I’ve spent over a decade as a career coach and job search expert for people who are overdue to “level up” with an executive role. The experience and credentials are there, as is the passion and genuine sense of meaning they derive from their work. But the problem lies with how they present themselves to employers and key decision-makers.
If you want to earn a position as an SVP or Senior Director, you need to look like you already have everything but the title. Show that you have the same qualifications, goals, and presentation as an executive leader—which looks different from your brand as a manager.
Here’s how to demonstrate on your resume that you’re ready to advance.
3 Ways to Make Your Resume Read at the Executive Level
1. Start With a Wide-Angle Lens
A great executive can actively create value and solve uncommon problems. And yet, the vast majority of resumes use the precious real estate at the top-half of page one to rattle off their years of experience and list skills. This approach misses an opportunity to give the reader context that will help them appreciate your key value propositions. Provide a lens through which to view your career impact—the higher your executive target, the wider scope you need to use.
Here are a few tips for writing a career summary at the top of your resume:
Study the LinkedIn profiles of other professionals at the same level to which you’re applying (or one level higher). Look at the “Headline” and “About” sections for clues about how to position yourself: Which skillsets and keywords are mentioned? What problems do these individuals claim to solve? Keep a running log of all the observations you gather by researching your competitors and refer to this list whenever you need to update your employment portfolio.
Adopting the best ideas of your competitors and applying them to your brand is a process I like to call competitive drifting. Try to incorporate an 80/20 ratio: 80% of your resume should be informed by industry convention and competitive drifting. The remaining 20% needs to be unique to you.
Taking this approach will help you create a memorable, value-driven brand without seeming too “out there.”
Think about the milestones you’ve reached and how you can position them in the career summary. For example, you might ask yourself:
- What do your achievements have in common?
- What have you done that had the biggest impact on an organization overall?
- When a colleague solicits your opinion, what do they want to know?
- Where’s the intersection between your character and skills?
Explain five or six ideas that go to the heart of what you have to offer at the executive level.
2. Cater to Needs, Not Wants
There’s a massive difference between the overly safe, fundamentally passive approach to jobseeking that we’ve been taught and the strategies that actually work at the executive level. If you’re writing your resume based off a public job posting, that’s a sign you’re stuck in the old way.
Executives need to illuminate a way forward. That’s the true test for leadership. If all you do is repeat the same wording as the job posting, the reader won’t understand how you can help steer an organization.
When listing your former positions, start with a few sentences that define the bottom-line impact of your actions. If you’re describing a CIO role, these lines could center around establishing a new vision for IT that was digital-forward and primed to scale. Then you can offer a snapshot of the two or three major initiatives you spearheaded, or provide details on your budget and team numbers to help establish perspective. Emphasize points that involved C-suite executives and cross-department projects.
Next, include a few short bullet points that expand on the ideas you presented in sentence format. Use these highlights to demonstrate your expertise and individuality. Focus on your ability to lead, influence, and draw insights. Metrics will make the writing more persuasive.
Read tips on how to attach quantitative measurements to your performance.
3. Add Character to Your Resume
A salesman who doesn’t know when to stop selling is a terrible salesman! The same principle applies to an executive who doesn’t know when to stop promoting themself.
By the time a reader reaches the last quarter of your resume, there shouldn’t be any doubt about your basic credibility and fit for a position at the executive level—which means you can loosen up and add a surprising element at the end. Mention that job in real estate sales from long ago because it’s unique to your overall journey. It will make you seem like an individual and not just a candidate.
If you don’t feel like you’ve earned this level of credibility yet, ask yourself: Did I include enough details to demonstrate my strengths? Take another look at the earlier sections of your resume and add more information about your achievements. If you frame the beginning of the document appropriately, the reader will understand your unique perspective and value-add.
Executive Job Search Tips
I created an in-depth webinar with Ivy Exec that includes more details on applying to executive roles. Access to this hour-long tutorial is included with a basic membership—all you need to do is create a free account.
If you’d like more help writing your resume and preparing your online presence, check out this webinar—Cracking the Code of Executive Hiring: What You Need to Know to Land a Senior-Level Role.
Do you work in consulting? Here’s how to transfer those skills to the C-suite.