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Executive Resume

10 basic guidelines to a high impact executive resume

A well designed and executed executive resume will tell a very clear explicit story, but will also send very compelling implicit messages.

Every resume is a one-of-a-kind communication mechanism with both explicit and implicit messages. It should be appropriate to your situation and the story you want to tell.

Identify what you want your resume to do and convey before you get started. Put together the content once your target message is clear.

Here are 10 basic guidelines for building a high-impact executive resume.


Adjectives are empty.

 Avoid the adjectives and provide examples that will implicitly send the message.

Dates, titles, responsibilities and education are part of the explicit side of your story. But you won’t be successful if you attempt to explicitly convey leadership skills, behaviors, strategic thinking or other business and leadership competencies. Those need to be built into the implicit messages your resume must convey.

No one wants to hear you are a quick learner, a team leader or capable of working under pressure. Hiring managers want to see evidence when they are quickly reading your resume. If the right message is there, the implicit message will get across stronger than an explicit adjective.

If I did two tours of duty in Iraq defusing roadside bombs would I need to tell you that I work well under pressure? It might be an extreme example but not much different than the implicit message of strong leadership skills if I successfully managed the integration of a newly acquired company.


Format is important.

Stay away from getting creative and putting together a Power Point or an Excel based resume.

Resumes are still made and formatted for paper but most organizations, recruiters and executive search firms use customer relationship management (CRM) and applicant tracking systems (ATS) to store, search and manage your information as a potential candidate. Your resume needs to look good on paper but should also be cut-and-paste friendly and parser friendly to make it easy to incorporate into applicant tracking systems. Most importantly your resume needs to be easy to search for.

A parser is a tool that reads your resume, breaks down the information and automatically enters critical data such as name, phone, address and email into a CRM or applicant tracking system.

The harder it is for someone to enter your information into their system, the higher the likelihood of your resume ending up in a lost inbox or an untraceable directory in a hard drive.

Consider that the most common file format is Microsoft Word. Stay away from getting creative and putting together a PowerPoint resume or an Excel based resume. Avoid the fancy formatting, most notably tables, tabs and bullets that will distort if cut and paste is used to import your resume (tables are the least friendly of the bunch). Use universal fonts such as Arial or Times New Roman.

Most resume templates found in MS-Word are table based and designed to print well. Avoid those templates and start from scratch or use a template that is straight forward and simple.


Clear personal information.

Avoid the adjectives and provide examples that will implicitly send the message.

Make it easy for people to reach you and don’t complicate the formatting of your personal information. The best place for your personal information in a printed resume is the upper right corner. Think of a folder, stapled pages, or papers held together with a clip. Most of these bind or hold everything together on the upper left corner. We flip through pages holding them with our left hand and browse using our right hand. The most prominent and visible place when doing this is the upper right corner.

The correct format will take up the first 5 or 6 lines of the important paper real estate, but your personal information is critical.

Use the standard address format that you would use to mail a letter. It is not fancy, and it may not be the coolest way to present it, but it will be the easiest to read by a resume parser. The most likely scenario is that nobody will try to reach you by regular mail, but the address and zip code are important when doing a regional search. It is worth repeating: Use your full address in the standard mailing format.

Include your home, cell phone and if possible your direct work number.

You would be surprised how long resumes stay in a database. Use an email address that you read often, but also use one that will not change if you change jobs (such as a work email address), or one that will change if you move (such as the one provided by an internet services provider).

Consider the impact of the explicit messages your resume will send and the difference between [email protected] versus [email protected] or [email protected]. I don’t want to mislead you into thinking a Hotmail or Yahoo address is not adequate. They are adequate and well accepted as a personal email address that will likely not change over the years.


Picture it.

Become memorable via your resume. People remember faces.

Anti-discrimination laws have kept pictures away from resumes. An organization, headhunter, or a recruiting firm can’t legally request your picture and some may ask you to remove it to avoid discrimination related grey zones, but there is nothing that says you can’t include it if you feel comfortable doing so.

