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You’ve had a stellar career and have always gotten jobs through personal connections, internal promotions and headhunters. This means that you’ve never needed a resume. People knew about your achievements either first hand or through word of mouth.
This time around, you’re job hunting – and your executive resume is about 15 years out of date. What do you do?
Blindly Copying Executive Resume Examples Is A Bad Idea.
Doing so won’t save you time, or money, in the long run. And it certainly won’t help you take the fastest path to the CEO job. Here’s why…
Most online executive resume examples are created off of job descriptions. Which means they end up being task-, responsibility- and buzzword-based – all of the things a recruiter would expect from a much more junior-level candidate.
Tasks and responsibilities say nothing about your unique ability to solve commercial business problems. Buzzwords simply fill space. All of which adds up to a dull executive resume that has no power to sell you.
Allow me to illustrate:
“Highly skilled, multifaceted leader, responsible for directing organisational change program, implementing new business process improvements, systems and people and encouraging improved efficiencies, effectiveness and reduced costs.”
An executive resume written in this style will fail to demonstrate why you should be hired over any of the other executives who you’re competing against.
In other words, it will make you look like everyone else. Compare it with:
“Reduced operating costs by $500,000 and improved efficiency by 22% through transformational change program.”
Which of these two candidates ‘packs more punch’ for you?
Jimi Hendrix, widely accepted as the most original guitarist in history, said:
“I’ve been imitated so well, I’ve heard people copy my mistakes”.
How, then, to shine like a Hendrix?
Here’s how: through your value proposition.
Define Your Value Proposition.
Hold on, you’re thinking.
One minute you’re hunting for a template, and the next minute I’m hitting you with some marketing lingo. But don’t run away just yet.
Succinctly explained, your USP expresses your distinct ability to solve commercially relevant business problems within your field and/or for your employers of choice.
Your USP should drive the narrative and content of your resume — something a template could never pull off. And something even most professional resume writers often struggle to do well.
Done right, your USP will allow you to see yourself through an entirely new lens, weaving together points of interest from your career into a compelling narrative that positions each of your career moves as strategic and connects them to your deeper purpose.
Deeper purpose? And you just came for an executive resume template.
Now You’re Faced With An Important Decision.
Go for the quick fix, or go all-in and invest in your future.
To decide this at warp speed, answer this question without delay: did you become a successful business leader by taking the fastest and easiest route?
No, I didn’t think so.
Yet the fact remains that you need a resume soon. Believe me, I get it. If you want to make sure that your executive resume is done 200% right, consider using my premium resume writing services in Sydney and Melbourne instead of downloading an executive resume template.
15 Executive Resume Writing Tips.
While you’re mulling it over, here are 15 tips to set your executive resume on the right track.
1. Delete Your Objective Statement.
There was a time when an “Objective Statement” was a popular way to kick off an executive resume.
It most often came in the form of a nebulous, generic career goal. For example:
“To obtain an executive position in a Fortune 500 company where I can utilise my management skills.”
While this is a valid goal, it should not take up the most precious real estate on your executive resume. Replace it with a “Professional Profile” section instead.
2. Include An Outstanding Cover Letter.
Some resume writers will tell you that cover letters are worthless; others passionately disagree.
The critics of cover letters point to research which suggests that 86% of recruiters and hiring managers toss your cover letter aside without reading it.
The supporters of cover letters (including me) point out that this statistic misses the bigger picture.
For example, a cover letter that is initially ignored might be used later to add context to an application when a recruiter is trying to split hairs between two applicants.
It’s also worth noting that most cover letters are, quite frankly, terrible. Combine it with the fact that recruiters are incredibly good at assessing a cover letter with just one glance and I’m not surprised to hear that over 86% are not read.
The real question that remains is – how many outstanding cover letters get read? My bet is, it’s a lot more than 14%. Point is – it’s best to include a cover letter, even if just to be safe.
3. Hammer Home Your Achievements.
As I indicated earlier, your resume is not just a summary of your titles and responsibilities. You must illustrate your value through a strong list of your achievements.
Use strong verbs and, wherever possible, quantify your wins. For example:
“Reached X objective(s) every quarter for Y quarters in a row exceeding target by Z%.”
“Saved $10 million annually by reducing fixed spending by 10% and variable overhead spending by 14% through cost-improvement initiatives.”
“Improved customer service satisfaction by 4% annually through supply chain management initiatives and flexible manufacturing practices.”
4. Maintain Strict Focus.
Executive recruiters tend to view you as a peg of a certain shape, which they must fit into a matching hole.
If you’re a senior executive with a wealth of experience, you might be tempted to help recruiters see you as a fit for more roles by writing an executive resume which covers all aspects of your career.
Doing this would be a catastrophic mistake – because it would position you as a jack-of-all-trades. Somewhat suitable for all roles, but not ideally suited for any.
Your executive resume should focus on one of a few of your key strengths, and consistently emphasise them throughout.
For example, if in your Professional Profile section you say that you’re particularly skilled at leading Australian businesses into Asia, make sure that the rest of your resume you provide concrete examples of successes in this area.
(If you’re applying for more than one type of senior leadership role, create a different executive resume for each).
Summarise older roles from more than ten years ago in an “Earlier Career History” section.
5. Get The Length Of Your Executive Resume Right.
Keeping the length of your executive resume under control is important, however remember that this goal must be finely balanced with the requirement to deliver a powerful message about your capabilities.
