What Recruiters are Really Looking for on Executive Resumes

Building the best executive resume means creating one that contains the details that recruiters are looking for so you can land the interview. Here is how to build an executive resume that stands out to recruiters.

Role of the Executive Recruiter

Understanding the role of an executive recruiter is key to understanding what to include and how on your executive resume. Executives interact with recruiters in a couple of ways through a job search. First, you may be approached by a recruiter at some point. You may not be actively looking for a new challenge when the recruiter makes contact. But, having that conversation with the recruiter can still be a good exercise in exploring your options.  The recruiter working in a recruiting firm will be working on an open position and will only contact you when something in your background fits the needs of their employer client. This recruiter will know the real story of the position and will be able to advocate for you through the process. But, they will need a resume from you for this position to submit you for consideration to their client.

The recruiter that works for the company that is hiring will probably first encounter you through your application. This person may be actively engaging candidates online, but it is more likely that the internal recruiter first finds you from your application. This recruiter will be the gatekeeper to the position and you will need a resume that conveys your qualifications and vision as a fit for the role. This person can be your advocate through the process, but they will also be a colleague of the person hired. So, they will want to find a candidate that they like and that showcases their executive recruiting skills to the hiring manager when they submit you for consideration.

Although these types of recruiters may have different motivations and methods, they are still looking for the right candidate(s) to send to the hiring manager. So, you need to make sure that your executive resume stands out with the right details. Here is how to build the best executive resume:

#1 - Remember Your Audience

As an executive, you have probably been a hiring manager many times. You may have your own way of looking at resumes and evaluating candidates. But, you are not that person when you are looking. Instead, it is important to build your executive resume for your audience so they can find the details that they want to see. This means that you need to include everything on the resume that you want to talk about in the interview. The recruiter will do their best to get the right candidates through the process, but they can't do that if you don't put the right information on your resume. So, make sure that your value proposition is clearly spelled out on your resume. This will enable the recruiter and hiring manager to find it quickly when they skim your resume.

#2 - Credentials Matter

It has probably been several years since you completed any degrees. And, your experience as a leader does matter more at this point in your executive career. But, your degrees and certifications still help you to stand out. This is true for executives in fields where those degrees may not be required for the types of jobs that you are pursuing. Thus, make sure that you include your credentials clearly on your resume. You shouldn't put your degree or certifications at the top of your resume, but you can be strategic and put those designations behind your name. For example:

John Smith, MBA, CFA

Doing this will enable the person skimming your resume to quickly see your credentials. Make sure that you only do this for credentials that are relevant and customary in your profession. For example, a person building a CTO resume may have a number of technical certifications. But, they will not need to (and should not) list all of those acronyms behind their name. Instead, this executive should pick 1 - 2 such credentials to include with their name.

#3 - Make it Easy to Find You on LinkedIn

Executive recruiters and other people in the hiring process will be looking for your LinkedIn profile. They will review your LinkedIn profile even if you don't apply to the job through LinkedIn. I fact, over 90% of employers are looking for your social media profiles (particularly LinkedIn) before setting up any interviews. So, make sure to include your LinkedIn profile link on your resume. This is particularly important for people with common names so that they can avoid confusion with the wrong profiles.

To properly include your LinkedIn profile on your resume, make sure that it is in the contact details section of your executive resume. This could be right behind your email and phone number.

And, make sure that you include the actual link - not merely an embedded hyperlink. This is important because the applicant tracking systems cannot always parse the link from the text. So, the only way to ensure it gets through the process is to put the full link on your resume.

To make it look better on your resume, consider customizing your LinkedIn profile link. You can do this to remove the numbers behind your name or to add branding to your link.

#4 - Include an Impactful Summary

Recruiters and the other people in the hiring process will skim your executive resume. In fact, studies consistently show that you have about 6 seconds of someone skimming your resume before they make their mind up about whether to pass or not on a candidate. So, you need to get to the point to get their attention.

Including a summary at the top of your executive resume gives your elevator pitch. A well-crafted summary provides an answer to the question of "Why hire you for this job?" So, make sure that you cover the relevant highlights and details that answer this question. It also means that a good summary for an executive resume is one that is customized to the audience.

#5 - Skills & Competencies

Include a carefully selected list of skills and competencies on your executive resume. You do this as an executive because everyone doing that will be looking for different things as you progress through the hiring process. Some people want only high-level concepts. So, providing a list of skills and competencies in the form of keywords or phrases will make it easier for them to see how you fit the position.

