Whether you’re an executive seeking a new job, considering a job search or content in your role (but would pursue a dream job if it became available), it’s important to have a resume that presents who you are today and positions you well for where you want to go next in your career.
Simply adding recent information to an outdated resume won’t position you optimally because it doesn’t convey your current value, expertise and strengths. This is especially true when looking to take your career to the next level. A sub-par resume can not only weaken your competitive edge as a job applicant, but it can also potentially derail professional contacts from forwarding it on your behalf because its quality reflects poorly on both of you.
Take the time now to review your current resume and if contains the following mistakes, don’t wait — fix them!
1. Superfluously Long Summary
A summary, by definition, should provide a brief snapshot of who you are, not restate your entire resume. If your summary takes up half of a page or more — with lengthy paragraphs and overlapping (but varying) lists of expertise, accomplishments and keywords — it’s too long. Plus, with so much information crammed in, it’s hard to sift through quickly and key points can get overlooked.
An effective summary provides prospective employers and professional contacts with an overview of what you bring to the table. It briefly describes the unique experience, skills and expertise you offer and highlights the impact you’ve had… essentially outlining how you can do the same for prospective employers.
2. Laundry List of Duties
At the executive level, demonstrating leadership and influence on a resume is essential. When writing about your employment, avoid exhaustive lists that start with “Responsible for…” Instead of describing tasks, focus on accomplishments. Show results (quantifiable, when appropriate) as well as how you’ve solved problems and contributed to company strategy, expansion, innovation, transformation, revenue growth, market positioning, customer experience, efficiency etc.
You don’t have to include everything you’ve ever done. Focus on content that best relates to what you’re looking to do next.
For more guidance on how to present yourself effectively at the senior level, check out Executive Recruiter Tips: How To Stand Out as a Strong Candidate.
3. Minimal Job Information
Avoid reducing your current and immediately preceding positions to just a few lines with little substance. People want to know what you’re doing now, what you’ve done recently and why it is (was) important. When you don’t elaborate, even if you have an impressive title, it’s hard to determine what you’re really doing and how (or if) you’re making a difference that can add value to a prospective employer.
At the same time, review the level of detail from earlier jobs. What you did in the early 2000s shouldn’t have noticeably more content than active and more recent roles. (It can also signal that the roles described more thoroughly were the ones you enjoyed most.)
4. Over-Summarized Career Progression
If you’ve received promotions and held several titles at one company, you have a great opportunity to show development/growth, loyalty and recognition of your talent. Unfortunately, many people over-summarize roles and include only the last title on their resume (usually because it’s the highest level), but use dates of their entire tenure with the organization.
This is problematic on two levels. First, it’s inaccurate! For example, if you’ve been CFO for the past 5 years and before that were Vice President of Finance for 4 years, your resume should not list CFO only, which incorrectly implies that you’ve held this position for 9 years. Second, reducing roles and experience to one title diminishes career progression, which is an important and valuable narrative. Listing all titles demonstrates that your contributions had an impact that was recognized and rewarded.
Generally speaking, describe multiple roles at one firm by separating out titles and dates with detail indicating increased responsibility and achievement over time. However, depending on context and roles, sometimes positions can be combined; it’s not a one-size-fits-all rule. Of note, summarizing career progression is widely acceptable on a board-focused resume, which differs from a regular executive resume (which used when seeking an operational role).
For more information on board resumes, check out our latest Ask The Experts interview about board candidate strategy.
5. Missing Key Additional Information
While experience is a priority, also include ancillary details that add dimension and can differentiate you from other candidates. List board roles (both corporate and nonprofit) and volunteer leadership positions, as well as relevant certifications, professional memberships, speaking engagements and awards/honors. If you have an advanced degree, don’t omit undergraduate details; rather, include all post-secondary institutions/degree information.
6. Content & Formatting Faux Pas
Irregular resume formatting for anyone, especially an executive, makes for a poor impression, even if your content is strong otherwise. Inattention to detail sends the wrong message. Use one easy-to-read font and format company names, titles, dates, financial figures etc. consistently.
The heading should include your full name, one phone number, a personal email that identifies as you (that you check regularly) and your LinkedIn profile URL. (No need to label “Phone,” “Email,” “LinkedIn;” they’re self-explanatory.) Do not include a photo on your resume (in the US, it’s illegal for companies to recruit/hire based on race, sex, age and several other identity factors).
If your LinkedIn profile isn’t current, read 10 LinkedIn Profile Mistakes You Must Fix Now.
As an executive, you balance multiple priorities and goals. Whether or not you’re pursuing a new job at this moment, intentionally carving out some time to update and optimize your resume is a wise move. Besides fixing obvious errors, review key areas of your resume for strategy and content mistakes — fixing and strengthening where necessary — so that when opportunity knocks, you’ll be well-positioned with a high-impact document that reflects your level, marketability and value.