As an executive, you need to come across in a polished, professional way if you want to be taken seriously and move forwards with your career.

In an increasingly competitive talent landscape, what you can do is important – but how you express what you can do is equally so.

As an executive personal branding specialist, I’ve worked with numerous executives who’ve dealt with their fair share of disappointment – missing that promotion maybe; losing out on a new job at the last minute; perhaps not even making it to interview for a much-coveted role.

Most frequently this happens because the person hasn’t framed themselves in the right way, which means they’re not perceived as being right for the role, even if they could be.

I can’t teach you how to secure every promotion, overcome every challenge and wow every hiring manager. But I can teach you how to give yourself the best possible chance, by equipping yourself with an authentic, powerful and consistent resume.

With that in mind, these are the three most common linguistic mistakes I see executives make; mistakes that can undermine your authority and fail to position you for success.


Great writers don’t rely on clichés for the same reason great resume writers don’t rely on buzzwords: they lack power.

They’re not forceful; they don’t demand attention. At best, buzzwords take up space without working hard enough for you to create an impact. At worst, they give the impression that you’re hyperbolic and your achievements are hollow.

The best executive resumes make use of almost every word to convey and reinforce a singular vision (your unique point of value), increasing their power and making it more likely you’ll be hired. Buzzwords are antithetical to that.

Instead of propping up your resume with buzzwords, think more deeply about what you’re trying to convey and both show – by sharing an example that highlights the quality or skill in question – and tell in a different way.

If you’re in doubt over what constitutes a buzzword, here are some common choices we see on executive resumes:

  • Detail-oriented
  • Results-driven
  • Self-motivated
  • Proactive
  • Strategic thinker

For instance, instead of saying ‘strategic thinker’ you could say ‘a perceptive and visionary leader with an eye for opportunity’. You mustn’t stop here, though.

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:  Personal Branding: Fight Club Style.

An executive resume isn’t just a collection of words.

Rather, it’s a way of expressing your deep and authentic value statement. Your resume is the tip of the iceberg, if you like, and the bulk of the power comes from the story you weave to illustrate the labels you apply to yourself.

In other words, if you’re describing yourself as ‘strategic’, your resume should include numerous achievements that illustrate your strategic ability.

Your brand story has tell has to be one of strategic vision, or no amount of powerful phrasing will elevate you.


Imagine that your executive resume is a building (bear with me).

As with any building, the materials you use throughout will dictate what the building looks like, and that will dictate how the building is perceived.

The verbs you use are like the bricks – and concrete breezeblock will give a different impression to redbrick or marble…

If you don’t build your executive resume using executive-appropriate verbs, you won’t come across as a top-tier executive. Even if the task you’re describing is fundamentally the same, the language you use establishes your seniority in relation to that task – and you will be judged on that basis.

It works both ways, by the way.

Not so long ago I was working with an executive who wanted to make a lateral, if not a slight downwards, career move. Every recruiter she sent her old resume to disregarded her as overqualified.

By using more seniority-appropriate language, we were able to reposition her in relation to the roles she wanted, and she found a new position almost immediately. That’s the power of nuance.

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:  Why Do 90% Of Resumes Go In The Bin (Without Ever Being Read)?

Unless you’re actively looking to diminish yourself, as our client above was, avoid verbs like this:

  • Managed
  • Supported
  • Assisted
  • Handled
  • Coordinated
  • Performed

As an executive, it’s taken for granted that you’re managing, supporting, assisting and so on.

If you need to include those responsibilities in your executive resume, the implication is that you’ve done so because they’re noteworthy – which they shouldn’t be at your level. Your credibility is thus undermined, and you appear less senior than you are.

Verbs like this are more appropriate:

  • Steered
  • Championed
  • Shaped
  • Established
  • Spearheaded
  • Pioneered
  • Founded
  • Transformed

The lists are as good as endless, but the point is this: give more thought to the nuance of the verbs you choose, or you risk leaving a less-senior impression than you intend to.


This is the other side of the coin. Although it’s important to use executive-level language, you should be wary of falling into the pompous camp.

We’ve probably all known someone who disguises their lack of seniority by using intentionally convoluted language and phraseology.

When you’re writing your executive resume, then, always look for simple and concise ways to express yourself. Don’t be bombastic.

Don’t choose complicated words when simple ones will do. Keep your sentence construction simple and easy to read, and use adjectives like seasoning – a few can enhance the dish but too many are overpowering.

When it comes to your executive resume, you can be flowery, or you can be impactful – choose the latter. Floweriness, especially if your resume reads like you’ve used right-click to find fancy synonyms for every other word, obscures your real achievements.

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:  What Jerry Seinfeld Can Teach You About Writing An Amazing Resume.

For instance, instead of saying this…

“Conceptualised novel IT operating model, utilising model to effortlessly streamline divisional operations and drive exceptional cost-savings.”

You could say,

“Designed innovative IT operating model to streamline division, increasing efficiency by 41% and delivering $200K in cost-savings in Y1”.

Your executive resume should elevate you, but aim to express the complexities of what you do in as concise and clear a way as possible.

This gives the impression that you’re calmly confident in your abilities, a stance that will instantly rub off on the hiring manager or recruiter reading your resume.

As Nathaniel Hawthorne memorably noted, “Easy reading is damn hard writing”.


None of this is black and white.

There’s no one word that will automatically secure hiring manager or recruiter buy-in (or act as an instant turn-off) but every element of your resume combines to give an impression of who you are and what you can do.

To write an exceptional executive resume, you should be constantly thinking of that final impression and how every element either contributes positively, negatively or not at all.

When I develop resumes, I work backwards from that final impression for that reason. It’s about building a brand proposition first – who you are, what you do, and who you help by doing it.

This is the core of your brand; your executive resume is simply the mode of expression. A resume has the potential to be truly powerful when the expression and the message are consistent.

– Irene