In today’s fiercely competitive job market, your resume is not just a document — it’s a personal sales pitch. Your executive resume has to be optimized to shine brighter than a supernova amidst the galaxy of applicants vying for the same executive roles. And here’s the harsh truth: The anchors dragging you down could be 1) depending only on your track record to get you the job, 2) using a generic resume, or 3) weak personal branding.
Here’s your roadmap to a refreshed, modernized, and optimized executive resume. I’ll walk you through aligning your resume with your career goals, writing for applicant tracking systems (while also appealing to the hiring manager), and becoming a pro at the art of self-promotion.
3 Stumbling Blocks Costing You Job Opportunities
Relying solely on your track record to open doors
A stellar track record is an excellent asset in your career. But you must self-promote through networking, an optimized executive resume, and a modernized LinkedIn profile to open doors to opportunities. Your accomplishments aren’t self-evident. In a competitive job market, you will have to share the context of your accomplishments.
Using generic resumes to apply to roles
Job seekers often ask me if applying for a job with a general resume is OK. The answer to that question is an emphatic no. If you’re not excited enough about the job to want to customize your resume to increase your chances of getting an interview, then skip applying altogether. Your time will be better invested in making contacts at a company that excites you.
CareerBuilder found that 61% of HR professionals pay more attention to resumes that are customized to the open position. And a 2019 JobVite survey showed 47% of recruiters view tailored resumes as highly influential in their decision to interview a candidate.
Generic resumes lead to fewer interviews and lower chances of being selected.
Weak personal branding
This is tricky because you don’t often realize what weak or poor personal branding is costing you until you improve yours and see the positive effects. For 15 years, I’ve helped 15,000 job seekers create stronger personal brands using our Executive BrandBuilding Methodology. I’ve watched job seekers go from no interviews, no offers, and months- or years-long job searches to being successfully employed at dream companies with higher salaries in two months or less.
Branding is powerful.
A weak personal brand costs you job opportunities. Personal branding is critical in creating a positive and unforgettable impression on hiring managers. Reports indicate that somewhere between 70–90% of employers use social networking sites to research candidates during the hiring process. Not only that, but a 2020 report from the Society for Human Resources Management found that well-branded candidates could negotiate higher salaries.
A weak personal brand costs you time, jobs, and higher earnings. An optimized executive resume with a strong personal brand will land you a better job, faster.
3 Quick Ways to Optimize Your Executive Resume
Step 1: Align your resume with your career goals
According to Glassdoor, an average job attracts 250 resumes. Of those applications, only 4–6 will get an interview. A resume tailored to the position will help you land in the top 2% of candidates who secure an interview.
It’s not just experience that recruiters are looking for when it comes to fit, either. ERE Media reported that 42% of recruiters state that an alignment between the candidate and company culture is essential to the hiring process. Tailoring your resume ––not only to the position but also to the culture and company values –– can be a differentiating factor in who gets the interview.
Here are three quick and easy ways to align your resume with the position:
- Include the job title at the top of your resume.
- Follow the job title with three high-priority skills needed for the role.
- Select three relevant accomplishments, and include them in a special section in the top third of your resume.
When selecting relevant achievements, choose results that align with the requirements for the role.
An example of what I mean:
Job Requirement from Posting: Proven ability to develop and execute marketing strategies and campaigns to increase company revenue and brand awareness.
Optimized Resume Bullet: Designed and implemented a comprehensive digital marketing strategy that increased brand visibility by 35%, contributing to 20% increase in annual revenue.
When Taylor reached out to us intending to transition into a Learning and Organizational Development role, our first goal was to revamp his resume to align with his new job target.
Taylor’s previous resume mostly showcased his leadership experience in the sales realm. He wasn’t sure how to rework his resume to highlight his relevant experience for the desired role.
Taylor was also concerned that, on paper, his diverse experience wouldn’t translate to the desired role because it had all been within one organization.