There are exceptions, however, as a general guide, a resume of a senior professional will be around 4-5 pages.
6. Use Australian English.
I speak with many executives who have spent a considerable part of their career in the U.S.
For them, the line between Australian and US spelling has become blurry and they use, for example, “specialise” and “specialize” interchangeably.
When applying for a role in Australia, remember that it’s best to demonstrate your familiarity with the local culture by ensuring that Australian spelling and grammar are used throughout your executive resume.
7. Do Not Include References.
This is another hotly debated topic amongst HR professionals, recruiters and executive resume writers. Some will tell you to leave them out, others will tell you that they’re essential.
In my experience, “References Available Upon Request” works best in the current Australian context.
Referee information serves no useful purpose in the initial stages of the process.
8. Make It Look Great.
Avoid cramming your executive resume with text in an attempt to “fit it all of the relevant information”.
Remember that recruiters of today are extremely UX (user-experience) sensitive.
They’re used to consuming content through websites that are designed with readability in mind.
An executive resume that is crammed to the brim with an 8-point font will have no power to hold their attention because they’re accustomed to skimming through content, rather than reading it.
9. Do Final Checks.
This point sounds almost too basic to be necessary to mention, but it’s a necessary one. Spell check your resume – by asking a friend or colleague to read over it.
It amazes me how bad our brains are at picking up on the mistakes that we’ve made.
This happens to me every time I write a blog post. I often re-read it 3-4 times until I’m UTTERLY CONVINCED that there are no mistakes in it. Then I ask someone next to me to proofread it and they’ll find 2-3 mistakes.
10. Remove Your Photograph.
In Australia, including your photograph on your executive resume is completely and utterly unnecessary.
If you are hoping that your professional good looks will get you an interview, they most likely will only get you a few laughs going around the recruiter’s office.
I know, because I’ve seen it happen. Don’t have it happen to you.
11. Remove Your DOB, Marital Status And Religious Beliefs.
You don’t want your age or religious dispositions to influence recruiters. Do not include any information that could be used to discriminate against you.
12. Avoid The Shotgun Approach.
Do you have a habit of hitting “APPLY” button a few dozen times each day, uploading the same (or similar) executive resume for each role?
It’s easy to tell.
Usually, it means that your executive resume and cover letter will be not perfectly aligned to each other and/or to the role. Other tell-tale signs are: you get the recruiter’s name wrong, you make a mistake when writing the job name, date it was advertised, etc.
Some of my executive clients have told me that, before they came to see me, they’ve applied for about a dozen roles per week.
Doing this has ongoing consequences – the recruiters remember your name and begin to associate it with “that person who spams me every time I advertise”.
The recruiting world is smaller than you think; if you drag your name through the dirt, it will be more difficult to get a call-back even when you put a good application in.
13. Kill Off The 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.
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:
- 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.
14. Don’t Be Subservient.
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 (read my full guide to using action verbs in a senior-level resume).
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.
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:
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:
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.
15. Cut Down On 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“.
5 Bonus Tips For A Successful Executive Job Search.
If you haven’t looked for an executive role in the last 10 years, or you’ve only recently dipped your toe in the proverbial waters, you no doubt realise how much the job search landscape has changed.
As you begin to look for your next senior leadership role, be mindful not to commit the following errors of judgement.
- Don’t be vague about your career goals. Yes, you’re an experienced leader. And yes, you could probably succeed at many things. However, that’s not going to help you (or an executive recruiter) decide what you should – or should not – apply for. The first order of business is to be clear on the kind of work you want to do, where you want to do it, and at which organisations. This degree of clarity will also serve to strengthen your executive resume, rescuing it from the throes of generic mediocrity.
- Have a polished online presence. If you’re still neglecting your professional online presence, it’s time to step into the digital age. Executive recruiters and hiring managers will be searching on LinkedIn for viable leadership talent. And if you’re not there – or you’re not presenting yourself in the best possible light – the opportunity will pass you by. At the bare minimum, make sure that your headshot is sharp and your LinkedIn profile summary clearly explains which organisational problems you’re known for solving. Plus, social media is one of the most effective ways of establishing thought leadership.
- Don’t fail to commit. Remember the old adage “finding a job is a full-time job”? Well, as a business leader, the level of commitment required is even more intense. It’s a simple matter of math. At your level of seniority, there are far fewer suitable job openings to choose from. So it’s crucial that you block off time in your busy schedule for your job search. Activities such as networking, searching specific company sites that interest you and getting your executive resume in order aren’t quick feats. All of these demand devoted time and energy. Bring your A-Game to this task, just as you have throughout your career.
- Don’t limit yourself to advertised jobs. The truth is, only 30% of available jobs are ever actually advertised. And the executive level, this percentage is likely even lower. Here’s an easy way to begin. Research companies that interest you on LinkedIn. Connect with someone there, or follow the company. Knowing what they’re up to could be your first step toward developing relationships with their influencers, or with their executive recruiters.
- Don’t neglect your current network. While you pursue new connections, don’t forget where you came from. Tap into the breadth of the network you’ve cultivated throughout your career. Remember those you trust the most. Let them know you’re seeking new challenges (be as specific as possible) and they may provide you with leads or inform you of opportunities that never made it into a job ad.