As a BlueSteps executive resume writer, I spend a lot of time evaluating resumes and CVs and sharing insights regarding the ways in which my clients can improve their career literature—and to be honest, I see a lot of good resumes.

Most executives I work with have impressive achievements and strong selling points, such as MBAs from prestigious universities, fluency in multiple languages, and experience in leading some of the biggest names in global business. Sometimes this information alone will garner enough interest for them to be invited to an interview.

good_vs_great_executive_resumeBut what happens when most of your competitors have similarly impressive accomplishments and qualifications? This is where having a great resume—not just a good one—is essential.

Overall, the one essential element that distinguishes a great resume from a good one is its ability to transmit the candidate’s unique value proposition more effectively—thereby merchandising them for the role they are seeking and enabling them to stand out in a crowd of other extraordinary candidates.

Read on to learn what differentiates a great resume from a good one—and ask yourself which type best describes your executive resume.

1. Good vs. Great Resume Design

Many good resumes I see are based on whichever template could be found on the Internet, driven by the assumption that this is the least important part of creating a resume. But, I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again—a resume is a marketing document. Therefore, if you’re going to sell yourself to a potential buyer, wouldn’t you think that packaging is important? Unfortunately most candidates overlook this essential element.

The great resumes I see use a distinctive, unique design. They feature a carefully chosen font based on the target industry and their personal style, using some of Word’s more advanced features to highlight specific strengths. For example, a candidate with a great resume doesn’t let a template dictate whether the company name or job title is bolded or where the dates are placed; rather they make strategic decisions regarding these elements based on a foundation—the fundamentals that communicate a stronger message.

2. Good vs. Great Summary Sections

The good resumes I’ve seen often contain a profile section where an overview is given on who the candidate is as a professional—a good idea considering that recruiters spend approximately six seconds determining whether or not to shortlist a candidate. However, many of my clients fill this valuable resume “real estate” with very general statements and overused terms that do nothing to set them apart.

Great resumes have highly targeted summary sections that communicate only what is unique to the candidate, honing in on the specific areas of expertise that are most relevant to their goals, while highlighting major qualifiers such as relevant degrees, years of experience in the target industry, or significant achievements.

For example, which of the following summary paragraphs do you think would be more effective at positioning a candidate for a sales leadership position in the manufacturing industry for the LATAM region?

Option 1:

“Executive leader with 15 years of experience delivering strong business results. Excellent communication skills and an ability to work as a team player. Advanced critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. Embraces new challenges with a ‘can-do’ attitude.”

Option 2:

“Senior-level executive with a 15-year track record of leading successful sales teams to triple-digit growth within a leading B2B enterprise in the manufacturing industry. Harvard MBA graduate with a strong network of contacts in both government and business throughout the LATAM region. Fluent in Spanish, English, and Portuguese.”

Clearly, the second option is more targeted for the specific position and communicates very strong selling points, making for a great summary paragraph. Of course, not everyone speaks three languages and has a degree from Harvard, so work with what you’ve got and make the most of your strengths—whatever they are.

3. Good vs. Great Experience Sections

Many executives already know that their resume must contain quantifiable achievements, and, as would be expected, I see a lot of good resumes with strong accomplishments. But often I see such achievements listed almost as an afterthought to responsibilities. Most executives competing for the same position will have had similar responsibilities, so focusing on them will not communicate differential value.

Great resumes provide very succinct information on the scope of responsibility (areas, budget, and team size), while focusing heavily on the challenges faced, the precise actions taken in response to those challenges, and the overall impact those actions had on the business.

As to formatting, many good resumes that are full of impressive achievements (unfortunately) present the information in a way that overwhelms the reader, often with 8–10 bullet points or lengthy paragraphs. This approach will most certainly cause the reader to skim, perhaps missing major achievements or qualifiers that are hidden within a long list of less-relevant items.

The great resumes I see consider reader attention span—not only in terms of overall resume length (the ideal being two pages, or three in some exceptional cases), but also in terms of the resume’s individual components, never overwhelming the reader with long, dense paragraphs or seemingly unending lists of items.

So how does your resume measure up? Is it good…or is it great?

If you are a senior-level executive who has managed an upward climb throughout your career trajectory, chances are you are well acquainted with greatness. Just be sure you’re not packaging that greatness inside a resume that fails to do it justice.


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