The Executive Resume: A Slightly Different Set of Rules

Rosalinda works for a US-based global company. Several years ago, she took over the Canadian division, which had been previously underperforming, and turned things around for the better. About six months ago, she seized an opportunity to share some of her strategic ideas and suggestions with upper management. They liked what she had to say and recently opened up a new VP position that is ideally suited to her, especially since it would involve implementing the initiatives she suggested. She wants to try for the promotion, so we worked together to overhaul her old resume. We took it from the mid-level manager resume she used when she first got hired to one that reflects the executive she’s become during her time with the company.

Rosalinda (not her real name, of course) is transitioning her career upward as a “new” executive, so it’s no surprise that she had a lot to learn about how to present herself in a new way through her resume. But, I’ve also worked with many seasoned executives who don’t seem to know that if you’re an executive, you should follow a slightly different set of rules when developing your resume.

Below you’ll find three particular reasons why the executive resume is so different from a regular resume.

By the way, I’m defining “executive” as executive directors, senior directors, vice presidents, c-level officers, board members, and anyone targeting a strategic leadership position in their career.

Length

For the individual contributor or the mid-level manager, we expect to see a two-page summarized resume that shows about 10-15 years of work history. Experience prior to 10-15 years ago can be displayed or not – it’s totally optional. However, for an executive, we want to see the career progression in full. Except, of course, for the minor jobs you had early on – there’s no need to show the job you had as a pizza delivery driver when you were in school.

There’s also plenty more information to be included on the first page in the first section, which is the profile or summary section. On a regular resume for a non-executive role, this section may be as short as one or two sentences, or it could be up to a half-page long. On the other hand, for some executive resumes, especially for c-level and vice president candidates, the profile or summary section fills the entire first page.

Because of these two factors – more years of experience and more information in the profile – the executive resume is usually three, sometimes even four, pages in length.

Executive Profile

As I just mentioned, the profile or summary section will, in most cases, take up the entire first page of the resume, and the content of that page is the second major reason why the executive resume is so different from a regular resume.

No matter what level your role – whether you’re an executive or not – the summary or profile section needs to tell about and show evidence of your value proposition. If you’re an executive, you also have to add in something about your leadership style, as well as incorporate more language regarding your strategic business acumen.

The executive’s profile will include the usual: a succinct positioning statement, industry-specific key words, and something about your unique value proposition. But it will also include key words that reflect strategic-level thinking and responsibilities – terms like “P&L,” “investor relations,” and “industry forecasting.”

The majority of resumes that I develop for clients include a career highlights section. On the typical resume, it’s a separate section that is sandwiched between the profile and the experience sections. Sometimes it will be included as part of the profile section rather than be inserted as a stand-alone section. However, with the executive resume, I always include it as part of the profile.

Competencies

Robin Kessler in her book, Competency Based Interviews, defines competencies as “the key characteristics that the most successful performers have that help them to be successful.” She points out that some organizations define competencies as “underlying characteristics, behavior, knowledge, and skills required to differentiate performance. They define what superior performers do more often, in more situations, with better results.”

According to Signe Spenser from the Hay Group, these are the 10 most common competencies (not listed in any particular order) desired by companies:

  • Achievement/Results Orientation
  • Organizational
  • Initiative
  • Analytical
  • Impact and Influence
  • Conceptual Thinking
  • Customer Service
  • Information Seeking
  • Interpersonal
  • Integrity

Now, here’s a summary of what executives need to be able to do according to Loren Appelbaum and Matthew Paese, Ph.D., in their white paper “What Senior Leaders Do: The Nine Roles Of Strategic Leadership”:

  • Navigator
  • Strategist
  • Entrepreneur
  • Mobilizer
  • Talent Advocate
  • Captivator
  • Global Thinker
  • Change Driver
  • Enterprise Guardian

As you can see by the two lists above, the executive resume also differs from a regular resume because of what competencies will be emphasized. To develop a stellar executive resume, you not only need to include some of these (I usually recommend picking your top 3) competencies, you also need to provide evidence of how the competencies you’re choosing to emphasize have shown up as part of your leadership style.

Straightforward “Rules”

Even though the executive resume follows a slightly different set of rules, those “rules” are pretty straightforward and make a lot of sense. What all resumes have in common is that they all need to provide more than just a career chronology. Everyone, including the non-executive, needs to show something unique about him/herself in order to stand out. With the executive resume, there’s one more step, and that’s to show what it is about you that makes you uniquely effective as a strategic-level leader of people and organizations.

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