Top mistakes on executive resumes – and how to avoid them

Posted by Oliver Hogue on 13/11/2018
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Executives are the men and women occupying some of the highest-paying jobs in the construction, property and engineering sectors. They have great responsibilities to shareholders and staff, and negotiate corporate deals where the detail is everything. 

But excelling in a top-level position doesn’t always mean you can market yourself effectively, which is why many executives have trouble writing resumes. 

Here are the top mistakes that executives make in their resumes, and tips on how to avoid them. 

Hit those key selection criteria keywords

According to career coaches, a common mistake on executive resumes is that selection criteria keywords are missing. It’s a peculiar flaw, since including keywords is Resume Writing 101 and executives are supposed to be beyond the basics. 

Just like Google’s search engine, applicant tracking systems and tired recruiters scanning their hundredth application are looking for keywords. In SEO, these are the words the searcher wants the result associated with; and the same principle is at work with resumes. 

If a key criteria is the management of a team of 40 or more on at least five international projects, you must flag that clearly. Never mind that you are a well-known and respected authority in your sector – if a selection criteria is not in the resume, it can’t be taken into account.  

Start with the premise that the recruiters know nothing about you, and hit those key selection criteria on the head one by one. 

Failing to demonstrate results

The CAR model is a structure that tells a story, and recruiters love a good story. CAR stands for challenge/context, action, result. As an executive, this means you need to demonstrate that you can intercede in a situation, take action and produce results. 

For example, you inherit a team of unmotivated, lazy sales staff. You discover that they are unmotivated because their monthly targets are too easy to reach. You introduce a second tier of targets, much harder to attain, but more rewarding financially. After two weeks, sales increase by 16% and continue climbing to 33% after six months. 

The challenge is motivating lazy staff; the action is the new sales targets; the result is improved sales. By using the CAR method, you’ve demonstrated an ability to conceive a solution and carry it through. 

Using wordy, long-winded language 

As an executive you should inspire confidence and display fortitude, and you should express yourself in a similar fashion. 

“Facilitated the optimisation of account manager incentives while remaining responsible for improving ongoing processes for more agile stakeholder consultancy.” This is uninspiring, wishy-washy, elusive – as if the writer is covering something up with verbiage. 

On the other hand, this sounds like someone means business: 

“Amplified sales team incentives, and fast-tracked a new stakeholder consultation program.” 

To stand out from the rest of the candidates you need to show that you can do the same job, but more dynamically and with less fuss. Your resume should reflect that too. 

It’s an introduction, not a bio

Finally, a big bugbear of busy recruiters is the introduction as long as War and Peace. What you should be doing is telling the recruiter why you deserve your six-figure salary; that is, show them your value. 

That means being succinct. If you try to list all your skills and achievements at the start of the resume, you will wind up with a very long (and unreadable) shopping list.

Rather than that, take three or four of your key skills and make them the core of your introduction. 

Strangely, recruiters say the other flaw in executive resumes is the lack of a main heading. If you are a marketing executive, then Marketing Executive should be at the top of your resume. It’s simple psychology: as soon as the recruiter picks up your resume, that’s what they see. 

Those words supply the context in which recruiters will read the rest of the resume. If it has done its job, they will agree with you one hundred per cent by the time they’ve finished.

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