8 Ways to Make Your Resume More “Executive”

8 Ways to Make Your Resume More _Executive_

I often hear from mid-career professionals who want to be considered for executive roles but find that their resume isn’t performing up to snuff. Quite often their original resume is structured like a new college grad’s and fails to pass the “executive resume sniff test.”

An executive resume has a unique content, structure, tone, and look ~ does yours?

Executive Tone, Look & Feel

An executive resume looks and sounds a certain way, even when the specific layout and formatting used are unique to each individual. Let’s consider two examples.

Stacked verbs. Decades ago the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics created a paradigm for how to rank verbs with similar meanings. Known as the DPT or Data People Things code of the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, this paradigm takes common skills like “management” and rank orders similar verbs in order of their skill level. Hence, when writing executive-level resumes, it’s imperative to stack verbs from your early work history to your more recent roles so that your current job uses the highest-level verbs, presuming that this role is your highest to date.

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For example, if you’ve held managerial roles for many years, as is true for many executives, then your earlier management jobs should use verbs like “supervised” or “managed” while your mid-career roles should use verbs like “led” or “guided.” This preserves heftier verbs like “directed,” “drove,” or “spearheaded” for your more recent positions.

Conservatively elegant layout paired with a judicious use of color. Content is almost always more critical than the style or layout of your resume, but keep in mind that an executive resume should showcase an executive look and feel. That is, it should use color to emphasize key facts and organize information for maximum readability while also distinguishing your document and your candidacy from those of your competitors.

I generally advocate what I describe as a “conservatively elegant” approach to color, by which I mean the use of conservative colors (blues, greens, and blacks/grays are widely acceptable) used in conservative tones (avoiding the use of too many pastels or super bright shades) and conservative locations in the document (section headers, shading, section separators, bullets) for the purpose of drawing the readers’ eyes to what you want them to read in the order you want them to read it.


A critically important facet of any executive resume, regardless of your position or industry, is the showcasing of your strategic planning experience. You need to show, not tell your readers what your specific experience is. It is categorically not enough to simply include the term “strategic planning” or something similar in your summary or list of keywords. You must provide clear-cut evidence of your skill.

Evidence of strategic planning & influence. Your resume needs an effective strategy which dovetails with your LinkedIn and overall job search strategies, but your resume’s content also must show repeated evidence of your strategic strengths. Executive recruiters will often quickly glance down the left-hand side of a resume to rapidly assess the tone of the language used in the first few words of each bullet. If your bullets all read as tactical descriptors, then evidence of your strategic leadership is hidden.

You can demonstrate your strategic planning experience in your resume in a number of ways, including a short CAR (challenge | action | result) story. Make sure you overtly state times that you crafted a strategy, its purpose, how you executed it, and what specific outcomes the strategy achieved.

I see many homemade resumes, for example, which mention crafting a 3- or 5-year strategic plan, but don’t tie that action to the results the plan achieved or is expected to achieve. How else can the wisdom of the strategy be evaluated?


Have you ever shopped online for a significant purchase – perhaps a car, RV, or large appliance? Often the photos used to describe the product are poor and provide too little evidence of context, so much so that sometimes you can’t even tell what you’re looking at. This is an example of the role that context plays in marketing, and it plays a similar role in your resume.

Context is a critical differentiator of executive resumes. In fact, there are 4 nested layers of contextual details I recommend you include in yours.

The context of your career trajectory and history of promotions. An important location in your resume to share this kind of context is your summary or the introduction to an employer for whom you worked for a very long period. This type of context helps your readers to grasp your career story quickly.

The context of your overall achievement history. Likewise, your summary or company description should also help your readers to see the sum totals of your measurable contributions throughout your tenure.

The context of each individual role you include in your resume. By carrying this approach throughout each role you detail in your resume, you drive home the point that you created ____ (profit, sales, revenue, cost savings, productivity, etc.) in each job you’ve held to date.

The context of each achievement listed within each job. Most accomplishments that you describe on your resume will likely need some indication of the context in which you achieved them. Why was the action needed? How can you contrast the situation you faced with that of your predecessor? What specific before/after details can you showcase?

The more context clues you provide, the more accurately your resume will capture your career story. Without context, your resume’s content will consistently fail to convey your brand, win you interviews, and cultivate new career opportunities.


Career overview. An effective career overview is concise, unique-to-you, and centered on your brand as evidenced throughout the totality of your career to date. If your brand is unclear, your resume, LinkedIn profile, and candidacy will be unfocused. Use your resume’s summary to help your readers understand your career progression, pedigree, credentials, and big picture accomplishments.

Why-Buy-ROI. Your resume must convince your readers why they should hire you and what return-on-investment they will receive if they do. Quantify your impact as much as possible and consider using your why-buy-ROI statement as a tagline. You can also weave yours into your summary if you prefer.

Leadership style/philosophy. As a senior-level leader, they “why’s” and “how’s” that drive your performance are highly relevant, so make sure you reveal them in your summary – briefly, of course. This can be achieved in myriad ways, including a brief description of your approach to leadership, a quote, a testimonial, or an acronym.

An executive resume has a unique content, structure, tone, and look ~ does yours?

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Career pedigree. If you completed coursework or a degree from a prestigious institution, mention it early in the resume. If you worked for an industry-leading company, note that in your summary. If your experience spans multiple operational silos and is as broad as it is deep, this, too, should be mentioned in your summary. If you trained or worked for someone well-known, include it. If you’ve earned a reputation for certain kinds of results, public speaking, writing, or training, this is important to highlight. Career pedigree elements are the small but critical details that set your candidacy apart from those of others applying for the same kinds of roles.

If you want to move from senior mid-management to executive roles or want to move up the executive ranks, your resume has to make it look like you belong. It has to sell you as an executive from the moment a reader first lays eyes on it. This means it has to look and sound the part from the first word to the last. If yours does not, get the help you need to turn this around so your job search doesn’t suffer.

A poor resume will damage your job search even in a strong economy. Curious about what yours needs to bring it up to snuff? Apply for a complimentary resume review here.

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About Cheryl Lynch Simpson

Cheryl is a Career, Job Search & LinkedIn Coach and Master Resume Writer. She has helped clients in >35 industries on 6 continents and has earned 24 global resume writing nominations and awards.

  • John Slusser says:

    Is a “ValuGraphic Page” an advantage and is it needed in today’s highly competitive landscape?

    • Cheryl Lynch Simpson says:

      Networking documents such as a ValueGraphic Page, an Executive Bio, or an Executive Marketing Brief are quite powerful when used wisely, John, and I highly recommend them. They’re most helpful for professionals in mid-management to senior management and CxO roles, though select candidates in non-management roles might also find them beneficial. And even though the US job market is presently in good shape, these kinds of documents are still enormously useful in helping you to gain access to decision-makers and open doors in target companies.

      Thanks for reading my blog!

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