Executives are the decision-making body of any company. No matter what their functional responsibility, their leadership decisions can make or break everything. They hold the fate of their people in their hands. Brilliant executives build companies up, but poor executives can destroy them. This executive resume guide seeks to explore how a resume of an executive might stand out from the crowd of “leaders” who assume the grandiose title just because they manage a couple of people.
Whether you are a CEO, COO, CFO or CTO (amongst others), the role of an executive is pivotal in any company. True leaders let their behavior and decisions do the talking, and it is crucial to illustrate exactly this in an executive resume.
When you are right at the top of any company hierarchy, it is natural to expect that you have experienced some stunning successes (and a fair few devastating failures) along the way. The secret of a great executive resume is not only to explore how you hit the highs, but also how you dealt with the lows. The person reading your resume wants to see someone who can handle all the realities of corporate life, someone who is prepared to make the tough decisions and someone who is willing to make mistakes and move on from them.
So much is written about leadership and management in various online articles, but how can you distil the best advice to create the most compelling resume? At Resume.io we've worked with professionals to create a library of more than 350 occupation-specific resume examples and guides. This guide will cover the following topics:
- What does an executive do?
- How to write an executive resume (tips and tricks)
- The best format for an executive resume
- Advice on each section of your resume (summary, work history, education, skills)
- Professional resume layout and design hints.
Along with our sample resumes and builder tool, we will help you to show just how good you are.
What does an executive do?
In a world of work where we are all doing ever more specialist roles, an executive might focus on a certain functional area (people or finance, for example) but they have to have a deep affinity for all sorts of more general business skills. CFOs and COOs need to be able to negotiate, present, problem solve and budget. CTOs and CHROs need to plan, communicate, develop strategy and influence others. CEOs and CPOs need to manage, deal with customers, design processes and purchase services.
An executive that does not push themselves hard enough is an executive who is always wondering what might have been. No one wants to work with (and for) a leader who doesn’t aim for the stars. Each executive role might have different functional responsibilities, but in this resume guide we want to explore what it means to be an executive in broader terms. A CFO will focus on finance and a CTO will focus on the tech, but they will share a significant number of behaviors and approaches that will make them effective. Everyone is different and there will naturally be countless versions of this ideal executive “recipe,” but the basic ingredients will all be there in differing qualities.
In fact, they all need to be able to do all these things as part of their work. The generalist skills of an executive are wide-ranging and will to a large extent dictate their success. A CTO who is an expert in technology but who has no influencing skills will never get any projects approved. A CEO who is a great leader of people but who has no financial acumen will be easily led up the garden path by his finance team. A COO who possesses brilliant organizational skills but can’t negotiate with suppliers will find their bottom line eroded horrendously.
How to write an executive resume
A great executive is a great executive for many for reasons. From their functional competencies, to fine-tuned skills in making decisions under difficult market conditions and immense pressure. You'll certainly be given a chance to honor each of these aspects. However, there are some basic criteria that your executive resume needs to adhere to. Before you start writing, your CV should contain the following sections:
- The resume header
- The resume summary (aka profile or personal statement)
- The employment history section
- The resume skills section
- The education section
Choosing the best format for an executive
An executive hire is one of the most important strategic decisions that an employer will make. Their resume will be painstakingly analysed by a whole host of stakeholders. The resume will remain a vital document in terms of forming a definite impression. That's why it's important to make sure the format you choose does justice to your experience!
Since you're sure to have plenty of experience, the reverse chronological resume format is usually preferred. This resume format focuses on highlighting your last few professional positions and what you brought to the job role. As the format name suggests, you will display your previous employment in reverse chronological order. This means there is a focus on your suitability for this new role being rooted in the last few positions you've held.
However, their are plenty of successful executives whose career trajectories were not a linear ones. If the value that you would bring to this role isn't necessarily based on last few formal jobs, then a resume in the functional resume format could be a wise move. With this format you can draw focus to relevant skills and competencies that you acquired through other avenues such as education, volunteering, vocational training, or even board positions held.
How do you choose the right keywords for the ATS?
The Applicant Tracking System (ATS) is used by most modern day recruitment systems, regardless of seniority. If the ATS doesn't think that you are a fat, then your resume risks being unread. Read the job description and imagine what the writer would be looking for in terms of key skills. The ATS will often use the job description as a template to scrape keywords from – make sure that there are enough similarities so that you do not miss out.
