When you are working to advance your career, the value of a resume that stands out cannot be understated. This is especially true if you are looking for a new position at the C-suite or executive level. The competition for a position at such a level will be steep, and you’ll likely be up against people who have held similar positions to yours, so a generic work history listing job duties and responsibilities with years of experience prominently displayed won’t set you apart as a candidate.
So what makes a good executive-level resume to get the attention of a potential employer? Let’s take a look, step by step, at tips on writing a resume for positions at the executive level.
1) Ask Questions to Determine the Focus of Your Executive Resume
You know you’re ready for a change in your career. You know you want a position at the executive level. Perhaps you already have a specific position or a specific company in mind. Great! But even if you know what position or company you want, you need to ask yourself more questions to really start framing up your resume to make it a good executive resume. Your resume needs to establish what sets you apart from your competitors—this is your personal brand—while being clear about how you can serve the needs of potential employers and why you are the best candidate. That might sound like a lot to ask of a resume, but thinking through the questions below will get you going and provide you with the direction you need to write an attention-grabbing executive resume.
If you don’t have a specific position or company in mind already, asking questions can help you to direct your job search as well. As you answer the questions below and start to write up your resume, you’ll find that it has a focus and will be best used for certain positions in certain sectors.
Here are questions to get started with:
• What am I most proud of in my career?
• What value do I provide to an employer?
• Why do I do the work that I do? Or, why am I looking to change jobs?
• What am I most passionate about in my work?
• What challenges does this company/industry face that my experience, expertise, and skill set can help address?
• What would my current boss say are my biggest strengths?
For an extensive list of questions, broken down by section of your resume, you can check out my article Questions to Ask Yourself to Write the Best Resume Possible here: https://greatresumesfast.com/questions-you-should-ask-yourself-to-write-the-best-resume-possible-2/.
Remember also that you don’t have to limit asking questions to just asking them of yourself. If you have a trusted colleague or mentor, don’t be afraid to ask them for insight into what they see as your strengths or greatest accomplishments, or why they think you’d be a good fit for the position to which you are applying.
2) List Out Accomplishments, Skills, Strengths, References
Brainstorming isn’t just for lengthy meetings—it can be a very useful tool as you are trying to write your own resume. If you are looking for jobs at the executive level, you probably have a lengthy career behind you and a long list of accomplishments and skills that you have amassed over the years. However, just listing them all out on your resume itself is not the path to success. You need to pare down your work experience and accomplishments to address only the most relevant, impressive points to the specific position or employer. However, to make sure you don’t miss any of those important points you should have a comprehensive list of your achievements, skills, and strengths to pull from.
I highly recommend keeping a running document, whether in Microsoft Word, Excel, or even just an old-fashioned notebook where you list out accomplishments throughout your career. You never know what accomplishment might be relevant to a future job opportunity—and you certainly don’t want to forget any when you are feeling pressure while writing a new resume.
If you haven’t been keeping such a list, take your time to write one out now. Do as much as you can in one session, but recognize that you will think of things as you go about your day, so keep a list on your phone or have a notebook handy.
As you are writing out this list also think about different ways to describe the same accomplishment. When it comes time to draft a couple of different versions of your resume, you will find having these different options at your fingertips to be very helpful.
3) Write Your Career Summary/Executive Branding Statement
The last resume you wrote may have included a “career objective” statement. You should no longer include one of these on your resume. Instead, you need to write a short paragraph (3-5 short sentences or phrases) that explains your value to a potential employer. This is one of the most important things to feature in an executive resume.
An executive branding statement should include mention of significant results that you have achieved in your career as well as the most important strengths or skills for the specific job that resume is targeted to. You should play around with your executive branding statement and how it’s worded, as well as what you include, to get it as strong as it can be while ensuring that it is not a boring, clichéd regurgitation of the same old descriptors that a hiring manager is going to see on every resume they read that day.
Here are basic tips to get started writing your brand statement or career summary:
• Include truly unique or rare qualities that are beneficial to the company/position. (Fluent in a foreign language? Expert/thought leader in a particular field?)