One of your primary objectives is to become memorable via your resume. People remember faces. If you are screened over the phone hiring managers will make an easier face-name-resume connection. There is value to putting a face to a name.

Having said this, don’t forget the explicit message and use an adequate headshot that will convey a professional and executive demeanor. Avoid a cropped party picture, scanning your diver’s license, or your passport. And please avoid that picture in a tux from last summer’s cruise or your cousin’s wedding. Use a picture that will reflect how you would dress and groom for an interview.


Lose the objective.

The professional objective is out. A well written summary is in.

Use this rule of thumb: If you looked at your printed resume the first half of the first page should include your personal information in the upper right corner and a well-written bullet style summary. This summary should have enough information and evidence to help a hiring manager decide if it’s worth their time to read the other ¾s of your resume that should include the details.

I can’t say this enough: Avoid the adjectives and buzz words such as fast learner, team leader, driven sales person, etc.

When someone finishes reading your summary they should have a clear idea of: What, when, where, how, and how long:


  • The discipline you have focused on with an emphasis on your target (sales, human resources, operations, etc.)
    The products that you have worked with (electronics, apparel, beverages, etc.)
    The level of leadership and management responsibility
    Core strengths and key qualifications.


  • The type of organization (public company, global or regional, small or large enterprise, etc.)
  • The industries and markets that you have worked in (automotive, retail, consumer goods, financial, etc.)
  • The regions where you have done it (United States, Latin America, Asia, etc..)

How long

  • Your total years of working experience, and the specific time spent in each what and where.


  • This should reflect key data supported achievements and evidence of how well you performed in each what and where.
  • It should also include key information regarding specific knowledge that could be relevant to your experience and performance such as language skills and certifications.

The summary should have a carefully chosen explicit message and a carefully crafted implicit message.


Here is a sample summary:


  • Senior Manufacturing Operations Executive with 19 years of overall experience in the consumer goods and sporting good industries
  • 10 years of experience as an Operations Director.
  • Worked for a $3.6 billion global consumer products manufacturer operating on 4 continents.
  • Expert at executing automated manufacturing systems/processes and operational excellence initiatives, while enhancing performance, improving quality, reducing costs, and generating sustainable revenue/EBITDA gains.
  • Skilled at managing financial and cultural turnarounds
  • Have led teams of up to 7 direct reports with over 600 indirect reports.
  • Performed duties as an expatriate plant manager during a period of 4 years in Mexico, and 3 years in China.
  • Certified Six-Sigma Black Belt
  • Fluent in English (native), Spanish and Mandarin.


Put your experience into context.

Once you get to describe your experience it is important that you put it into context.

Put your experience into context when you describe it. Never assume that everyone will know the companies for which you have performed work. Include a brief summary of what they do, the industry, the total corporate revenue, the number of employees, and if applicable the revenue and size of the division for which you have performed work. The information will put the organization and your role into perspective.

When you describe your experience, use a reverse chronological order and include your exact title, responsibilities, accountabilities and achievements. It is important not to forget to put everything into the context of what, when, where, how, and how long.

For those jobs where you are still currently employed, write your job duties in the present tense. For those jobs in the past, write the responsibilities you held in the past tense.

Did I mention you must avoid the adjectives, focus on data driven evidence and be mindful of the implicit messages?


Here is an example:


ACME, INC. (November 1998 – Present)
Acme Inc. is a global manufacturer of road runner hunting equipment including dynamite, traps, and wood crates with over 10,000 employees worldwide and revenues of USD$ 1.2 billion.

Business Manager – Shanghai, China (January 2009-Present)
Shanghai distribution and sales center for ACME China. The site handles USD$400 million in sales with 120 employees.

Key Responsibilities and Accountabilities:

  • Provide operational leadership, direct capital creation efforts, identify business opportunities, and spearhead strategic global expansion and growth plans.
  • Negotiate distribution/licensing transactions, establish joint ventures/strategic alliances with Tier 1 suppliers, and interface with private and institutional investors, stockholders, debt-holders and investment bankers.
  • The position reports to the Country Managing Director and Manages 4 direct and 120 indirect reports.

