How to Modernize Your Executive Resume

How to Modernize Your Executive Resume.jpg

Which box do you pick up first when browsing store shelves? The plain one or the one with compelling colors and graphics?

Lucky for us, the resume of today has moved far beyond those boring, monochromatic career obituaries of times past. We are free to tastefully use color, graphics, charts, tables, and images to enhance the content.

This is good, because studies show that color alone makes a HUGE difference in reader interest level, as do images and graphics.

The use of color makes approximately an 80% difference in attention span and willingness to read content! This makes sense since nearly 50% of our brain is devoted to visual information processing, and 90% of the information transmitted to our brains is visual. People remember 80% of what they see, only 10% of what they hear, and just 20% of what they read. Visual information is processed 60,000 times faster than what is read!


But how do modern, visually enhanced resumes fit into an ATS-friendly (ugly!) world?

The answer is that your beautiful resume with images, tables, charts, and graphics is optimally suited for a job search focused on networking and referrals, as are most of my executive clients’ searches. ATS friendliness is not generally a major concern for high level executive candidates.

However, if you do anticipate that a recruiting firm or company may want to upload your resume to their ATS system, it is a good idea to do one of two things:

  • Have a more simple version that you know will not run afoul of the ATS system.

  • Make sure that any information critical to making your business case that is contained in your charts, graphs, or images is also covered in the textual content.

Some things to remember in formatting your resume if you think it might be uploaded to an ATS:

  1. Anything you put in Word “text boxes” will NOT be read by the ATS.

  2. Content in tables will be read from right to left, row by row. So depending on how your organize your info, it could be a confusing jumble once imported into the system. Do not format the entirety of your content in a two-column table or in newspaper columns!

  3. Fonts (typefaces) or font sizes no longer matter.

  4. Your fancy bullet characters may not be read as you intended and be converted to junk characters, but they will not otherwise be a problem.

  5. Accented words will likely not be read properly or count towards your keyword density.

  6. ATS does not like columns. AT ALL!

  7. Non-standard headings can confuse the ATS. It is safest to use commonly used ones such as “Professional Experience,” “Education,” etc. It is also best not to combine them (like “Education & Certifications”).

  8. Charts and graphs are like the invisible man to an ATS. Like other graphics/images, they will be ignored. So make sure there’s nothing in there (not stated elsewhere) that is critical to your message.

  9. You can use all the font enhancements and features you like without affecting ATS compatibility. This includes bold, italics, underlining, subscript, superscript, small caps, all caps, color, highlighting, expanded text, condensed text, font effects, etc.

Other Key Considerations

No matter what format you use, a key fact about effective resumes, old-style and modern, remains that the top third of the first page of your resume is CRITICAL. You want to make absolutely every word count in this area, and ensure it has the “Wow” factor.

If you haven’t captured your reader’s interest in the first part of the first page, you likely never will. This is where you want to quickly, succinctly, and powerfully communicate your value proposition and brand. You want to profile your key skills and abilities, and also highlight examples of your ability to deliver results. The top section of the first page can also be a good place to include third-party endorsements and testimonials for additional impact.

And it goes without saying, whether your executive resume is being optimized for ATS or the human eye, remember to ensure font and design choices mesh with your desired industry and personality.

For more information on executive resume writing and executive resume samples, see:

How to Write an Executive Resume