Expert Tips for Executive Resume Content and Formatting
If you're making over six figures as an executive or senior manager, you're playing in the big leagues when it comes to recruitment.
For senior executives, the stakes are high.
Because your resume is often a recruiter's first impression, you need to make sure that it nothing short of perfect.
The risk of missing out on a potential opportunity because you failed to clearly articulate your accomplishments or fully convey the value you bring to an organization simply isn’t worth it.
Our executive resume writers have crafted effective documents for CEOs, Managing Directors, and Senior Directors in industries including real estate, finance, pharmaceuticals, and technology.
In this post, we share our insights on:
- How our writers approach resumes for senior leaders
- How long an executive resume should be
- How to write and format your resume for maximum impact
- How to optimize your resume for ATS
How Our Executive Resume Writers Approach Resumes for Senior Leaders
Executive resume content differs slightly from that of more junior resumes.
When working a senior candidate, our writers ensure that the resume’s focus is primarily on high-level accomplishments and contributions you made to an organization - not simply daily responsibilities.
While the bullet points on junior candidate's resume will likely describe day-to-day tasks and the types of analyses the candidate conducted, we make sure to convey the bigger picture.
A well-written executive resume should highlight tangible factors such as the following:
- Scope of work (number of locations managed, project value, P&L value)
- Relevant financial metrics (budgets managed, costs and/or time saved, revenue increased)
- Strategic goals accomplished
- Initiatives led or implemented
- Team leadership ability and size of team
- Partnerships created
- Sales achieved or deals closed
How Long an Executive Resume Should Be
Our general guidance when it comes to resume length is that less is more.
In our opinion, even the President of the United States should be able to put together a strong one-page document.
If you are in a senior leadership position, however, you may realistically need two pages to effectively convey your accomplishments.
Your overarching goal should be to create a resume that is as concise as possible, neatly formatted, and easy to read.
Think of your resume as a movie preview.
It should be a 30-second clip of what the reader can expect to learn more about when they meet you during the hour-long interview.
Each bullet point needs to add value, and you should not have any "fluff" that inflates or excessively boasts about your accomplishments.
Let your experience speak for itself.
If you hold a senior position, your career growth already demonstrates that you are a "strong team leader" and "ambitious, driven professional."
You don’t need to put such generic, empty phrases down on paper.
In addition to serving as a personal marketing tool, your resume provides a sample of your business writing and communication skills.
As an executive, you need to demonstrate that you are a clear, concise, and effective communicator - not simply a big talker.
How to Write and Format Your Resume for Maximum Impact
In this section, we explain how our writers approach each resume component.
We also included screenshots from executive resume samples to demonstrate the best practices discussed so you can implement them in your document.
Your heading should include your name, any professional designations, and contact information.
You can also include the link to your LinkedIn profile.
We don’t recommend a career highlights or professional summary section for junior candidates.
For executives, we sometimes use a career highlights section to provide concrete evidence of achievements and career progression.
Professional summaries that consist of generic buzzwords don’t sound believable without any evidence to back up their statements, so make sure that yours incorporates concrete facts and examples.
We typically try to stick to a maximum of 4-6 bullet points, as they're easier to skim than longer paragraphs.
We wrote the following career highlights section for a candidate working in the financial services sector:
The summary above is effective because it accomplishes the following goals:
- Demonstrates career progression
- Describes major accomplishments
- Articulates niche or sector expertise
- Quantifies the value contributed and scope of responsibility
- Provides evidence of leadership ability (internal and external)
When describing each role in the professional experience section, we make sure to focus on achievement-based elements such as:
- Strategic goals and their implementation
- Financial results
- Partnerships forged
- Revenue generation
- Leadership ability
You can also consider including more general responsibilities in paragraph format before jumping into bullet points that convey your key achievements and contributions.
Take a look at the following example from a resume for a Vice President in the online learning sector.
By separating day-to-day tasks from achievements, we are able to:
- Draw attention to the highlights: We make sure that recruiters can easily pick out major accomplishments. You don’t want to bury yours among less impressive - albeit important - information.
- Organize the resume: Separating your responsibilities from your achievements is a clear, logical way to structure your document, demonstrating that you have effective business communication skills.
The bulk of your resume’s content should focus on your most recent positions.
Because it is still important to provide an overview of your career progression and background, we usually include positions that candidates held over 10 years ago in an early career section.
For brevity's sake, we only include company names, position titles, and dates for these roles.
By including an outline of your early career history, you are able to:
- Demonstrate the breadth and depth of your experience if you worked in different industries and positions
- Increase your credibility
- Refrain from overwhelming recruiters with too much information (if they’re curious about an earlier role, they’ll ask)
In this section, include all of the degrees you earned from post-secondary institutions.
Unless you recently completed your program, you don’t need to include elements such as:
- Relevant courses
- Extracurricular involvement
Certifications and Professional Development
If you completed any certificate programs or professional development courses, list them separately from your education.
You should always include:
- Granting organization
- Certification name
- Date earned
- Expiration date (if applicable)
List board or committee service that are relevant to your target positions under a "Board Membership" or "Board Involvement" heading.
The section below, taken from a commercial real estate resume sample, demonstrates the candidate’s involvement in helping a smaller firm and non-profit organization expand:
This section can enhance your document by demonstrating your skills or industry knowledge that go beyond your sector of expertise.
It's also a reflection of your leadership ability and shows that you are respected in your industry or community.
For each position, include:
- Name of the organization
- Dates of service
- Position title (Chairman of the Board, President, Board Member)
- Description of the capacity in which you are involved (if significant and you have room)
If you hold multiple board memberships, you may wish to only highlight or only elaborate upon the most relevant ones - especially if your document is on the longer end.
How to Optimize Your Resume for Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)
Because so much of executive-level recruiting takes place through recruiters or industry connections, ATS optimization isn't as much of a concern as it would be for more junior candidates.
However, it is still best practice to optimize your resume for ATS.
Even when working on executive resumes, we make sure to thoroughly read through the job description and naturally incorporate relevant keywords throughout our clients' documents.
By doing so, we are able to accomplish two goals:
- Optimize the resume for ATS
- Ensure that we are touching upon the qualities and skills recruiters will be looking for
In executive recruiting, connections and industry expertise are essential to landing new roles.
However, the way you present yourself on paper reflects on your personal brand, attention to detail, and overall professionalism.
Put your best foot forward by implementing the steps above and avoid gimmicks that can damage your credibility, and you’ll be one step closer to your next big career move.
About Resume Pilots
Resume Pilots is an award-winning executive resume writing, career coaching, and outplacement firm. Our previous clients include CEOs and senior executives at the world's leading companies.
Here's how we can help you:
Resume, Cover Letter, and LinkedIn Writing: After a one-hour phone consultation, one of our expert writers will prepare your top-quality personal marketing materials from scratch.
Career Transitions: A powerful combination of our document writing and career coaching services helps position you to secure a new role.
We're a proud member of the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches. All of our writers have studied in the Ivy League and other top-tier universities and have solid industry experience.