Including this list of skills & competencies will also improve the performance of your resume with the applicant tracking systems (ATS). The ATS programs are all driven by keywords and you will need to match at least 70% of them to get through the system. Thus, a skills & competencies list will enable you to easily customize the resume to those particular keywords while also making it easier for people to skim your resume.

#6 - Connect Your Themes with Big Results

Including a section at the beginning of your executive resume that presents your value proposition and results will have a huge impact. Doing this will depart from the traditional chronology format of a resume, but it will not be the only section that includes your results. Instead, keep this highlights section focused. Remember, the people looking at your resume will be skimming (quickly). So, keep this section tight and on message.

You can use this section to incorporate the big results across your career - rather than specific roles. But, the items that you pick for this section should be connected to the types of jobs and companies that you are applying to. Relevancy is key to standing out for the specific jobs that you pursue. And, you need to make sure that these highlights reflect the items or examples that you plan to talk about in an interview.

Most importantly, make sure that you include numbers of some kind in this section of your executive resume. Doing this will enable the person to visualize the results that you achieved and to compare you to other candidates. Numbers can also be relative - meaning that they may be way too big or too small for the employers that you are pursuing now. So, consider using percentages to show movement in this section rather than a straight number.

#7 - Emphasize Your Achievements with Quantifiable Details

To build an ATS optimized executive resume, you will need to include details under the specific roles that you have held. In this area, you will want to focus on the achievements that you have obtained in each role. And, you will want to keep those achievements relevant to the types of jobs that you are now pursuing. Meaning that you do not want a historical report of everything that you have ever done. Instead, include the results from those positions in a way that connects with what you want to do next.

The best achievement statements focus on your executive contributions and include a number to quantify your impact. The types of numbers and your contributions can vary depending on the types of roles that you pursue. But, the key is always to stay on track with your bigger executive message. An example of an executive achievement bullet is:

  • Led 10 direct reports in the management of 2,500 employees of the $50M company to drive growth across the 7 locations.

Compare that to this bullet without the numbers:

  • Managed the team to deliver growth in the multi-location operations of the business.

Thus, it is easy to see the difference between the candidates with the quantifiable information included. So, make sure that each of the entries in your professional experience includes achievement bullets. And, to build the best executive resume, make sure that you include numbers wherever you can in those achievement statements.

#8 - Stay Current

Many executives have years of great career experience. But, the more years that you have isn't always a favorable thing. Employers can't discriminate based on age, but recruiters and decision-makers can still hold bias against seasoned executives. This can come in the form of the perception that you are too expensive, too stuck in your ways, or unable to change. To avoid these biases, make sure that you keep your message focused on the recent experiences.

Your full career story is relevant, but the last 10 - 15 years are the most relevant in your executive job search. So, keep the details in your resume focused on those pieces. You can roll up the older roles without bullets or details if you want to keep the progression on your resume. But, you should cut that experience off at a certain point to prevent the potential biases (and to keep the resume length appropriate for your experience).

#9 - Thought Leadership

Speaking, memberships, and writing are all great ways to give back to your field or to advance the image of the companies that you lead as an executive. Make sure to include this activity on your resume to help the recruiters to see you as a thought leader in your industry.

Include this list of speaking, memberships, and articles at the end of your resume. The right way to put this on your executive resume is to organize the entries so it is easy to skim through the details. You will want to put the titles of any presentations, co-presenters/authors, publications or conference names, and dates.

Organize these entries based on type and prestige. Meaning that you shouldn't pick every presentation or article ever. Instead, include the ones that are most relevant to your current leadership message and career objectives. You should also organize each of these sections consistently so that they are either reverse chronology or in terms of high profile to lowest profile.

Another area to consider including in this section would be any press coverage. This could be coverage of you or your companies/teams. Include the full titles of the piece, the press outlet, the date, and a link to the article or interview. Including this earned media will help to build credibility well beyond other executive candidates.

#10 - Be Strategic with Dates

At this point in your career, the year you graduated will not matter. And, in fact, could unnecessarily create bias. So, remove the years from any degrees on your resume. The fact that you have these degrees and that they can be verified by the school is sufficient for your executive resume.

Similarly, you should remove the time period for any jobs on your executive resume that do not have details under them. Thus, any entries in your prior experience without bullets do not need dates. You put them on here to show your progression, but the time that you were in those roles isn't relevant.

Finally, remove any dates from certifications or other areas on your resume that aren't relevant. As explained above, extra dates may only serve to age you or to make you look stale. So, keep the focus on the relevant facts - that you have the right certifications or credentials for the position.  Conversely, if you obtained a certification or license recently, then make sure to include the date for that certification or license. Doing this will show that you are a continuous learner and that you continue to grow as an executive leader.