Recruiters Explain What Makes a Strong Executive Resume
With so much information on what makes a good resume floating around on the internet, it can be difficult to figure out what actually works.
Much of what you find can also be contradictory, misleading, or blatantly incorrect.
We asked recruiters to provide their views on common questions we receive regarding the content and formatting of executive resumes:
- What is the most important thing you look for in an executive resume?
- What format do you find to be the most effective and professional?
- How long should an executive resume be?
- What are your pet peeves when it comes to resumes?
Whether you are an experienced C-level executive or just starting your career, their perspectives should provide valuable insights into what will impress a recruiter and what can lead them to move onto the next applicant.
Garland is the Principal of Garland Source, an executive and management recruiting firm for the trucking, transportation, and logistics sectors.
Hill is the CEO and Chairman of The Energists, an executive search and recruitment firm specializing in the oil and gas, power and utilities, and renewable energy sectors.
Holtzhauer is a Headhunter & President of Holtz & Bernard, a recruitment firm for attorneys.
Lynch is a Recruitment Expert and Director at Teaching Abroad Direct, a UK-based job board for teachers looking for jobs abroad.
Rosenstein is the Founder of The Rosenstein Group, a recruitment firm for e-commerce, martech, and supply chain industries.
Schochet is the President and Founder of Purple Squirrel Advisors, a retained search firm specializing in C-level and senior executive leadership roles.
What is the most important thing you look for in an executive resume?
At the executive level, there is no room for vague writing or broad high-level statements.
Our recruiters agreed that executive resumes should focus on the tangible impact candidates made on each organization they were a part of.
Simply put, companies want to see evidence that you will add value to their bottom lines.
Hill: “By the time a candidate reaches the executive level, they should be able to showcase their strengths and back them up with tangible accomplishments that demonstrate they’ve made an impact in their previous roles.”
Lynch: “Their [content] should be data-focused, providing clear-cut action and outcome descriptions. We want to understand what impact this individual is going to have on the bottom line.”
Rosenstein: “I want to see hard results and achievements…. Not just in words, but more importantly, in numbers. Someone who is gunning for a top-management position must show their capacity to provide high-level solutions to the macro problems that any company has to deal with.”
Garland: “Your resume [should demonstrate] that you are an impact player, able to drive change and make improvements, [and] solve pain. Make that clear and visible.”
Schochet: “It is important that an executive-level resume includes a [summary that] highlights tangible financial and business accomplishments.”
What format do you find to be the most effective and professional?
At the executive level, content always trumps format, so there is no need to attempt standing out using fancy fonts or designs.
While recruiters expect an elevated level of attention to detail and clean, professional formatting, a conventional black and white design works well for most professionals.
Rosenstein: “A clean, minimalist style is preferred for an executive resume. It is best to stick to no more than 2 fonts – one for the headers and the other for the body. A modest black and white design… is a safe bet even when applying for positions in the creative industries.”
Holtzhauer: “The safe bet is to use the tried and true traditional black and white design. Ultimately, it comes down to the content. Modern stands out more, but in terms of professionalism, it depends on the industry.”
Hill: “I am always drawn to substance over style.”
Garland: “Looking for a job is tough. Don’t let formatting issues add an unknown hurdle. Pictures, big initials, and funky address formats might make your resume import poorly into a company’s internal applicant system.”
Lynch: “For most executive roles, a simple format is best, and it’s quick and easy to read for all decision makers. For creatives roles and companies, it’s somewhat expected to receive a creative resume with colors and symbols.”
How long should an executive resume be?
The consensus is that an executive resume should be two pages long (and a maximum of three).
Schochet: “Generally, we expect an executive resume to be 2 pages and not to exceed 3 pages.”
Holtzhauer: “No more than two pages and down to one if you can. Mark Twain said it best when he said, ‘If I had more time, I would write a shorter letter.’ Be clear and concise.”
Rosenstein: “A good rule of thumb is to try and keep the resume to a maximum of two pages long. Including only the accomplishments, experience, and qualifications that are most relevant to the position you are applying for will keep you from over-stuffing your resume, allowing you to stick to the two-page limit.”
Hill: “I prefer 2 pages but would say 3 pages at most. If the hiring manager wants to see your entire career history, they’ll ask for your CV.”
Garland: “Trying to get executive experience onto one page usually isn’t realistic. Ideally 2-3 pages.”
What are your pet peeves when it comes to resumes?
Recruiters expect high-quality documents from senior-level candidates.
The information you present should relate back to your target role, leveraging specific examples of accomplishments to demonstrate why you would make a strong fit.
Needless to say, your resume’s content also needs to be free from any factual, spelling, or grammar errors.
Hill: “I find any of the standard resume faux paux especially troublesome in executive resumes. Anyone applying for C-level positions should have enough experience to avoid simple mistakes like typos and hyperbolic language.”
Schochet: “We instantly pass over candidates if there is a lack of attention to detail, inconsistent fonts, or the resume looks like it has not been overhauled in many years.”
Rosenstein: “One faux paux I still see with executive-level job applicants is including an objective statement in the resume instead of crafting a well-thought-out executive summary that highlights your core areas of expertise, accomplishments, and how you can help the company in your role.”
Hill, continued: “One specific ‘instant no’ for me is in the inclusion of irrelevant personal information like hobbies, interests, or volunteer organizations. Candidates at the executive level should have more than enough professional experience to fill a resume.”
Lynch: “My pet peeves include spelling and grammatical errors, inclusion of details about irrelevant personal and professional experiences, lies about qualifications and fulfilment of professional responsibilities, and lack of expansion on key actions, projects, or campaigns.”
At Resume Pilots, our mission is to deliver resumes that drive results, and we very much in agreement the responses quoted above.
Your resume often serves as your first impression, and when your future career is at stake, we recommend playing it safe and sticking to a proven strategy.
Additional Recruiter Perspectives
Read more recruiter perspectives on the following topics:
- 10 Tips for Working with Recruiters
- Recruitment Trends for 2021
- Good Questions to Ask During an Interview
- How to Address Employment Gaps
- Sending Interview Thank You Notes
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.