Resume summary example: Leadership and expertise
The most effective place to make an impact with the reader is at the start of the resume. The summary section for any executive should seek to convey authority, experience and visionary leadership skills. The summary for an executive resume should focus on their impact on their people and their business function. What extra magic have they brought to their workplace?
While all executives will exhibit the majority of the required behaviours (or they wouldn’t have got there in the first place), in their resume summary it is important to give a sense of the scale of their achievements. Lead with the standout moments in your career – great executives should have a long list of stunning successes to call upon. Amongst the thousands of CMOs out there, who has run the most popular and audacious campaigns? Which COOs have overseen change projects that have transformed the face of their businesses? How have CTOs kept their companies at the cutting edge of technological change?
The summary is a place to describe one or two massive “wins” and hint that there are many more to come throughout the resume. If you try to pack it with too much detail, you risk it becoming a boring list of responsibilities rather than an impactful punch of amazingness. If you talk about a couple of genuinely impressive achievements, readers will be confident that there are more to come.
The true power of an executive does not come from their mind; it comes from how they harness the minds and hearts of those around them. Helping to channel the talent of others will always have more of an impact than individual brilliance, so any executive summary should make mention of their work with their teams and others in their executive team. It is rare to see a group of executives pulling in exactly the same direction as sometimes plans will conflict, but if there is a willingness to work together, the end result will be optimal.
Dynamic Executive with six years of experience helping organizations reach their full potential. Adept in making key decisions and working with other professionals to achieve goals and solve problems. Experienced in managing employee and community programs, and dedicated to successfully directing business operations.
Many executives have long careers in one or two industry sectors. Your summary is the place to double down on your length of service and highlight just how many difficult situations you have overcome. If you cannot tell an employer why you consider yourself an industry leader, you need to take a long hard look at exactly why you go to work every day – this is exactly what your people and your company expect of you. Look at the resume example content for ideas on how to lay out your leading philosophy in no uncertain terms.
Employment history: Best foot forward
The employment history of an executive needs to build on their summary, but here an executive has the space to share more detail about their projects. A potential employer needs to see that every conceivable business need is covered. It doesn’t really matter where in the timeline of their careers a particular project came up or a certain behaviour was required. An executive’s experience is built up over many years. The employment history should start with the most recent role (and give more information for a couple that are most recent). However, there is likely to be some interesting experience from a while ago that it would be a shame not to include. Variety of experience is the key.
Some executives may have had gaps in permanent employment where they have taken on interim or consulting roles, but there is much to be learned here too, so don’t think that this will be frowned upon. When you are a senior leader, different perspectives often help when making difficult decisions. If you are doing a detailed description of a situation, you might consider using the STAR method; S - the situation that you were in; T – the task(s) you had; A the actions/strategy that you used; R- the result you achieved.
With a bit of research it should become clear where the emphasis should be in this key section of your resume. Executives for Tesla will behave differently to executives in General Motors, but even though these two companies seem at opposite ends of the corporate spectrum there will still be much in common. It may be that certain behaviors are highlighted more than others. This is to be expected but it should not deflect from the fact that their resume should portray them as a rounded and highly experienced business person. When you read their resume, you need to have the impression that they have “been there and done that” and can handle any challenge that comes their way.
So what sort of executive behaviors might you include in the resume? First and foremost, executives have to show extensive leadership skills. They have to take their respective teams with them on a journey of growth, find the right strategies and bring people together to make them happen. Their planning and management skills have to be top notch and they need an acute sense of how to reach their goals in the face of formidable obstacles and seemingly insurmountable doubts. Every executive needs to cultivate the right mix of people within their teams, developing a culture that is their own, recruiting the right talent and helping their people to grow. The employment history section is a great place to show some of these impressive feats in action. However, there will be more room in your skills section to mention further competencies that are worth highlighting. The resume sample content below should give you some inspiration.
Senior Sales Executive, Pitney Bowes, Stamford
Jan 2013 - Sep 2019
- Demonstrate proven success by achieving or exceeding 100% of the total sales quota.
- Generate new business opportunities and work to maintain excellent relationships with current customers.
- Partner with dedicated product specialist resources to ensure complete territory and account coverage.
- Engage in effective cross-selling to fully penetrate sales opportunities with both existing and prospect accounts.