• Consider the vision you have for your career/field.
• Include two to three major accomplishments that relate to the position you are applying to.
• Come up with three nouns that describe yourself as a professional and use them to help formulate the statement.
• Consider your achievements/career goals in the context of your values or larger outlook on the world.
While you should never take an executive branding statement template or sample and just plug your information into it, you should read some strong ones to get an idea of how they should read. You can find some on the resume samples section of our website here: https://greatresumesfast.com/executive-resume-samples/, and find additional information about writing an executive brand statement in the blog archives of the website.
4) Create a Master Executive Resume
Once you have done the first three steps above, you have the material to start writing your resume. A master executive resume will include far more information and be far more general than any resume you submit to a job you are targeting.
A master resume, though, gives you a framework to have at hand for tailoring a resume and prevents you from having to go through and create a new resume from scratch each time a new company or new position catches your eye.
When you create a master resume, format it in an organized fashion that gives you quick access to information. Keep it in a professional, neat format even though you won’t be sending this version to a potential employer. It’s good practice for when you actually do create a tailored executive resume, and will help you to determine an effective format. As you’re formatting your master executive resume, don’t worry about its length. Your goal here is to have one master document for yourself—not for anyone else—so it’s okay if it goes over the recommended one to three pages for a professional resume.
5) Explore Different Executive Resume Templates to Help Improve Your Focused Resumes’ Formats
As you were creating your master resume, you might have run across some resume formats that you really liked and some that you hated or simply weren’t effective. Do some more exploring of resume formats. In today’s world, you can use charts and color on an executive resume to help you get the attention of a hiring manager and get your points across more clearly.
While you are considering different resume formats, though, remember to consider the industry or company to which you are applying. A resume for an executive positive at a marketing agency may need to have a different, more creative feel to it than one for an executive position at a large bank. If you know someone at the company you are applying to, don’t be afraid to ask about the culture or if they have any input into the kind of resume they are looking for. If you don’t have access to this kind of inside information, keep your resume neat, clean, and traditional—but use certain tactics to call attention to the information you want to pop.
How? Here are some ideas:
• Put testimonials from your references in blocks/circles offset from the other information.
• Include a graph or chart to show achievements like revenue growth or client acquisition.
• Use a color border around your career summary/personal branding statement to call attention to it.
• Include a sidebar with a list of significant achievements, or put testimonials in a sidebar.
For more formatting examples, take a look at the resume samples section of the Great Resumes Fast website here:https://greatresumesfast.com/executive-resume-samples/ or explore our blog archives for many tips and ideas on formatting.
One word of caution: while it’s okay to review resume samples, resume templates, or professionally written resumes for inspiration, you don’t want to COPY them. It waters down and devalues your brand. Recruiters can spot a template—and copying the content from someone else’s resume doesn’t help you stand out. Research for inspiration, but be sure to make your resume unique to yourself, your accomplishments, experience, and personal brand.
6) Create Focused Executive Resumes for Different Positions/Companies
You’ve got your information. You’ve got your master resume. You’ve looked through different formatting options. Guess what? It’s time to actually start writing your targeted executive resumes.
As you begin creating individual resumes for different positions or companies, be sure to really dig into what a company is looking for and how you can fill their needs. If you haven’t already, look around their website and their LinkedIn or Facebook pages to get a feel for their values, mission, and even branding tone. The more research you do, the better understanding you will have of what they need in a new hire and you will be better prepared to directly address on your resume how you can fulfill that need. Researching the company now will also be immensely helpful in preparing for an interview.
While it may sound daunting to write several versions of your resume, it is 100% worth it. Like I mentioned above, a resume for a marketing agency and a bank are going to be very different, and this is because they are looking for different traits and different skill sets. As an executive, it is quite possible you have the skill set and the experience to do well in either position, but you are going to need to use different keywords and highlight different achievements for each individual company.
Here are five simple tips to help you tailor your resume for a specific position:
• Use the job description as your guide—address the qualifications, skills, and strengths they are looking for on your resume.
