In the new world of executive job search, your “paper” or Word document executive resume will probably not be your first introduction to recruiters and hiring decision makers. Whatever they find out about you online may be the deciding factor – often before you know they’re assessing you.
Today’s c-level / senior-level resume takes the form of a LinkedIn profile, VisualCV, or online portfolio. Savvy executives know they have to have a strong online identity, leading hiring professionals to accurate, on-brand information about them.
Everything that’s in a great, personally branded paper resume can be transformed into an online career branding tool. You’ll still need that paper resume at some point in the hiring process, but maybe not until the interviewing process begins, or after.
Many of my clients either don’t have a resume when they come to me because they’ve never needed one to get a job, or haven’t updated their resume for years. Either way, they’re completely at a loss as to how today’s power executive resume needs to look and read.
Here are the 10 most important DO’s and DON’T’s for senior-level executive resumes (or the equivalent online version):
Four things that too many executive resumes don’t have:
1. A clear job target
A generic resume that tries to cover too many bases will probably fall flat. 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 fall in line with what they’ll be looking for.
2. Personal branding
Especially in an economic downturn, personal branding makes more sense than ever. In a nutshell, branding links your passions, key personal attributes, and strengths with your value proposition, in a crystal clear message that differentiates you from your competition and resonates with your target audience.
Companies are looking for vitality, good fit, and personal chemistry. Branding generates chemistry and makes you come alive on the page. See 10 Best of Personal Branding Strategies, Lessons, and News.
3. Value proposition
The value you will bring to your next employer needs to be abundantly evident, monetized, and linked to your personal brand. SHOW THEM THE NUMBERS! And show them how you accomplished those advances.
4. Career success stories
When you explain how you make things happen – how you were able to capture profitable results – you help your target audience zero in on what you’ll do for their organization. They can begin to picture you doing the same things for them. Follow a “Challenge – Actions – Results” framework to illuminate your successes. See How to Leverage C-A-R Storytelling for Executive Branding and Job Search.
Six things too many top-level executive resumes have, but shouldn’t:
5. An anemic “Objective” statement.
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. Instead of leading your resume with a statement saying what you want from the job, start with a professional headline spotlighting the relevant key word phrases readers will be looking for. Then follow with your executive brand statement, showcasing your unique promise of value to them.
6. Densely packed, hard-to-read information.
More and more hiring decision makers review resumes on their PDAs. When they open a 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 are easier to read and will draw the reader to continue down the page.
Pay close attention to what lands above the fold on the page – the top third or quarter of the page. Busy decision makers generally allow only 10 seconds or so for a resume to draw them in. They may go no further than that initial page view. As much as possible, make this section stand on its own as your calling card.
7. Too many pages.
Keep it as close to 2 pages as you can. Remember that an executive resume is a career marketing document, not a career history. It needs to incorporate just enough compelling information to generate interest in you. No need to go back further than 10-15 years. If your earlier career is relevant, and you have room, you can encapsulate that experience in a few lines.
8. Typos, grammatical errors, and/or poor formatting.
This probably goes without saying. Typos and errors in grammar are the kiss of death and may also convey misinformation. Proofread several times and have someone else do it, too. Don’t rely on spellcheck. Keep the formatting attractive, consistent, and easy to read. Don’t use more than 2 different fonts (one for headings, another for content), and don’t choose frilly, unprofessional fonts. Make sure your contact information is correct.
9. Tired 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 – 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 key words. 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.
If your resume (or its online equivalent) is getting no action, it’s probably not you, it’s your 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 or web page 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.
To see how it all comes together, take a look at a sample executive resume I created for a CEO – Global Operations Management.