Poised for an executive job search? Maybe you’ve started to update your existing resume, which seems like a logical first step.
Hold on: your previous resume was probably written to position you at an earlier career level. The tone, formatting, and keyword content were therefore designed to target the jobs you held 5 or 10 years ago. At a leadership level, however, the game changes – requiring a different type of storytelling and presentation to ensure your brand stands out.
To write an effective and powerfully targeted executive resume, you’ll need to do more than just add job titles and dates. Here’s how to rethink your executive resume content and take steps to reach that coveted corner office:
1 – Start from scratch.
While this may sound daunting, it’s also the only way to unravel your personal brand value and extract a consistent message of leadership. Therefore, you’ll need to jot down answers to these questions, preferably starting on a blank document:
- What specific job / title will you pursue?
- What credentials and expertise make you qualified to step into this role?
- What makes you a unique candidate among other contenders?
- What do others say about the quality and consistency of your work?
If you’re finding this exercise difficult, it’s because you’re not in tune with your value proposition to employers. However, you’ll benefit greatly from identifying the leadership qualities and expertise that are critical to the executive role you want. Then, you’ll be able to use this information to write a solid qualifications summary for your resume. For example, a sales technology Director might answer the questions with:
- Director of Sales in tech firm.
- Fast revenue turnarounds at technology companies and new teams built to handle competitive markets.
- Peak revenue results in almost every role against major downturns in the economy; likes to stay hands-on; focuses on both the near-term need and long-term growth capabilities; maintains technical skills and knowledge on a variety of technology platforms and products.
- Praised for creating strong teams capable of meeting challenging goals and quotas.
The resulting resume qualifications profile might look like this:
“Strategic Sales Director and player-coach effective in diverse economic situations, startup and mature companies, and aggressive market segments. Spearheads short-term and sustainable growth (turnarounds, new business, record-setting results, motivated and focused teams). Drives unprecedented revenues, with lasting results, at Fortune-ranked accounts in every role. Broad tech industry acumen.”
2 – Put each of your achievements in C-A-R format.
You know you’ve made major strides in your executive career, and now is the time to recall them for employers to see. The C-A-R method, which stands for Challenge-Action-Result, has long been a favorite among careers professionals because it requires you to think carefully about the situations you’ve faced (the Challenge), the steps you took to resolve them (Action), and the impact on the company (Result). This format will be invaluable in conveying the effect of your leadership style and bottom-line contributions.
To put your career highlights into the C-A-R format, first make a list of your signature career accomplishments. Even if they weren’t groundbreaking achievements, these successes will help define your value to employers and demonstrate your work style. Aim for 3-5 high points from each job.
Next, write these success stories in C-A-R format, describing the situation you encountered, the actions you took to resolve it, and the end result. Shorten the sentences as much as possible until you have fodder for bullet points under each job, as shown in these examples:
- Took over failing sales team at CEO request; built new forecasting and accountability methods resulting in 33% improvement in just 6 months.
- Launched new international manufacturing site amid economic recession; hired new plant manager, Operations Director, and rotating production crews, with training in Six Sigma and Lean techniques. Realized 5.6% first-year profit and grew operation to 14.8% profit during third year.
You’ll need to add these sentences to your executive resume as achievement bullets, listing them in priority order under each of your former positions.
3 – Trim your storytelling to a reasonable length.
One of the most common problems executives face is how to fit all that great experience into 2 or 3 pages. Here’s where you’ll need to take a hard line when reviewing your career history.
First, look through your past jobs, training, and credentials – slashing ruthlessly after the 15-20 year mark so that you’re left with mostly fresh content. While degrees and other important certifications usually stay on your executive resume, there’s no need to mention your programming job straight out of college, or your moonlighting gig in between career positions back in 1993.
In addition, your new executive resume must refrain from the lengthy descriptions you might have used on former resume versions. Keep each achievement “story” to a maximum of 3 lines or less for easy reading, and you’ll find it easier to fit relevant experience into your document.
4 – Throw away old keywords to make room for the new.
Keywords, as you may recall, represent skills, credentials, areas of industry expertise, and any other indicator of your value to employers. Early career keywords often reflect more hands-on experience, such as programming, production assembly, or technician tasks. Nothing dates an executive more than listing “Microsoft Word” as a keyword! To demonstrate your value proposition, your executive keywords must reflect your soft skills, such as Consensus Building, Board Relations, or Contract Negotiations, as well as in-demand technical proficiencies and specific industry terms.
Your first task will be assessing and identifying the keywords worthy of your career story. Peruse job postings at your target level, taking note of terms that describe leadership abilities, certifications, and technical knowledge. You can also review the LinkedIn Profiles of executives who hold your ideal job, looking for keywords related to your skills.
Next, incorporate these keywords into your executive resume by simply adding the terms on your list using commas, dashes, or semicolons between them. Your keywords should look similar to these entries:
Strategic Planning – Accounting Oversight – Forecasting – Executive Collaboration
Budget Management – Talent Sourcing & Development – Operational Efficiency – P&L
As a final step, review your achievement content to see where these keywords should be inserted. By adding them in context, your executive resume will possess a higher keyword density ratio (a valuable asset when your document is processed through automated screening systems).
In summary, your executive resume deserves (and needs) more than a mere facelift to compete with other leaders in today’s job market. Take the time to assess your personal brand and brainstorm new ways to present your qualifications, using concise descriptions of your achievements backed by value-laden keyword content and a strong storytelling approach.