How To Write A Modern Executive Resume & Make Your Career Take Off

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writing executive resume
Irene McConnell
6 min read

February 4, 2022

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Your executive resume is not a shortlist of your previous roles. It’s a strategic marketing document that showcases your commercial value to a potential employer by saying, “hire me for this position –  this is how I am uniquely qualified”.

With the Australian economy in full post-COVID recovery mode, executives are well-placed to cash in on labour shortages. Great roles are up for grabs and employers are willing to up remuneration to secure the right candidates.

Australian Bureau of Statistics job vacancies

To help you land an executive role in 2022, your executive resume must adhere to a set of strictly defined protocols.

get a spectacular resume

Executive recruiters expect to see:

  • A very specific format.
  • Sharp language.
  • The ability to sell yourself as a candidate of choice.

Unfortunately, a lot of executive-level job seekers make the common mistake of ignoring recruiters’ expectations and either trying to “wing it” or plagiarising job descriptions of their target roles.

This strategy backfires because job descriptions are notoriously generic in nature. They’re often written by office juniors who don’t fully grasp the commercial context of roles.

A resume ‘inspired’ by these job descriptions ends up painting you as a very underwhelming, middle-of-the-road candidate.

Follow the 10 steps below to ensure that your executive resume sets you apart and helps you land a great role in 2022.

resume-writing-for-executives

 

1. What Is The Correct Length Of An Executive Resume?

Aim for 2-4 pages. Where your resume falls on that spectrum will be determined by:

  • Length of your career.
  • Your seniority.
  • Geographical location of your target company (North American companies expect 2-3 pages while Australian companies prefer 3-4).

If you’re struggling to keep your executive resume within these limits, remember that it’s not intended to be a novel of everything that you’ve done in your life. Focus on:

  • Stripping away achievements that are not aligned with your target role. 
  • Culling buzzwords, hyperbole and self-evident statements from your profile.

Pay attention to the content spillover on the last page. Ideally, it should be at least ½ page long.

If you find that the spill is only a couple of lines or paragraphs, consider trimming some upstream content or adjusting the formatting (e.g., decreasing margin sizes or line heights).

(Related: Resume Grammatical Errors That Make You Look Dumb).

 

2. How Many Roles Should You Include?

As a rule of thumb, aim to provide comprehensive insight into the past 15 years of your career. Beyond that time frame, offer a shortlist of roles in a standalone section titled “Previous Roles”.

If your interviewer wants to know about those, they’ll ask you for details during your interview.

(Related: Best Interview Questions Executives Should Ask Employers).

 

3. What Is The Best Formatting?

Remember that Australian and North American recruiters do not require you to include your:

  • Marital status.
  • Photograph.
  • Place of birth.
  • Date of birth.
  • Number of children.
  • Religious affiliations. 

Your street address can also be omitted.

Ensure that your contact email address is modern, professional and reflective of your personal brand. You may have been using tommo272@hotmail.com for the past 10 years, but it is probably no longer aligned with who you are.

Remember to add your LinkedIn profile URL and links to any other relevant websites that you own.

“Relevant” is the key term there. A link to a blog where you interview other leaders in your industry is OK; a link to your travel blog probably isn’t.

Resist the urge to add text boxes, columns and tables because they don’t get parsed well by Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS). While ATS technology has improved significantly in recent years, some versions may struggle – and your resume will fall through the cracks.

Use fonts that demonstrate that you’re staying with the times.

Don’t use Times New Roman. Instead, use Calibri or Opens Sans.

Feel free to use colouring, underlining and bolding to add emphasis and texture. For example, you can bold your name, section headings and your roles.

You can also add colour to those, but keep it subtle and professional – think deep blues rather than bright yellows.

executive-resume-writer

 

4. What Language Should You Use? 

The four key principles of effective writing are:

  1. Clarity. Say what you mean without confusion.
  2. Simplicity. Reduce clutter and meaningless words.
  3. Brevity. Strip your writing down to its essentials.
  4. Humanity. Allow your personality to come through.

These principles apply to all writing – not just executive resume writing. If you’re interested in learning to be a better writer, I unpack the above principles here.

 

5. What Is An Executive Summary?

This is a 5-10-sentence section that summarises your commercial value in narrative form. You’re telling the reader what results you’re known for delivering.

