The Do’s and Don’ts of Preparing a Great Executive Level Resume

Here at Lochlin, we look at thousands of resumes throughout the course of a year, so we’ve learned a thing or two about what makes an executive-level resume stand out.  Because we receive so many resumes daily, a candidate’s main goal should be to break through the clutter and catch our attention, but common mistakes – like funky formatting – can prevent that from happening.  While we are no proponents of the formulaic approach to resume writing, here are some things to consider when refreshing your resume for your next opportunity.

Don’t Get Creative with the Formatdreamstime_l_25070315

Executive search consultants want to be able to grasp information quickly. That means they can do without a long introduction or emotive, filler words like “results-oriented” and “efficient”.  Ideally, a resume should be clean and simple – no pictures, graphs, or colors.  There should be a brief executive summary (more on that below), a list of core competencies (optional), a summary of professional experiences, and education credentials at the bottom.  “I don’t like resumes in which I have to get to the third page to figure out where a candidate currently works,” says Pat Friel, Managing Partner.  “A resume should be clean, and in reverse chronological order.” And, contact information should always be included, preferably front and center.

Always Include an Executive Summary

“I’m a big proponent of the executive summary,” says Liza Wright, Managing Partner.  “It helps put the rest of the resume in context. It’s basically the elevator pitch.”  That being said, an executive summary should not take up half a page, but should be a couple of well-focused, compelling sentences that sum up all of a candidate’s experience in total.  An effective executive summary will define a candidate’s unique talents and demonstrate how he/she stands out from the competition.  It should grab a reader’s attention and carry that attention throughout the entire resume in a way that’s targeted, direct, and specific.

Don’t Forget the Details

While executive recruiters want to be able to grasp information quickly from a resume, that doesn’t mean they don’t want the details.  “I find it very helpful when candidates include a descriptor of a company as well as information on its metrics,” says Vickie Moore, Partner.  “Next to a company name, I like a descriptor in italics of what they do, how big they are, number of employees, if they are public or private, and so forth.”  These are the details that quickly help an executive recruiter make some summary judgments in the screening process and determine whether the role is a good fit.

Keep it Tight

Too often candidates are told that their resume should be no longer than one page.  We don’t believe that to be true.  A resume should be long enough to tell the story of your career.  It is a “product brochure” about you.  That being said, it’s a brochure, not an encyclopedia.  Your resume should tell your story in the fewest words possible, with a specific focus on your most recent accomplishments (so spend the most space providing detail around your most recent roles).   “You should be able to tell your career story through a resume that is no longer than one page for every 10 years of work experience,” says Pat Friel.  “For most of us, that is a resume in the two to three-page range.”

Keep it Consistent

Nowadays, executive recruiters and hiring managers will come into contact with a candidate’s online presence far before they ever see his/her paper resume.  What they find out about a candidate online – via LinkedIn or otherwise – will be the deciding factor of whether they make any initial contact with them whatsoever.  So, it’s imperative that all the content on a candidate’s resume is also reflected on their LinkedIn profile.  A LinkedIn profile should be detailed, current, and topped off with a professional headshot.

Make it About Results, Not Responsibilities

Oftentimes, executive-level candidates believe the resume is a medium in which he/she jots down what they have been responsible for throughout their career.  “The biggest mistake I see on resumes is that candidates focus too much on their responsibilities, not their accomplishments,” says Liza Wright.

So, for example, instead of this:

  • Oversaw a 12-person technology team

Write this:

  • Lead the migration to a new enterprise resource planning platform that was installed on-time and at budget. This new system has increased efficiency within the organization by 7% and resulted in $325,000 in cost savings.

The rewritten sentence describes an accomplishment the candidate is proud of, using measurable metrics and action verbs to pack some punch into those short bulleted phrases.

“When I do interviews, I always ask the candidate what they’ve accomplished,” says Liza Wright.  “Eight out of ten times they will go into an articulate explanation of all the wonderful accomplishments they’ve made that is nowhere on their resume.”  What makes a candidate stand out from the crowd is their actual achievements and the problems they were able to solve throughout the course of their career, so using a resume to highlight that is critical.