Unfortunately, most executives are never taught how to write an executive resume that will stand out and get them interviews. Your resume is arguably the most important piece of paper you’ll own. Done right and it can open doors for you. Done wrong and your resume goes straight to the “resume black hole.”
We hear comments like these all the time from highly qualified executives:
“I’ve been applying for every job I can find, but the only call I got was for a job I wasn’t that interested in”.
“I’m feeling discouraged because I’m not getting any interviews. I need resume help because I’m clearly doing something wrong”.
What if you could quickly learn how to write an executive resume with proven best practices….and started landing more interviews? Our team of executive recruiters has helped hundreds of executives do just that. We know from working directly with HR leaders and hiring managers what works and what doesn’t. Here are our resume best practices that will help you write a resume that stands out and gets you interviews:
Focus on your resume content first and foremost
Content matters most. Even if you have a great looking executive resume, it won’t get you interviews if it doesn’t effectively sell what you have to offer to potential employers. Spend 80% of your time working on your content, and 20% polishing your resume design.
Working from the top of your resume down, here’s how to write great executive resume content:
Header & Contact Information
Your header should contain your:
- Name and any important honorifics (for example, John Jones, MD, MBA)
- Cell Phone Number
- Personal email address
- Professional social media accounts, such as LinkedIn or Twitter
- Mailing address (optional and we’re noticing a trend towards omitting it for privacy reasons)
- Use hyperlinks for your email address and social media accounts
- It should go without saying, but your email should be professional and easy-to-read (ideally it should just contain your name; don’t use a cute or witty email address)
- Some hiring authorities say using a Hotmail, Yahoo, MSN, or AOL address makes you seem out-of-touch with current technology; use a Gmail account instead
- On a well-written resume that effectively highlights your accomplishments, your experience should speak for itself and you shouldn’t need a summary statement
- If you opt to include a summary, it should be a short, impactful statement highlighting your years of experience, work history, and competencies
- Leave off an objective; employers are not concerned with statements about what you want from them
Quite simply, the objective of your “work experience” section on your resume is to “show, not tell”. The best resumes we see include numbers in nearly all of the bullets—numbers prove your value to an employer.
- Show your work history in chronological order; using a “functional format” suggests to the reader that you’re trying to hide job-hopping and most employers strongly prefer the chronological format so they can get a clear sense of your career trajectory
- For each position, provide a brief overview of the organization and the scope of your position
- Your bullets should contain quantified accomplishments rather than job details (see the example below)
- Don’t try to hide employment gaps; show both month and year for each position
- Do not cut and paste from your job description
- Clearly note when a position is a contract or consulting engagement; always be transparent about by whom you’re actually employed
- If you haven’t completed a degree, don’t list it on your resume without clearly explaining the status
- If you’re taking classes towards a degree, add a notation that the degree is expected along with the timing (e.g., Bachelor of Arts, degree anticipated May 2020)
- If you started a degree, but aren’t currently taking courses, you should not list the degree. If you want to include it, list the college, location, and relevant credits completed (e.g., Rollins College, Winter Park, FL, completed 36 credits, including 15 in business)
- As appropriate include sections for certifications, awards/recognition, publications, speaking engagements, and community involvement
- As appropriate, include sections for certifications, awards/recognition, publications, speaking engagements, and community involvement
- Leave “references available upon request” off your resume (it’s a given and expected that you’ll provide these if asked)
Resume writing is marketing
One of the biggest resume mistakes we see is people treating their resume like an autobiography rather than a marketing document.
- Don’t make it all about you; think about what the employer needs and ways you can showcase how you can meet their needs
- Highlight key skills, experiences, and education as they relate to your targeted position (maximum resume length should be two or three pages)
- For positions unrelated to the job you’re applying to or positions fifteen or more years ago, create a separate section which lists just position titles and dates if needed to manage document length
- You’ll likely need to create several different copies of your resume to most effectively target different positions and organizations
Top performing resumes have simple layouts and plenty of white space
There are all sorts of resume templates available on the internet; we’re seeing a trend towards more creative formats being used, even by executives. These formats typically include two-column designs, substantial use of color, non-standard sections and layouts, and fancy fonts or bar graphs to indicate skill levels. However, the best resumes appeal to the human eye and are easily readable by applicant tracking systems.
- Avoid infographic and trendy formats
- Ensure your resume has an appealing ratio of white space to text
- Use one inch margins on all sides (smaller margins make the document difficult to read; you also risk important information being cut off if printed)
- Format your body copy at 11 or 12 points; headlines should be 14 to 18 points
- Use no more than 2 fonts (one for headings and one for body content)
- Avoid the use of color; leave off photos and graphics
Make sure your resume is polished before you send it out
- Make sure your resume is easy-to-read, error-free, perfectly formatted, and accurate
- Keep it truthful: inconsistencies, exaggeration, and errors will likely be discovered and will end your candidacy (or can be grounds for firing if you are hired)
- Be consistent with your formatting (e.g., make sure you’re using the same sized bullets throughout the document, that you have the same amount of space between hyphens throughout your resume, etc.)
- When emailing or uploading your resume, format your document as a PDF to ensure the formatting and spacing stays intact; sending the file as a PDF also protects the security of your document
- Make it easy for someone to find your resume if it’s being filed on their computer by putting your name in the file name (e.g., JaneBrownResume.pdf)
Put these tips on how to write an executive resume to good use
Admittedly there is tons of resume advice out there, and it’s easy to get caught up trying to find the “perfect” template or format. Ultimately, the very best resumes clearly convey to your employer: “If you hire me, you’ll get these specific, direct benefits”. Prioritize creating exceptional content that showcases your work experience, select an effective resume template that’s easy to scan and visually appealing and highlight your accomplishments, and you’ll be on your way.
We wish you the best luck in your job search and encourage you to reach out if we can assist you.
Need more help creating an executive resume that gets you interviews?
We’ve helped hundreds of top executives craft better resumes and land their dream jobs. Learn more about our proven step-by-step plan for creating a resume that works.
Also, check out our free, professionally designed executive resume templates here.