Creating an Exceptional Executive Résumé: Do’s and Don’ts

It may be surprising to some, but HR reps typically look at a résumé for a grand total of 6.25 seconds before deciding if a candidate is a good fit for a job, according to a new study on recruiter decision-making.  If you are wondering what they Executive resume_blue figure on targetcould possibly scan for in such a short amount of time, that would be simply, your name, current and previous jobs’ start-and-end dates, and education.

Therefore, it’s more important than ever to create a clear, concise and relevant résumé, so that not only will yours make it past the first 6.25 seconds, there will be an accurate depiction of you and your abilities, presented in the next 13.75.

So, with this in mind, here are some major “do’s and don’ts” for creating an exceptional executive résumé:


  1.  DO highlight applicable and relevant experience.  At this point in your career, you should not be sending out 100 résumés a day like a college senior.  The number one rule of executive résumés is that you are sending a unique résumé to each corporation you are applying to, tailored for and targeted to that particular position.  Your résumé should highlight specific accomplishments, skills and experience that are relevant to perform that specific job.


  1. DON’T include obvious skills or unrelated hobbies and volunteer experience. If you were in publicity, obviously you’d know how to establish and maintain media relations.  If you were in finance management, you’d have finance software and staff managing skills.  Don’t state the obvious – highlight skills that make you stand out.  Also, while you should mention extraordinary personal accomplishments that may show off your soft skills, no recruiter will care if you are active in a book club or volunteer at your child’s bake sales.  In other words, remain relevant to your purpose.


  1. DO utilize powerful action verbs. Every recruiter is tired of seeing the same verbs on every résumé: led, handles, managed, responsible for. Get creative and use more powerful verbs such as achieved, increased, resolved, chaired, controlled, coordinated, engineered and established. Time™ magazine published an extensive list to reference.  You should also consider avoiding adverbs such as skillfully, effectively or successfully, as they imply redundancy.  If a skill is on your résumé, recruiters assume you do it well.


  1. DON’T use negative phrases or adjectives, even to highlight a positive aspect. Using words that have a negative connotation even if they are used in a positive light, can damage a résumé.  Stating that you set aggressive goals for a department or fixed a problem can affect a recruiter subconsciously in a negative way.  Choose more positive words like ambitious and solution [oriented] instead.  Other commonly used adjectives to avoid are dynamic, strong, and even experienced, which believe it or not, can also give a less than impressive reflection of your skills.


  1. DO use effective proofreading methods. When it is time to proofread your résumé, print it out.  You may have seen it a million times on the computer screen, but a hard copy looks different. Definitely check spelling and be careful with punctuation, especially when using bullet points. It is appropriate to use periods at the end of bullet points if they contain one or more complete sentences. If you choose to use simple phrases, leave the period off.  If the nuances of written grammar in a résumé context are not within your strongest suit, or if you just want to feel more confident in your final draft, try a grammar-checking app like Grammarly, which can relieve some of the proofreading burden.


  1. DON’T opt for fancy layouts. It may be tempting to want to incorporate some extravagant formatting techniques into your résumé.  Some people feel this may help them to stand out from other candidates, but in reality, it may actually work against you.  What appears as a visually appealing and organized résumé on your computer screen, may not translate the same way on someone else’s.  All those extra tabs and columns could possibly turn your résumé into a visual conundrum on the other side of the send button.  Also, an overly “edgy” résumé with a highly non-traditional layout may cause the reader to have to search too hard for key information, ultimately resulting in it being cast aside.

Executive resume_hire me puzzle on tablet

Additional tips:

  •  Create accessible documents: Remember to create your résumé in MS Word, as it is more widely used than most programs of its kind; Google Docs is also another comparable choice.  Many people like to rely on PDF files, however, this is not recommended because these documents cannot be scanned for keywords or properly stored by employers and recruiters.


  • Editing and font consistency: Mid-document font changes are a common error when one is cutting and pasting several résumés together for a particular job.  Make sure your use of capitals, boldness and italics is consistent.  Run your résumé through a word cloud generator like TagCrowd.  This will show you a picture of what words you use the most that will stand out for a recruiter. Finally, have a friend proofread as well, preferably one in an executive level position or in human resources.


  • Clear and current contact: Although this may seem glaringly obvious, be sure your contact information is current.  Sometimes, when we are revising an older résumé, it’s so easy to get caught up in the details of updating your skill list and job-history that you may forget to update an old cell phone number or outdated email address.  Be sure, as well, not to bury that information too far down or use a too small or unclear font style.  Your contact info should stand out, secondary only to your name.


Following these basic tips and guidelines are an indisputable way to turn an average résumé into a great one that will surely not fall by the way-side of your dream company’s HR department.

By Fred Coon, CEO


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