Yes, the Executive Resume Still Matters.

Why you need one, even in the age of LinkedIn

A surprisingly common question we hear from current and potential candidates alike: “Do I really need to do a resume, or will my LinkedIn bio suffice?” The answer is yes, you absolutely do need a resume. And you need to get it right.

Whether you’re a functional leader (VP of Sales, Marketing or Engineering), a cross-functional GM (CEO, President, COO or GM) or even a team leader, your resume – like a public company’s prospectus or a startup’s pitch deck – is how you tell your story.

That resume is your unique value proposition. Your passport for the journey called your career. It has the power to open doors, or to trigger nasty trap doors you’d rather avoid. So it’s worth investing time now on the content, format, look and feel of this essential element of your personal marketing campaign.

Your whole life, distilled down to 20 seconds.

There’s a reason the basic resume format has been around for the better part of a century. The familiar format is incredibly utilitarian. It provides a simple, easily-digestible introduction for the professional resume reader who has 20 seconds to decide whether you merit a closer look.  

That’s right, you have just 20-30 seconds to convince some 24-year-old intern, Talent Acquisition Coordinator or 67-year-old board member to invest another two minutes before moving on. Resume readers are both time-constrained and inherently lazy. They want a standardized, chronological format where indents, italics, bolds and bullets guide their eyes quickly to your key accomplishments. You need help them quickly gauge the quality of the employers, customers and partners who’ve defined your career trajectory.  

So what does the ideal executive resume look like?

The web is full of resume templates, formats and examples. Personally, I think the best (free) formatting resources are on Pinterest and SlideShare. Start by choosing a style that captures the vibe you want someone to get as a first impression.

The resume formats that stand out and get read include a few key elements:

  • Offset the dates of employment either in the left margin or right justified. The idea is to leave enough white space for a reader/interviewer to take notes (this is super important).
  • The format should literally pull your eyes down the page, so your resume almost reads itself. Use bold, italics, colored type and even logos to add impact and flow. Do the 20-second test yourself, and see if a quick scan hooks you enough to make you want to read on.
  • As for length, the old one-page rule is, well, malarkey. If you’re a senior executive and your entire life’s work fits on a single page, it sure doesn’t look like you’ve accomplished much. Better to go long. Just remember to make sure you’re serving up the juiciest highlights on first page – above the fold, so to speak. If you earned a degree with honors from Harvard, feature it up top. If you went to Bob’s College of Doorbell Repair, maybe the footer would be a better choice. Remember, you have 20 seconds.
  • Don’t bother with multiple versions. You can cover any opportunity-specific positioning, hype or specialized bits in your cover email, and in an initial phone interview.

What to include (and avoid) in a modern resume.

1. Forget about the Objective.
Instead, give me the Executive Summary: a brief but scintillating mini paragraph that seduces me into thinking, “Hmmm, I need one of those!” Example:

  • An in-the-field Sales and Monetization executive, team builder and player-coach who owns a quota and personally prospects, nurtures and closes major strategic deals while making subordinate sellers more effective, more successful and less likely to turn over. With a track record in both enterprise software and technology services, I bring a broad set of skills and experience, plus a network that will serve emerging growth as well as startup technology companies. 

2. Skip the meta-content.
If you’re a software coder three years out of school, you may want to list every modern programming language, framework and open-source tool in order to get past the resume parsers and machine readers most HR teams use. Otherwise, don’t bother.

Also, don’t use a header that includes a bunch of management and leadership buzzwords. This is a waste of valuable above-the-fold real estate. If you nail your accomplishments in each job, the resume reader will get your value proposition.

3. Explain what the companies you’ve worked for actually do.
Not every company is an Apple Computer or Procter & Gamble. Including a descriptive one-liner about each employer is a great courtesy to the reader. Here’s an example:
Acme Grommets is a $25M, private equity-backed manufacturer of custom grommets for industrial, military and undersea applications. Backed by Twista Equity, Acme has 75 employees in two North American offices.

See, that wasn’t so hard. And now I won’t get this company confused with Acme Grommet Design out of Scranton.

4. Provide a brief “before” snapshot of what you inherited, then highlight the specific results/outcomes you delivered.
Your descriptors, accomplishments and “signature moves” for each assignment should be bulleted so they stand out clearly. Each should answer the question, “…which resulted in what?” Emphasize key business outcomes and metrics that matter. You know – revenue growth, shareholder value, increased profitability, cost-savings, speed to market or whatever. Real performance criteria.

5. Use vocabulary to create your own reality.
Stay away from vague or generic fluff like “results-driven, outside-the-box thinker who enables teammates by being proactive…” Seriously, I’d choose a root canal by a first-year dental student over reading another one of these.

And while you’re at it, avoid self-descriptive terms like self-starter, collaborative, creative, strategic, synergistic, knowledgeable, team player or (God forbid) visionary. Instead, tell us what you did. Let the results speak for themselves.

Use action verbs to begin bulleted explanations of what you did: Delivered. Designed. Launched, Increased, Created, Implemented, Led, Managed, Owned, Deployed, Wrote.

6. Cheat.
You’re free to think of this either as stealing or collecting inspiration. Either way, aim high and make sure you steal from the best. Read 50 or 60 great resumes (yes, really) before drafting your own. If you don’t have e-mail folders full of these, Google them. You can also ask CEOs, HR types, hiring managers or of course, headhunters. I often share favorite resumes with candidates who need this type of help.

Once you’ve got some great examples in hand, take notes. Copy and paste. Lift really good descriptors and formatting. Don’t be shy.

It’s just one step. But it’s a big one.

Sure, there’s more to a job search than your resume. But if you’re even thinking about making a career move, this is a great way to crystallize your thinking. To gain even more perspective on yourself and your ideal path forward, we suggest you download our free 10-minute Career Diagnostic tool.

The more purposeful you are with this process, the better your chances of finding the ideal fit in your next job. And if you’d like to seek professional help? We’re always here for you.

Hey – my name may be on the byline, but the ideas I share are always the product of a team effort. JJA is on a mission to raise the bar in high-stakes recruitment, from retained searches to corporate talent acquisition. We approach life like an open-source project, driven by the belief that there’s always a better way. If you have ideas you’d like to contribute, please email us. To download some of the free tools we’ve developed, visit the JJA website.