Keys to an Effective Executive Resume

Keys to an Effective Executive Resume | Human Resource Executive Online

Wednesday, April 1, 2009
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Flummoxed by all the "rules" and advice out there about resume writing? As an HR executive, your picture of resume perfection may be even more clouded by your own peeves and preferences in the resumes you've reviewed.

If you can remember the acronym FABUKA, you can remember the key aspects of an effective executive resume.

FABUKA stands for:





Keywords; and


Let's look at each element individually:


Your resume must target your desired career goal with precision. An employer taking a quick glance should be able to immediately grasp the job you're targeting, the need you will fill, and the value you can contribute.

The executive resume must focus on key strengths that position the candidate to meet a specific need and target specific jobs/employers. One-size-fits-all resumes are especially ineffective at the executive level. Hiring decision-makers expect your resume to be precisely tailored to the position that is being sought.

The reader should never have to guess or wade through copious text to determine what job you want and what you'd be good at.


The executive resume must -- with a future-oriented flavor -- emphasize results, outcomes and career-defining performance indicators. Using numbers, context and meaningful metrics, the resume must paint a picture of the executive in action -- meeting needs/challenges, solving problems, impacting the company's big picture, growing the business, enhancing revenue and driving profits. Concrete, measurable accomplishments are the points that sell you.


Today's executive resume establishes an executive brand relevant to targeted employers. The branding expressed in your resume captures your career identity, authenticity, passion, essence and image. "Branding is ... best defined as a promise," says my partner, Randall Hansen, "... a promise of the value of the product ... a promise that the product is better than all the competing products ... a promise that must deliver to succeed."

In an executive resume, you can execute branding through at least three components:

1. The distinctive appearance of your resume, which should be carried through with all your career-marketing communications -- cover letter, business cards, thank-you letters, portfolio and more -- to package you with a consistent, branded look. Every time an employer sees this look, he or she will instantly associate it with you.

2. A branded message woven throughout your resume that remains consistent and does not contradict the image you want to project.

3. A branding statement that defines who you are, your promise of value and why you should be sought out. Your branding statement should encapsulate your reputation, showcase what sets you apart from others, and describe the added value you bring to a situation.


The executive resume must present a sales pitch that conveys the candidate's distinctiveness, passion and unique understanding of the business environment. It must answer the employer's question: Why choose you over any other candidate?

Uniqueness is closely related to both branding and focus. A focused resume enables the reader to instantly visualize you in the targeted position. A branded resume immediately communicates your promise of value. The uniqueness factor takes your resume to the next level by portraying you as not only in the position but as the best person for the position; even as the only logical choice for the position.

When you imbue your resume with your uniqueness, you show that you completely comprehend the challenges the organization faces and that you are overwhelmingly qualified to meet those challenges. If you have adequately sold your uniqueness, the reader reviewing your resume should say, "This candidate gets it."

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As you know, the vast majority of resumes submitted to employers today are handled by applicant tracking systems. Because applicant-tracking software and keyword-searchable databases dominate today's hiring process, successful executive resumes must feature cutting-edge industry jargon.


The print version of an effective executive resume (still used for networking, career expos and interviews) must be sleek, distinctive and clean, yet eye-catching, reader-friendly and upscale in appearance.

Here's a quick summary of elements that contribute to a print resume with an executive-caliber appearance:

* Conservative, easy-to-read fonts.

* Plenty of white space.

* A layout/design that goes beyond ordinary, yet is not so far out as to turn employers off.

* Small blocks of text, most of which are bulleted in a reader-friendly format. Strive for no more than four lines in a paragraph or two lines in a bullet. Try to keep bullet points for any given job to no more than seven. Large blocks of gray text are daunting for any reader and likely won't get read.

* Attractive graphic treatment of the elements that lend focus to your resume. If you use a headline, for example, be sure it's big and bold enough to get noticed.

* Graphic elements that add interest, such as rule lines, boxes, shaded areas and tables.

* Elimination of clutter. Avoid having too many graphic elements or too much typographic variety in your resume.

This article is adapted from a chapter of Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press), one of seven books authored or co-authored by Katharine Hansen, the creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers as well as an educator and blogger who provides content for Quintessential Careers, edits QuintZine, an electronic newsletter for jobseekers and blogs about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career.

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