Key Achievements:

  • Revised the existing go-to-market sales strategy by transitioning from a 3rd party sales initiative to a direct sales effort.
  • Achieved revenue growth from $29 million to $153 million. Achieved profitability in 14 months despite a weak balance sheet and a newly formed sales organization.
  • Obtained $270 million in incremental financing and credit lines, despite facing four competitors capped at ten times Micro’s size and a $18 million negative cash flow over a 4-year period.
  • Negotiated supplypurchase agreements with major telecommunications firms such as AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Adelphia, producing booked business in excess of $165 million and allowing for the introduction of the company’s technology throughout North America, Europe and Asia.

Plant Manager – Monterrey, Mexico (January 2005-January 2009)
Monterrey manufacturing facility for ACME Mexico. The site makes over USD$ 200 million in product with over 600 employees.

Key Responsibilities and Accountabilities:

  • Held full strategic planning and P&L management responsibility for the $126 million (in CY2009) domestic operations of the $880 million international road runner defense-related company.
  • Reported to the Regional VP of Operations and Managed 7 direct and 600 indirect reports.

Key Achievements:

  • Launched a re-engineering initiative of existing operations and guided ACME Mexico to the position of leading financial performer within the entire company and third among comparable peer groups within ACME (parent company) as measured in terms of sales growth, operating income, working capital, cash flow and internal growth.
  • Delivered unprecedented results by erasing a $1.3 million monthly cash burn rate and growing annual revenue from $69 million to $100+ million, with total sales reaching $159 million at the close of CY 2009. Increased net operating income from 16% to 23% and captured the preeminent market share (21% to 53%).

Plant Manager – Dallas, Texas, USA (January 2000-January 2005)

Operations Manager – Dallas, Texas, USA (January 1995-January 2000)

Quality Manager – Dallas, Texas, USA (January 1993-January 1995)

Held positions in Engineering, Design and Quality with Anvil, Inc. and TNT Corp. from 1985 to 1993.


Manage your paper real estate.

Notice how in the above example the current position uses the most paper real estate, roughly the equivalent of half a printed page. The following positions progressively use less and less space to the point of just including the title, location and dates.

As a rule of thumb, the first page should cover your personal information, a well-designed summary and the most relevant detail of what you have done in the past 3 to 5 years. Manage the space in the second page to include the rest of your experience and details of your education.


Manage your paper real estate.

Degrees are important and should be included along with the institution and the year the degree was obtained. Space on your resume is precious real estate so leave everything other than degrees out, unless it is highly significant and relevant, such as a professional certification. Leave out self-improvement seminars that are focused on competencies that should be reflected in your achievements. Hiring managers won’t care much about you taking a seminar for negotiating skills if negotiating skills are not reflected in your accomplishments. If you want to highlight, your negotiating skills make sure it is part of the implicit message you send out within your responsibilities, accountabilities and accomplishments.

Unless you have less than two years of professional experience, the education and training section should go after your professional experience section


Be chronologically transparent.

As you go through your resume make sure every year is accounted for, and you don’t have any gaps. Chronological coherence is one of the first things hiring managers look for and discrepancies or attempts to paint a different picture will get noticed. If you are not, transparent hiring managers will immediately assume you are hiding something or trying to cover something up.

Include everything from your graduation date or your first professional experience up to what you are doing today.


Name your resume well.

Yes, the file name is important. It won’t take you long, and it can make a difference.

Avoid generic names or your initials such as CV-PSK-Eng.doc and use a name that will help yourself and everyone that will handle your electronic resume with a file name such as CV-Peter_Smith-Operations-2011.doc


About Alder Koten

Alder Koten helps shape organizations through a combination of research, executive search, cultural & leadership assessment, and other talent advisory services. Our recruiters and executive search consultants bring to the recruiting process an in-depth understanding of the market conditions and strategic talent issues faced by clients within their particular industry. Our leadership consultants provide advisory services that are crafted to be collaborative, responsive, pragmatic, and results oriented. Focused on expanding the capabilities of the organization through talent.