3 Linguistic Mistakes That Horribly Deflate Your Executive Resume

Your resume may be letting you down.

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Are you making these classic mistakes on your resume? Don't let a piece of paper stand between you and your dream executive role. Follow my advice below to add firepower to your executive resume.

Irene McConnell
4 min read

If you’re a senior business leader, you must have a polished and professional executive resume. Sadly, I’ve seen executives often miss out on job opportunities because their executive resumes used sloppy language, or language which positioned them as more junior than they really were.

I can’t teach you how to secure every promotion, overcome every challenge and impress every hiring manager.

However, I can show you how to ensure that your executive resume which speaks to your audience in a way that is consistent with who you are as a professional.

With that in mind, these are the three most common linguistic mistakes I see leaders make on their executive resumes.

I highly recommend that you fix them before you submit your next job application – or, for a full revamp of your personal brand, learn more about our resume writing services.

1. Abundance Of Buzzwords.

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 to create an impact. At worst, they give the impression that you’re hyperbolic and your achievements are hollow.

(Bonus Read: Ultimate List Of Resume Mistakes).

Instead of propping up your executive 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 it 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.

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 showcase your positive attributes.

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

(Bonus Read: How To Write Resume Achievements Like A Pro).

2. Reliance On Subservient Verbs.

Imagine that your executive resume is a building.

As with any building, the materials you use throughout will dictate what the building looks like. This, in turn, will dictate how the building is perceived.

The verbs you use in your executive resume are the bricks – and concrete breezeblock will give a different impression to redbrick or marble.

If you don’t build your executive resume using verbs that are appropriate to your level of seniority, you won’t come across as a top-tier executive.

Even if the task you describe are fundamentally the same, the language you use will establish 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.

(Bonus Read: How To Explain A Career Transition On Your Resume).

That’s the power of nuance.

Unless you’re actively looking to diminish yourself, as our client above was, scrap the following verbs from your executive resume:

  • 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 gets undermined, and you appear less senior than you are. Verbs like this are more appropriate for an executive resume:

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

The key takeaway is this: pay attention to the nuance of the verbs you choose for your executive resume to avoid making a less-senior impression than you intend to.

3. Unnecessary Pomposity.

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

When you’re writing your executive resume, 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.

Don’t be flowery. Instead, be impactful.

Floweriness, especially if your resume reads like you’ve used right-click to find fancy synonyms for every second word, obscures your real achievements.

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”.

Aim to express the complexities of what you do as clearly 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”.

One More Thing.

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 executive 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 about making your desired final impression and how every element brings you closer or further away from making it.

When I develop executive resumes, I work backwards from that final impression for that reason.

For me, it’s all 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

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