Skip to Main Navigation Skip to Content
Be in demand

What every executive should know about their résumé. How to stand out in a competitive market

What every executive should know about their résumé. How to stand out in a competitive market

As an executive career strategist, I have seen tens of thousands of résumés; many look very similar to one another. In fact, prior to my role as senior career consultant with ProMotion Career Solutions, I played a pivotal role in making hiring decisions for a small organization. Most of the résumés I received looked the same.

Most people use a Microsoft office template to create their résumés. Even if they don’t use a résumé template, they use something that looks like a template.

You may be getting an image in your head of a black and white document, with times new roman font. Yes, that is the one. So how do you avoid looking like other job seekers?

Here are my list of top five dos and don’ts when it comes to your résumé.

Don’t use a template: Using a template résumé is like telling employers they are not worth your time and effort. It demonstrates lack of interest in the position and screams that you are a follower not a leader. Rather than go this route, consider a customized, well branded document that reflects who you really are – a six-figure professional ready to move your career forward.

Don’t list irrelevant information or positions: As a six-figure executive, you likely have hundreds of talents you are able to share with many employers. Dumping this information onto anyone is a no-no. Instead, identify the talents and abilities the company is looking for in an ideal candidate. Once you have done that, focus your efforts on these five to ten things and clearly articulate how you bring value to the company because of your expertise in these areas.

Don’t speak about generic experiences: If asked, most people will agree they are ‘team players’, that they are ‘motivated’ and ‘results-oriented’. Can you think of people who are not these things? Of course, you can. The problem with these vague and very general terms is that they have become throw-away jargon that most jobseekers throw into their résumé like a ‘hail-Mary pass’. You will have to support every qualification you claim with a specific and quantifiable example.

Don’t identify a laundry list of activities: No one wants to know about all the activities you have been involved in since you graduated grade school. It is not only boring; it lacks focus, and does nothing to demonstrate the real value you bring to an organization. Instead, entice your reader with action words that help the reader understand your capabilities and you would have much more success. For example, rather than saying you were

“Responsible for a team of 12”

You might say something like

“Accelerated team performance, driving 12 senior managers to increase productivity 150%

Some of my favourites verbs include: accelerate, discern, drive, pilot, champion, envision, spearhead…”(to name a few).

Don’t make assumptions about your reader: Never assume the reader knows what you know, or even who the reader(s) will be. A computer, a junior human resources clerk, a CEO, or a temporary employee may be the first person to screen your résumé. It must speak to all of them. With that in mind, here is one more very important suggestion: avoid the use of acronyms – even when they are commonly used in your industry. While there are some exceptions to this rule, here are a few examples of words I would spell out, just in case. Whether you have a BA[i], MBA[ii], you work for DND[iii], or NASDAQ[iv], you work with SAP[v], SQL[vi], you have your CGA[vii], belong to TEC[viii], or work in IT[ix] as a CIO[x], not to be confused with the other CIO[xi], never use TLA[xii]s in your CV[xiii].

Create a career brand with a value proposition: To make yourself irresistible to your target audience, you must first identify and understand the qualifications and talents the employer is looking for in an ideal candidate. You can learn more about companies through the internet, and by talking to people within the company. If you are stuck, imagine you were going to hire someone for a particular position, what would be the few fundamental items you would need to know about the candidate before making a selection from a pool of applicants? When you think like your target audience, you can uncover items to feature in your résumé. 

Identify what makes you an ideal candidate: Creating a comprehensive profile of the value you have to offer an employer is crucial to your success in job search. Many six-figure executives overlook some of their obvious talents in favour of soft skills like leadership and motivation. Both of these talents are valuable, just be sure you aren’t overlooking your post-graduate work, your twenty years of experience in information technology, or your nationally ranked business achievements in favour of softer, loftier abilities. 

Tailor your experiences to your reader: Companies hire employees for any number of reasons, but most likely to add value to the company’s bottom-line. Think of ways you can attract your reader. Identify how past contributions added value to bottom-lines of previous employers. Where possible try to add a quantifiable result. For example:

¨Increased membership 58% after establishing a strategic plan, and sound governance and management practices.” 

Practice the C.A.R. formula: The Challenge, Action, Result formula is used to build context into your résumé. When you take the time to identify the action you took, and the results that were achieved, you are building a story for the reader. Here is a before and after example:


Planned a national conference


Planned national conference for 200 members and achieved 25% increase in membership, despite four new competitors entering the market.

Customize your format: If your résumé looks like all the other résumés, chances are good you’ll wind up in the same location. To stand out – lose the black and white résumé with the times new roman font and remember to keep it simple. Too much colour will say you are trying too hard and you don’t know how to fit in. If you want to step up your résumé, my suggestion is to hire a professional.

Consider using an executive résumé writing firm 
A client recently engaged my services because his résumé was not producing interviews. Without a strong résumé, he felt he would never receive an invitation to meet face-to-face. Working with the client one on one, I could tell he was really struggling to identify why a company might hire him. A week after our second session he was presented with his customized, strategically crafted executive portfolio. Here was his reaction:

“I am stunned in the draft product delivered to me. I need only say this… I let my wife read the résumé last night that you produced, her comment was. “I have the urge to finish reading this whole résumé, even though I have no background in the details.” For me, that is unbelievable. You said to me one of the goals is to have the reader not be able to put the résumé down, and that is the first (unprompted by me) comment she had. How amazing that was. Clearly, this is going to be a great asset!”

Make certain your résumé leaves a solid first impression, and has a long lasting impact with your reader.

[i]Bachelor of Arts
[ii]Masters of Business
[iii]Department of National Defence
[iv]National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations
[v]Systems Applications and Products
[vi]Search and Query Language
[vii]Certified General Accountant
[viii]The Executive Connection
[ix]Information Technology
[x]Chief Information Officer
[xi] Chief Investments Officer
[xii] Three Letter Acronym
[xiii] Curriculum Vitae

Related Categories: Job Search, Resumes & ATS

About The Author
Maureen McCann is an award-winning career coach, master resume writer, and master certified interview, employment, and career strategist whose clients include C-level executives, managers, and professionals in all industries including the Canadian banking, oil and gas, healthcare, IT, and government sectors.

Ready to Get Unstuck?

Contact me to book a one-on-one appointment. Confidentiality guaranteed. An investment in your career is one of the best investments you'll make in your life.