The Anatomy of an Executive Resume

female executive sitting at a table with other executives - the anatomy of an executive resume

Many people, even some people at larger resume writing companies, will tell an executive job seeker that the layout of their resume doesn’t need to fall into the confines of what will pass an ATS scan. The theory behind that thought process is that executives rarely apply to jobs online or by using job boards. However, that is simply not the case. The anatomy of an executive resume needs to be able to pass an ATS scan just like an entry-level or mid-career resume does.

Job boards versus networking

Of course, it’s true that around 70% of all jobs are landed because of who you know. That number changed a bit during the COVID-19 pandemic; however, the percentage is still pretty high. Networking isn’t just about showing up at a place and hob-knobbing with people. You can successfully network on LinkedIn or any number of other virtual sites.

Outside of networking, job boards are a very viable tool, even for executives. In about a 10-minute search, you could easily find more than 50 executive positions listed at $150,000 or more annually by using Indeed, LinkedIn, and even Glassdoor.

Is your resume ready?

Resume writers the world over will tell all job applicants that they need a fair mix of qualitative and quantitative accomplishments on their resume. An executive resume is all about achievement. It all starts at the top. Just below your name, contact information, and resume title is a Personal Branding Statement, also known as a Power Statement. This branding statement is the first thing a hiring manager (or board of directors) reads to see what you bring to the table.

After your Branding Statement, you’ll need to write a few sentences that show why you’re the right person for the job. It should start with who you are (i.e., Title) and how much experience you have. There should be a hint of achievement (…directing processes for multi-million-dollar…) and some hard skills. End with a statement that contains soft skills to give an idea as to whether you’ll mesh with their corporate culture.

Major accomplishments, not minor wins

As the leader of a department or of the entire company, there should’ve been instances where you advocated for and/or implemented enterprise-wide change of some sort. Perhaps it was a small change that netted huge results. Either way, anything you do that affects the overall profitability of a company, the overall efficiency of staff, and/or garners a corporate-wide cultural change for the better is a “Major Accomplishment.”

Areas of expertise a/k/a skillsets

A lot of senior-level job candidates will use this section to list 50 things they know how to do. That is inappropriate and can be seen as grandstanding. Keep in mind that your resume is a targeted career marketing document that is meant to be aligned with a particular job description. All you need to do is make sure you have the right keywords from that job description represented in your resume. Avoid repeating verbiage here that you already have elsewhere. For example, if your branding statement says, “Specializing in improving processes to propel company growth to increase market share and drive profitability” avoid using “process improvement” in your skills list.

Professional career and executive experience

It is advisable to use the reverse chronological format for putting together your career experience. Begin with the company you currently work and go backward 10-15 years. Any more than 15 years will make your resume too long and hiring managers won’t read it. If there are some highly significant accomplishments during that time, you can add an “Early Career Accomplishments” section at the end of your Professional Experience.

Putting the company name first allows you to indicate the entire time you’ve been with that company. It also helps with “stacking” in cases where you’ve held multiple positions with the same company. Here’s an example of “stacking” –

Education, professional development, licensures, and other credentials

The only thing that is needed on your resume is the name of your degree and where you got it. If you had major accomplishments during school (and you graduated less than 10 years ago), feel free to add them. A major achievement in college isn’t that you won the gold medal in the swimming competition. It’s great, sincerest congratulations if you did this, your resume isn’t the place to acknowledge it. Keep the resume professionally relevant and targeted to your career goal. When you get into the interview, if you see photos or mementos of the interviewer on the swim team in college, feel free to bring it up as an ice breaker.

Articles, white papers, documents, books, and presentations

By this stage of your career, it is likely that you’ve published something that shows people how to do a process or even something that refutes the validity of something. A great way to demonstrate expertise and show that you truly know what you’re talking about is to list the things you’ve published and/or talk about the presentations you’ve given.

Affiliations, hobbies, and interests

In all things that you include on your resume, the key points to remember are:

  1. Is this relevant to which you want to apply?
  2. Does it demonstrate your professionalism and set you apart as an expert?
  3. Have you answered the “So what…” question?