After walking him through our Executive BrandBuilding Methodology and focusing on his L&OD skills and experience in his materials, Taylor sent out his optimized resume and LinkedIn profile. Within 48 hours, an executive search firm contacted him about a Chief Learning Officer position.
The company found Taylor such a perfect match that they were willing to wait an additional three months for him to wrap up his projects at his previous organization — giving him plenty of time for a graceful exit.
Step 2: Write for ATS but appeal to hiring managers to optimize your executive resume
Employers use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to manage the overwhelming number of resumes they receive. These systems scan resumes for keywords and phrases that match the job description, score them based on relevance, and then rank them accordingly. To get your resume in front of a hiring manager, you have to optimize it.
Formatting your resume
Stick to traditional section headings on your resume like “Professional Experience,” “Education,” and “Core Skills.” This makes it easier for both ATS and a human reader to understand. If you get too creative in your section headings, an ATS might skip over the content, not knowing how/where to parse the information. I suspect this is one reason why applications prompt you for repetitive information after uploading a resume.
Lay out your content strategically so it’s easier to read. Humans read top to bottom, left to right, and spend the most time at the top. Put your most important information at the top of the resume. Also, avoid any overly creative, graphic, and two-column resume formats. These make content harder to consume for a human reader and challenging for ATS to parse correctly.
Standard Job Titles
Use standard job titles alongside more creative ones. If you work for a company that uses creative job titles like “Chief Happiness Officer,” be sure to include the more common alternative in parentheses next to it.
For example: Chief Happiness Officer (Vice President of Customer Success)
I would use this same strategy on LinkedIn too. List the alternative or more common titles in your Headline, About, and Work Experience sections.
Submit your resume in whatever file format the application requests. Most ATS can accept and scan .docx and .pdf files, but you should always default to the file format the system suggests.
When emailing your resume to a hiring manager or contact, I recommend sending it in PDF format. That way, you know that they’re seeing the same document you’re sending, and you don’t have to worry about different Microsoft Word versions or PC types messing up the file format.
Spell out any uncommon abbreviations; more common abbreviations like MBA can be left as-is. It’s always best practice to include both abbreviations and spelled-out versions.
Choose keywords wisely. When people hear the term keyword, they get all types of ideas about what that entails. Simply put, keywords are hard skills (professional, academic, and technical) that are required to function successfully in the role. Soft skills, or people skills, are typically not keywords. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t include them in your resume within the context of an achievement. You definitely should! But when it comes to the Core Skills section of your resume, it’s best to select skills that are a high priority for the role.
When recruiters give your resume the initial 7.4-second scan (as reported by The Ladders), their eyes are drawn to and focus on job titles, skills, and dates of employment. They will read from top to bottom, left to right, scanning for the high-priority/deal-breaker skills necessary for the role and relevant job titles that may indicate related experience.
Numerous surveys and studies tell us that relevant experience is the top priority for recruiters. I can assure you that when they’re scanning your resume initially trying to make a fit/no-fit decision, this is precisely what they’re searching for. By including high-priority skills in the keyword section of your resume, you’re indicating to both the ATS and the human reader that you have the skills and experience needed for the role.
Step 3: Become a pro at self-promotion to optimize your executive resume
For executives, hiring decisions are based not just on qualifications but also on leadership style, strategic thinking, and culture fit. Self-promotion helps you tell your story in a way that highlights these attributes and differentiates you from other candidates.
Unfortunately, many job seekers either aren’t comfortable with self-promotion because they equate it to bragging or are hesitant to self-promote because they lack confidence or certainty in their value as a candidate.
I’ve spoken to thousands of job seekers who underestimate their skills and accomplishments. However, if you don’t share them, you may be passed over for great opportunities and higher earnings. Employers can’t guess or assume your abilities; you must make them clear and compelling. Self-promotion is a powerful tool for career advancement when done authentically and effectively.
Here are ten ways to draw attention to your qualifications and skills without sounding arrogant.
