Avoid Rejection with These Executive Resume Writing Tips

Executive Resume Thumbs Up-Down.jpg

Since your executive resume is in most cases going to be your foot in the door to a new opportunity, it is critical to ensure it makes a dramatic positive impression on the reader, whether that may be a recruiter, hiring manager, or HR resume screener (hopefully not this last one). I’ve published numerous articles on the basic principles and nuances of powerful executive resume writing, but was thinking today about some insights I’ve received from those resume screeners and wanted to share a few.

There is NO Appeal if Your Resume is Discarded

You or your professional resume writer may have spent hours and hours perfecting every word and phrase in your executive resume, but everything depends on the person (or ATS system) that first encounters it. If your resume fails to meet criteria that person or system is looking for—and quickly—it may be discarded, never to be seen again. Most likely, you’ll never be aware that this has happened.

Some Reasons Executive Resumes Are Rejected

Recruiters and hiring managers cite numerous things that will land your executive resume in the trash or deleted items folder. Some are obvious and major, and others may seem minor but can still torpedo you. Some often-cited ones include that the resume:

  • Does not show direct relevance to the position it is submitted for

  • Obviously exaggerates or misrepresents experience or qualifications

  • Fails to define the candidate as a “product” that can meet corporate needs and goals

  • Contains a humongous gaffe, such as misspelling your own name or the name of a prominent employer

  • Is missing keywords that the automated system or human reviewer is looking for

  • Has one or more typos or spelling errors

  • Is excessively long and detailed

  • Uses hard-to-read or small fonts; has tiny margins

  • Opens with a self-serving objective statement

  • Is missing critical information… I actually received one without the candidate’s contact info!

  • Is written in stilted, verbose, self-aggrandizing, polysyllabic language riddled with over-used adjectives and adverbs

  • Is one, long list of bulleted items

  • Uses passive verbs and sentence construction (e.g., responsible for versus led)

  • Doesn’t capture interest in the first 25 seconds (some say 6-10 seconds)

  • Uses off-the-wall, non-standard headings that confuse the ATS system

  • Uses the pronoun “I” throughout

  • Is all about a flashy presentation, with no real meat

  • Fails to quantify results

Things Recruiters & Hiring Executives Like to See on Your Executive Resume

  • A profile or summary that concisely conveys your background, capabilities, and unique value proposition or brand—with claims that are supported in the rest of the resume

  • Content focused on what the company wants, not what you want

  • Wide margins

  • Clean, easy-to-read typefaces

  • Clear headings, logical format

  • Body text of at least 10 point (except perhaps for small sections or tables)

  • Tasteful, controlled use of bold, italic, and other text enhancements

  • Selective use of bullets… If you have 20 bullets in a row, it’s way too many!

  • Readily scannable text with obvious organization and relevant information highlighted

  • Work histories that describe the companies worked for, clearly outline the scope of the position held and your charter, and show the results delivered

  • Quantified results and accomplishments

  • A clear-cut sense of direction and purpose in your career

  • Clear delineation of your current level, roles and functions you are able to perform and where you have done so

Resume Reviewers Look for Reasons to Screen You Out, Not In

Recruiters and hiring managers are inundated with resumes in response to any given position, and equally inundated with unsolicited resumes. Their goal is to get that stack or inbox of executive resumes down from 300 or more to a handful of maybe five. They do this not through malice but through necessity. They are not out to get you, really!

If you do make it to the next round after that 6-25 second initial scan, you can be sure your resume will be scrutinized thoroughly and measured with the reader’s BS meter. Expect them to be a bit cynical and suspicious…. They’ve been burned too many times.

  • Avoid portraying yourself as a Jack of All Trades AND Master of All.

  • Make sure your presentation makes sense and does not send up red flags with regard to career progression (most people don’t go from entry level sales rep to corporate vice president in one jump, for instance).

  • Don’t take credit for single-handedly taking a multibillion-dollar company to market dominance. Humility is a virtue/excessive braggadocio a turnoff, and how many great achievements were accomplished without a team effort?

With only 6-25 seconds to make that all-important first impression, implement these executive resume writing tips to make sure your resume doesn’t shut you down at the starting gate.