How to Write an Executive Resume

Executive resumes that get results have one thing in common – they answer the employer’s key question: what’s in it for me?

Your resume will be read by high-level recruiters, CEOs, COOs, CFOs, or Board Members. When these people pick up your resume, they want to know how you will help them solve their business problems – will this CIO candidate solve our ERP problems? Will that GM be able to turn around our struggling division? Will this CFO candidate be able to help raise money in a tough climate? In other words, what’s in it for me? This is what every recruiter and every executive wants to know and yet 95% of executive-level resumes don’t answer the question.

That means that if you rework your resume to quickly and clearly convey your value, you will be one of the elite 5% and you will immediately garner more interviews.

To see how well you’re doing, check your resume against my five rules of executive resume writing. If you can honestly say you have done all this, your resume is GREAT!  But if it’s missing even one of these elements, you need to rework it now. 

Executive Resume Writing Rule #1: Tell them what they want to know

Don’t begin your resume with an objective statement that describes your desires and career goals. Even the most caring senior executive simply doesn’t care what you are looking for – he only cares about “what’s in it for me?” He may care about what you want later when he knows you, but for now it’s all about him.

This means you need to replace the objective statement with a powerful summary that shows how you will add value to potential employers.  The key is to demonstrate to the reader that there is a clear fit between your skills and their needs.

Executive Resume Writing Rule #2: Focus, Focus, Focus

A good executive resumes needs a clear, succinct message about the value you bring and that message must be focused on your target positions/companies.  This may mean that you need more than one resume. For example, if you have experience in more than one function (for example, accounting and investment banking) or if you have strong knowledge of more than one industry, you should write different resumes for each one.

This allows you to clearly demonstrate your value by emphasizing the aspects of your expertise and experience that match the employer’s needs, and minimizing those that don’t. 

Your resume focus should be consistent throughout. If you state in your summary that a key strength is your ability to open business in new markets, then make sure that throughout your resume you give concrete examples of successes in this area. Eliminate any information that doesn’t support your clear and compelling message.

Executive Resume Writing Rule #3: Show Them the Money! 

You must present evidence that you add value. Too many resumes focus on job responsibilities, but describing achievements is much more powerful. Job responsibilities are simply those things we are supposed to do. Achievements show what we actually did and they are a powerful way to show your ability to make a difference.  If your resume shows that you have increased revenue and/or profit, cut overhead or boosted productivity, people will want to meet you.

Be very specific when you write about accomplishments. Don’t say “increased sales” without saying how much you increased them. If you mention that your new workflow design boosted productivity, be sure to say what the improvement was. If the information is confidential, use percentages or say “approximately” to avoid giving away company secrets.

Executive Resume Writing Rule #4: Context is Everything

In order to really appreciate your achievements, the reader needs context.  If you say that you “increased sales by 12%,” the reader may be quite impressed, but if you tell him that you “reversed a four-year sales decline and increased sales 12% in the first year,” he can now truly appreciate your accomplishment.  Try to provide context in each position description on your resume instead of just describing your responsibilities. For example, your position description may begin with:

  • Recruited to turn around struggling manufacturer whose sales had been declining for five years….


  • Hired to establish a new territory and charged with meeting revenue target of $5 million within the first year…

This opening gives the reader an understanding of the challenges you faced when you came into the position. He or she can now appreciate the significance of the fact that you reversed that sales decline with 24 months, or that you actually achieved sales of $7 million.

Executive Resume Writing Rule #5: Design Matters

Recruiters and hiring executives will judge the book by its cover, so make sure the cover is a good one! 

Your resume design should be clean, easy-to-read and should draw attention to key information. If you want readers to focus on the top brands you’ve marketed, using bolding or color to highlight those names and place them in a prominent place in your introductory summary. If you want people to immediately see the financial impact you’ve made in various positions, then use formatting tricks to highlight those numbers.

Be sparing with your bolding – remember executive resume writing rule #2 (focus, focus, focus). Your formatting should emphasize and reinforce the focus you chose, not distract from it.

Writing a Strong Executive Resume Really Does Make a Difference

For many people writing a resume is akin to going to the dentist. You hate it. But rushing through the process will cheat you out of the opportunities that should rightfully be yours.

Follow these executive resume writing rules and you will see an improvement in the response rate to your resume. If you establish a clear focus, start with a powerful summary, express and quantify your accomplishments, provide context and design your resume well, your value will be clear to potential employers, who won’t have to ask: what’s in it for me?

Need more help? Use our library of executive resume samples for inspiration.

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