WRITING THE EXECUTIVE RESUME
Writing an effective executive resume can be challenging, but you can follow these steps for a truly compelling resume.
The executive resume presents specific challenges. Companies only hire a new executive when they have a compelling business need, so when recruiters, C-Level executives, or board members review your resume, they want to know whether you can address that need.
- Will you solve their brand awareness problems?
- Can you transform their financial situation?
- Will you reverse their sales decline?
- Can you resuscitate their flagging advertising efforts?
- Do you have the skills to capitalize on that great new opportunity?
In other words, when they look at your resume, they are asking one question: What’s in it for us?
They are usually disappointed, however, because most executive resumes do not answer that all-important question. This presents you with an outstanding opportunity to gain a competitive advantage – if you rework your resume so that it clearly shows your ability to meet the needs of potential employers, your phone will start to ring. If you’d like to know how your resume stacks up, check it against my five rules of resume writing: if it’s missing even one of these elements, you have work to do:
Executive Resume Rule #1: Tell them what they want to know
This sounds so obvious doesn't it? But most resumes don't do this. Instead, most executives try to tell their whole story - starting with their most recent job and working backwards. And many begin with an objective statement, describing desires and career goals. But even the most caring CEO simply doesn’t care what you are looking for. (Hopefully) he’ll care about your needs once you work for him, but for now, it’s all about him.
So, replace the objective statement with a powerful summary that shows how you will add value to his company. Show him that there is a clear fit between your skills and his needs by describing your value to his business.
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Executive Resume Rule #2: Focus, Focus, Focus!
It’s critical to communicate a clear and succinct message about the value you bring – and to target that message to your target positions/companies. This may mean that you need more than one resume.
For example, if you have strong knowledge of more than one industry, you should consider writing different resumes for each one. This allows you to clearly demonstrate your value by emphasizing the aspects of your expertise and experience that match the employer’s needs, and minimizing those that don’t.
Your resume focus should be consistent throughout. If you state in your summary that a key strength is your ability to launch successful new products, then give examples throughout your resume. Eliminate any information that doesn’t support your clear and compelling message
If you have experience in more than one function, for example sales, marketing and product management, the focus will depend on your target positions. For pure marketing positions, you should talk mainly about your marketing experience and accomplishments - for pure sales jobs, switch the focus to sales. And when you're applying for a job that involves all three functions, play up the depth of your experience.
Executive Resume Rule #3: Show Them the Money
You must present evidence that you add value. Too many job seekers focus on job responsibilities, but describing achievements is much more powerful. Job responsibilities are simply those things we are supposed to do. Achievements show what we actually did and they are a powerful way to show your ability to make a difference. If your resume shows that you have increased brand awareness, boosted lead generation, or developed effective campaigns, people will want to meet you. Consider these real examples from recent resume clients:
- Developed brand and marketing strategy that propelled a 500% sales increase in only six years - established the company’s first marketing department, developed product positioning and led all strategic planning.
- Boosted brand awareness after corporate merger and name change - increased press coverage 500% in one year by partnering with PR agencies to aggressively target broadcast markets in the US and Europe.
- Doubled the sales of a flagship brand from $1.5 billion to $3.0 billion in three years on a product that already had 51% market share - spearheaded cross-functional effort to identify new customer segments and penetrate managed-care markets.
Note how specific these accomplishments are and how impressive they sound. Anyone reading these descriptions would be excited to meet these candidates .... but none of these accomplishments were mentioned on the clients’ original resumes.
Go back now and make sure that you have included the significant and impressive things you’ve done, so that your readers know about the value you bring. When possible, quantify your accomplishments. If you mention that your integrated marketing campaign boosted sales, be sure to say what the improvement was. If the information is confidential, use percentages or say “approximately” to avoid giving away company secrets. If you can’t quantify, try to describe the business impact – for example:
- Increased sales and market share for XYZ company despite fierce competition from market-leader by creating an innovative web-based marketing campaign.
Executive Resume Rule #4. It’s not what you did, it’s why you did it
In order to really appreciate your achievements, the reader needs context. If you tell the reader that you “increased brand awareness by 12%,” he may be quite impressed, but if you tell him that you “reversed a four-year decline and increased brand awareness 12% in the first year,” he can now truly appreciate your accomplishment.
Try to provide context in each position description instead of just describing your responsibilities. For example, your position description may begin with:
"Recruited by CEO to help the company adapt to explosive growth. Charged with improving troubled partner relations and initiating proactive business development practices"
"Promoted within 10 months of joining the company and challenged to revitalize this stagnant product line."
This opening gives the reader an understanding of the challenges you faced when you came into the position – and he or she can now appreciate the significance of the fact that you improved partner relations or boosted sales.
Executive Resume Rule #5. They will judge the book by its cover, so make sure it’s a good one!
We’d all like to think that people will carefully read and evaluate our resumes – giving careful consideration to the words we spent so long writing ... but mostly, they won’t. Instead, they’ll skim quickly. You know this because you have done it yourself. And, in the same way that you quickly form an impression about an interview candidate based on the way she is dressed, you form impressions about people based on the appearance of their resume. This means you need to dress your resume in a great suit. Think Armani ... stylish, sleek and simple. A strong resume layout will communicate professionalism and seniority even before one word has been read.
Executive Resumes - In Summary
A good executive resume paints a vivid picture for potential employers. If you establish a clear focus, lead with a powerful summary, describe your accomplishments, provide context, and package it well, potential employers won’t have to ask "what’s in it for me?"
To get more tips like these, and learn how to completely transform your resume, sign up for my free resume writing course. We promise never to send sales spam.
Louise Fletcher is the President of Blue Sky Resumes, and Managing Editor and Co-founder of the preeminent careers blog, Career Hub. She is a Certified Professional Resume Writer and many of her resumes have been published in the JIST "Expert Resumes" series. She has contributed to many online publications including About.com, Monster.com, The Ladders, and Net Temps.