- Quantify Achievements: Show the impact of your leadership by quantifying your achievements. Did you increase revenue or reduce costs? How much was it, and what were the results of your team’s work? Use concrete numbers to illustrate your effectiveness.
- Highlight Leadership and Strategic Skills: As an executive, you must demonstrate your ability to manage, lead, and strategize. Highlight experiences where you’ve set strategy, guided teams through change, or demonstrated thought leadership.
- Tailor Your Resume: Customize your resume for each application, highlighting the most relevant experiences and accomplishments.
- Use Action Verbs and Power Words: Start each bullet point with a strong action verb like “Led,” “Spearheaded,” “Orchestrated,” etc. This helps create a powerful image of you as a proactive leader.
- Showcase Your Executive Presence: Executive presence is a blend of temperament, competencies, and skills that send all the right signals. Show instances where you’ve had to make tough decisions, guide a team, or navigate a company through challenging times.
- Include Relevant Awards and Recognition: If you’ve received significant awards or recognition, include them on your resume.
- Executive Summary: Use the executive summary section at the top of your resume to present a powerful, concise narrative of your career highlights and capabilities. This is an opportunity to present your personal brand and unique selling proposition.
- Professional Development: Demonstrate a commitment to continuous learning by including executive education, professional development courses, or relevant certifications.
- Board Positions and Other Leadership Roles: Include these if you’ve held board positions or other significant leadership roles outside of your primary employment. This can demonstrate your leadership skills and broad experience.
- Proofread and Format Carefully: Attention to detail is crucial at the executive level. Make sure your resume is meticulously proofread and professionally formatted.
It’s also important to remember that your executive resume is only one part of your application. An optimized LinkedIn profile and customized cover letter are part of the whole branding package.
When Suzann reached out to me, she was getting offers for roles offering less money than she currently made and for positions she would have had 15 years ago. The offers weren’t for the leadership roles her experience and education should have attracted.
When this happens, I know it’s a combination of positioning and self-promotion issues. My team set to work to build a brand for Suzann around her leadership experience and business skills using our Executive BrandBuilding Methodology.
Within just a few weeks, Suzann started getting attention from recruiters for positions that aligned with her career and financial goals.
“The recruiters that contacted me were pretty much right on the money for what I was looking for.” – Suzanne Chesek, VP of Care, Healthcare Industry.
One of those recruiters introduced Suzann to the position she ultimately accepted, which is perfect for her in every way (including job description, culture fit, the ability to work remotely, and salary).
“The company is fantastic. I keep referring to it as a unicorn — you hear that companies like this exist, but you never get to see one. The culture is unreal. It’s truly a teamwork environment; it is supportive and collaborative. It’s just incredible. I don’t know what I did to deserve this, but it’s pretty wonderful. Additionally, I thought I would end up having to either relocate or go back to an office setting with a crazy commute, and I’m doing it all remotely, so it’s even more perfect.” – Suzanne Chesek.
Suzann’s take-home pay is $80,000 MORE than her previous salary.
“Talk about a smart investment: put a little bit of money into a resume, and you get about an $80,000 raise out of it.” – Suzanne Chesek.
Suzann finally feels like she’s reaching her full potential in her career, and her confidence has skyrocketed.
“Before, I would look at different roles, and I always thought, ‘I could do that job, I could make that money.’ I knew the money was out there, I would see other people making it, and I’d think, ‘Why can’t I do that? I’m at least as smart as those people, I at least have as much experience.’ So it’s been pretty cool to finally be at that level!” – Suzanne Chesek
Just like Suzann and Taylor, you can make a career transition or step into higher-level roles. All you need is a modernized resume and LinkedIn profile that accurately reflect your brand, is aligned with your target role, and is optimized for applicant tracking systems.
Ready for help? There are two ways we can support you in your job search.
Download a copy of our free executive resume template, and use it along with the ten instructional emails to improve and modernize your resume.
Schedule a free resume strategy session with Kelly to get professional help with your resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile.
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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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