Headhunters and Executive Recruiters

Like any resume, executive resumes should quickly tell a candidate’s story.

But for an executive resume to stand out, it also needs to quickly show leadership capabilities and how the candidate has solved problems throughout his or her career, says Mike Assaad of Robert Half Finance and Accounting staffing and recruitment agency in Chicago.

“In a resume for an executive position, you’ll need added focus on how you’ve made a difference at previous employers and how you will help the organization you’re applying with meet its objectives and grow,” says Assaad. The best executive resumes “show how you’ve solved problems, addressed challenges, and rallied teams.”

Your Executive Brand

Kurt Rakos, Partner with SkyWater Search Partners, a Minneapolis-based executive search firm, says simply listing results and achievements isn’t nearly enough to grab the attention of a headhunter – or the board of directors.

“The most compelling resumes we see are those that sell the executive’s personal brand,” says Rakos. “What do I mean by that? Great resumes paint a very clear picture of a highly desirable candidate. It highlights how the executive achieves their results, what motivates them, what their workplace values are, and how they see the future trajectory of their career.”

Executive Leadership

What stands out to executive recruiters and key decision makers is leadership ability, says HR Consultant B. Max Dubroff.

“Leadership stands out among all of the other criteria,” says Dubroff. “Executive candidates must prove they can formulate and communicate a vision that other people will own for themselves, ensuring future success. And the executive must prove he or she has the character and the guiding principles to set the tone and shape the culture for the organization.”

Problems, Actions, and Results

When working with executives in the job search, Lee Skaalrud, Director, Executive Leadership Search at Versique, a Twin Cities-based executive search and consulting firm, coaches executives to use the CAR model – Challenge, Actions, and Results, focusing on capturing achievement-based stories from previous roles that meet what the next employer needs in an executive. Select two or three achievement-focused stories and develop corresponding, stout achievement statements for use in the body of the document.

“These achievement-based stories can also serve as a guide for the candidate during the interview phase and lead to greater, in-depth discussion,” says Skaalrud.

A similar method to consider when writing executive resumes is the STAR method (situation, task, action, result).

“In either option, you can highlight obstacles you’ve helped companies overcome, specifying how you did this, and the end result,” says Assaad. “Quantify that end result when you can.”

Executive Resumes are Top Heavy

Job seekers need to keep in mind hiring managers might spend as little as a few seconds scanning resumes, placing added importance on what’s at the top of the document, says Assaad. Executive resumes should also highlight functional and soft skills needed to succeed in the role. Proofread carefully – attention to detail takes on even greater prominence in executive roles – and make sure your resume can be read on any type of device. Save your document with a professional file name, and use a clear subject line when you email it.

Focus on developing a resume that grabs readers’ attention from the start – and always focus on the needs of the next employer, and how the executive’s achievements and skills relate/fit/match the need of the executive job opening. Having any unique skills that an employer covets will help executives stand out.

“If the position specification requires or emphasizes a specific knowledge, skill, or ability, make sure this is covered in the body or summary of the resume,” says Skaalrud.

With Jobscan, you can paste in your resume and the job description to see which of these specific skills are missing.

Executive Resume Length and Presentation

There is often debate on whether a resume should be one or two pages, or how far back an executive resume should go. 10 years? 20 years? Shorter?

Rakos isn’t concerned about that as much as other recruiters and knows exactly what he wants to see.

“I don’t care if it goes back 15 or 30 years,” says Rakos. “I just want to see that the resume is promoting a highly competent, proven executive who knows what they’re best at, where they want to go, and what they really want to do next in their career.”

What’s the best way for an executive to do that? Get help writing it, says Rakos.

“The most compelling executive resumes we’re seeing are those that do a whole lot more than give us the laundry list of Objective-Experience-Education,” says Rakos. “Great resumes include that information, but they package it in a way that blows everyone else out of the water. It seems to me that, nine times out of ten, the resumes that really capture these facts about the executive have been professionally written by a marketing professional (or professional resume writer).”

Rakos elaborated: “I really can’t emphasize this enough,” he said. “Successful executive recruiters can tell when an executive has made the investment in getting help. They’ve gotten help studying the employment landscape, refining their career goals, and branding themselves appropriately. They know themselves, including their strengths, weaknesses, long term goals and workplace preferences. If an executive is serious about their career, they’re going to be serious about investing in it by getting this kind of help. When I see that level of commitment and clarity, those are the resumes that just naturally fly up to the top of the list.”

Finally…remember, the resume doesn’t get the job – but it does help get an interview and facilitate the next step.

“Ultimately we want the resume to drive interest in a conversation to continue the process,” says Skaalrud.

Executive How-Tos


Matt Krumrie is a professional resume writer, and owner of Resumesbymatt.com. He has 15 years of executive resume writing experience and specializes in helping talented professionals take the next step in their career.

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