Are you an executive leader who drives revenue in emerging markets? Or are you a transformational leader who specialises in turnarounds? 

  • Resist the temptation to describe yourself using meaningless cliches like “dynamic and energetic”. (What does that even mean?).
  • Remove self-evident, fluffy statements like “strategic leader focused on growth”. That would add value to the reader only if there was a market need for non-strategic leaders who are not focused on growth.
  • Avoid stuffing this section with keywords solely for the purpose of impressing the ATS. While ATS optimisation is important, it must be done artfully, in a way that doesn’t repel the human reader.

The key to nailing the executive summary is identifying the crossroads of your key strengths.

For example:

  • Do you have a passion for renewables?
  • What is your leadership style?
  • What size teams do you specialise in leading?

Taking those into consideration, you could describe yourself as:

“A transformational ASX100 CEO with a 10-year track record of driving profitability in clean energy organisations. Offering a consultative leadership style, I partner with….”

 

6. How To Sell Your Work Experience?

Write in reverse chronological order. Ensure that your current role is listed at the top. Under each of your roles, provide 1-2 sentences that describe that role and the company:

  • Why were you hired into that role?
  • What was the business context around that role?
  • What type of company was it?

Remember that you only have 2-4 pages of real estate. Every. Word. Counts. Resist the temptation to fluff up the content. Instead:

  • Demonstrate size and scope: size of P&L, number of direct reports, etc.
  • Unpack business context: who did you report to, how did you get the role?
  • Quantify! Strengthen your accomplishments by providing concrete, measured results.
  • Offer 3-6 accomplishments for your most recent 2-3 roles and reduce the number as you go back further in time.

If you’ve held multiple positions at the same company, do not lump them together. Demonstrate career growth and trajectory by showing individual accomplishments for each position.

Keep asking “so what?” to drill down into your accomplishment and to make it more impactful.

You lead a team. So what? It achieved 200% growth. So what? That growth translated into greater market share. So what? It helped the company expand to new regions. So what?

You get my point.

If you have an employment gap on your resume, don’t attempt to hide or mask it. Position it in the best possible light – and be prepared to talk about that in your interview. If you did any volunteer work during this time, be sure to mention it.

 

7. How To Write About Your Education?

Yes, you do need to include education on your resume.

Be sure to omit years of degrees to make sure you don’t age yourself out of any position. If you haven’t yet finished a degree that you’ve started, write “in progress”.

 

8. Should You Include Awards?

Yes. Add elements that round you out as a job seeker and demonstrate your commitment to continuous learning. For example:

  • Licenses and certifications.
  • Professional affiliations.
  • Awards and recognitions.
  • Courses.
  • Community service.

9. Leverage The Worker Drought.

Have you considered a career change?

The Australian job market is currently being buffeted by post-COVID skills shortages, which makes it a favourable time to pull off a career transition.

Research industries and states that present the most favourable conditions and regularly check job boards for roles that match your background.

States With Highest Job Vacancies
February 20 May 20 August 20 November 20 February 21 May 21 August 21 November 21
% % % % % % % %
New South Wales 12.1 5.8 11.6 15.1 19.6 22.9 19.4 22.3
Victoria 11.2 6 11.5 15.5 18 22 18.8 21.2
Queensland 10.4 10.5 13.7 12.9 17.4 22.6 26.9 20
South Australia 8.1 2.9 8.8 9.1 15.7 15.6 13.1 14.7
Western Australia 10.2 5.5 15.6 16.7 16.3 21.7 21.5 19.5
Tasmania 8.3 4.5 10.7 14.2 17.8 21.8 15.1 18.5
Northern Territory 9.2 6.7 20.7 21 21.8 26.5 20.8 23.1
Australian Capital Territory 9.4 3.5 4.7 17.3 12.1 13.8 9.4 13.4

10. Don’t Let Your Executive Resume Stagnate.

Remember that the resume is a live document. It’s best to pull it out every quarter and add update it with your most recent accomplishments.

If you try to do it a few years after the fact, you’ll find it a lot more difficult. Block out 1 hour in your calendar in advance every quarter – and invest that time in keeping your resume up to date.

 

– Irene

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