- Leverage resources to assist in making new customer contacts.
- Provide accurate forecasts of sales results.
- Support clients with technical resources, continually adding to success in sales.
- Effectively negotiate and close large business transactions.
- Successfully assist with the management of a multi-million dollar franchise.
- Help to oversee software transactions and solutions.
Junior Sales Executive, Pitney Bowes, Stamford
Mar 2010 - Jan 2013
- Managed projects which resulted in the substantial reduction of global risks and an increase in total revenue.
- Saw a 40% increase in sales during my three year position.
- Effectively coordinated a robust sales pipeline and create a strategic plan to achieve goals.
- Utilized a variety of communication tools to engage with clients, prospective clients, and with other Pitney Bowes resources.
- Successfully employed Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools.
- Assisted with providing accurate geographic data to make smarter business decisions and lead projects to their fulfillment.
- Worked well independently, as well as with colleagues to meet goals.
CV skills example: Beyond the basics
The skills section of an executive’s resume has the potential to be very long as the demands on an executive are almost limitless. The skills that they therefore choose to highlight should be a close fit for the role in question. The longer format examples below and explanations of your skills could be integrated into your summary and employment history sections. The below resume example content are from a variety of functional areas for different executives:
- Negotiated a $90m new product deal with a 25% uplift in commercial margin.
- Recruited over 90 members of my wider team over a three-year period.
- Ran quarterly board strategy meetings and pulled together global comms.
- Made over $4m in annual cost savings from 40 external suppliers.
- Increase customer satisfaction metrics by 14% points over a six-month project.
- Presented corporate vision at over 70 conferences across 25 countries.
No matter which department they work in, an executive must have a comprehensive financial awareness and ability to positively influence the bottom line in every way that they can. Problem solving and creative thinking are at the core of many of their decisions and to get things done they need to be adept at presenting their ideas and influencing those who might not think the same way. They put their people first (often even before their customers) and they never forget that their success comes from those around them. One vital aspect to include is the fact that executives need to work together with other executives to get things done – if the COO cannot collaborate with the CTO, very few projects will get off the ground.
If you have not considered these points by including clear illustrations in the previous employment section, then the skills section is your opportunity to make sure they don't go unmentioned. Make sure the hiring manager, the board, or anyone else who's reading knows in no uncertain terms that you understand the rules an executive has to live by.
- Leadership Skills
- Complex Problem Solving
- Digital Advertising
- Knowledge of CRM systems
- Interpersonal Communication Skills
Executive resume education example: Extra effort
Many executives have undertaken significant additional qualifications in their areas of expertise over and above a college degree. MBAs are common and general management courses are also worth including. A great executive is always learning. A bachelor’s degree in business or a functionally-related subject such as marketing, supply chain, I.T. or human resources forms the basis of the education section, but every executive should have a short list of the most impactful courses that have shaped their development. Many executive interviews will focus on how they have grown throughout their career, and without formal education to fall back on, it is not always possible to develop to the maximum possible extent.
Boston College, Bachelor of Finance, Boston
Sep 2003 - May 2007
Resume layout and design
The layout of your executive resume example should give you enough space to do justice to your skills. Many executive resumes are three pages rather than two, so if you have things that are worth sharing, don’t be scared to add more detail. If a prospective employer is interested in hiring you, they won’t mind reading an extra page. A longer resume will give them more information upon which they can base your interview. There are no specific rules about which format to choose, but we can suggest some guiding principles:
Firstly, ensure that it is visually clean, easy to read and symmetrical. You will have a lot to say about your achievements, but the starring moments of your career will be lost if it is cluttered. Secondly, don’t make any section too densely technical. A recruiter without a deep understanding might skip to more readable parts. Including technical terms is good for the ATS, but make sure that they are integrated into a clear layout. Our professional resume template collection can help you with this.
Key takeaways for a Executive resume
- Stand out from the crowd by highlighting how your decisions and behaviour led to glory.
- Show how and why you have made tough decisions and describe the effects.
- Don’t forget to demonstrate the breadth of your business acumen.
- Talk about how you influence others and talk about how you have been influenced.
- Highlight your impact on your company and your industry – are you really a leader?
- Share figures and growth wherever appropriate – measuring success is important.
- If you have too much to talk about, don’t be afraid to create a three-page resume.
- Make sure that you share your unique philosophy of how you lead others.