively positions you for your ideal role, gives insight into your unique brand, considers impatient skimmers, and focuses on precisely how you made an impact in each of your previous roles.

The Ultimate Executive Career Guide: Resumes/CVs, LinkedIn Profiles, and More

As a senior-level executive, you can use this guide to:

- Learn how to write a resume/CV
- Discover the elements of a successful LinkedIn profile
- Create your executive biography
- Produce an effective cover letter/e-note
- And more!

Download Now!

About the author

Tiffany Hardy's picture

Tiffany Hardy, MA, ACRW, CPRW, is an executive resume writer and LinkedIn strategist with BlueSteps Executive Career Services and Top1Resumes. Hardy, a dual Spanish–American citizen based in the U.S., is dedicated to making a difference in global executive job searches by helping each one of her clients to communicate his or her unique value proposition to potential employers. She crafts high-impact career literature—resumes, LinkedIn profiles, cover letters, E-notes, executive bios, and more—approaching each project not only as a twice-certified resume writer but as an international business insider with 10+ years’ experience working closely with top-brass international businesses in Spain, as a former hiring agent, and as a former editor for the European Commission.

Learn more about the BlueSteps team of career advisors and the services they provide to help you improve your career trajectory here.

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