• Speak their language—use keywords and industry terms as you describe your experience and achievements on your resume. This shows your knowledge while priming your resume for systems that weed out resumes by keyword.
• Adjust your career summary/branding statement to fit the individual job. Do not use the exact same one for each resume.
• Swap out references to ensure those that are the best fit or the most impressive for the job/company you are applying to are on that respective resume. The same goes for a client list.
• Rearrange the order of your bullet points—you might include the same information across a couple of different resumes, but the information you want a potential employer to see first might differ from job to job. A simple cut-and-paste maneuver can easily help you to tailor your resume.
7) Edit Your Executive Resumes. Then Edit Them Again!
This piece of advice goes for all resumes, cover letters, LinkedIn pages, etc. at all levels and across all industries. However, it is especially important to abide by at the executive level.
When you’re editing your executive resume, you are looking for typos (and then looking for them again!), but you should also be looking to see if there is a better way to word something. For example, you should be using action verbs and talking about your hard skills as much as possible and avoiding passive, vague language and clichés like “excellent communicator.” Pay attention to getting rid of and replacing this kind of filler language while editing.
At the executive level there is absolutely no excuse for having a typo or a grammatical error. You are expected to be detail-oriented as well as a decent writer by this point in your career, or to at least know how to have someone with those strengths look over your resume and cover letter. Many of the best executives are so successful because they know how to effectively use the talents and strengths of others, so don’t be afraid to ask for help, even if it is just getting another set of eyes to look for typos.
If you are asking to handle great responsibility at a company, a hiring manager does not want to see that you cannot even pay attention enough to find errors in your own resume. A typo is the surest way to get your resume put in the rejected pile.
If you’re not sure how to go about editing your resume, try these tips:
• Read your resume out loud, slowly. Fix any sentences that sound strange. As you focus on reading aloud, typos are more likely to jump out at you than if you are just skimming through the words for the hundredth time.
• Print out your resume for proofreading and editing. Use a ruler or another piece of paper to guide you as you read through it line by line.
• Have someone else read it aloud to you. This helps catch odd or awkward phrasing, or places where you might be able to strengthen descriptions.
• DO NOT rely on computer programs. Yes, with Grammarly and other programs we have come a long way from the early days of spellchecker, but the human eye is still the best weapon against typos, especially if you are using industry jargon, phrases, or acronyms.
While these seven steps should get you well on your way to writing an exceptional executive resume, the task might still seem daunting to you. And that’s okay. Many executives and C-level professionals call on the experts to help them with their resumes.
At Great Resumes Fast, we have a talented team of certified, professional resume writers to help take the task of having to write a resume off your shoulders and help you achieve the career results you want. One of the first questions many people ask when considering using a resume writing service is how much does it cost, so we’ve put together this guide to resume writing costs to help answer that for you.
Our executive resume writers are professionals with industry experience and track records of success in helping executives advance their careers. If you’d like to learn more about how an executive resume writer can help you, please reach out here: https://www.greatresumesfast.com/contact. We do our best to answer all emails within 24 hours.
Are you tired of your resume being rejected by applicant tracking systems? I know how frustrating it is to submit your resume and receive no response. I hate seeing qualified people never break through the screening process. It shouldn’t be that way. That’s why I created this guide and I encourage you to download the FREE PDF so you can start seeing better resume response rates!
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About the author
Jessica Hernandez, President, CEO & Founder of Great Resumes Fast
Hi, I’m Jessica. I started this company back in 2008 after more than a decade directing hiring practices at Fortune 500 companies.
What started as a side hustle (before that was even a word!) helping friends of friends with their resumes has now grown into a company that serves hundreds of happy clients a year. But the personal touch? I’ve kept that.
You might have seen me featured as a resume expert in publications like Forbes, Fast Company, and Fortune. And in 2020, I was honored to be named as a LinkedIn Top Voice of the year!
I’m so glad you’re here, and I can’t wait to help you find your next perfect-fit position!
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