Photo by Sarah Pflug from Burst.
There is no denying the importance of a visually appealing executive resume. While the average job seeker’s resume generally includes 10 years or less of work experience, an executive resume commonly covers at least 15 years of career history. On top of that, many executives have multiple degrees, credentials, certifications, awards, public speaking accomplishments, publications, and relevant community involvement. Simply categorizing and listing all this information in a Word document or PDF would be incredibly overwhelming for the reader.
Luckily, there are numerous design tips and tricks professional executive resume writers use to consolidate and highlight all the different pieces of information that form a candidate’s value proposition. An effective executive resume design is pleasing to look at and can strategically draw the reader to the most relevant information. Here are some things to consider when designing your executive resume:
- Word processing software has evolved, and so have executive resumes. Once upon a time, a bulleted list of accomplishments was considered flashy. Over time, resumes have become less text-heavy and more colorful, with much more visually pleasing layouts than single-column paragraphs. Modern word processing software allows for columns, tables, images, and text boxes to be creatively used to draw the reader into the document.
- Your executive resume is a career marketing document and should be branded as such. Other career marketing documents include your value proposition letter (cover letter), professional bio, and endorsements page. All these documents should be visually congruous and spotlight the same target and value.
- Simpler is almost always better. Stick to a color scheme with 1 or 2 main colors, use the same font, bullet style, and header formatting throughout the document, and don’t underestimate the power of white space (more on white space in #8 below). A clean-looking layout will make your reader’s job easier because they are naturally drawn from one area to the next without having to piece together information or wonder where to find specific details. You want your reader to be able to find what they are looking for and see what you want them to see easily at first glance, without having to search.
- Strive to satisfy your reader on their first look-through. Your reader will want to know the context of your career history and target position, so answer the following questions for them upfront:
- What type of position do you want?
- What industry are you targeting?
- What size of companies have you worked with in the past?
- What are the largest teams/P&Ls/projects you have managed?
- Use bold typeface to highlight what you want your reader to see. It may seem simple, but appropriate use of bold text will naturally draw your reader to that information. You can strategically use this technique to help your reader answer the above questions—bold your position title vs. the company and your degree vs. the post-secondary institution. However, keep in mind #3 above; simpler is almost always better. Use bold (and italic, underlined, etc.) text sparingly.
- Make the most of the top third of your first page—this is prime resume real estate. If a reader only has a minute to look at a resume, this is where their eyes will go. Don’t bury the important information. Your name, contact information, target industry, target title/position, career context, critical relevant information, and a few career highlights should be front and center.
- Spotlight your most significant accomplishments. Generally, an employment listing in the career history section of your executive resume will be made up of the position header, a paragraph describing how you came into the role (recruited, promoted, etc.) and your high-level responsibilities, and bullets with your accomplishments and quantifiable contributions. It might be a lot for your reader to go through to find the most impressive information, so pull it out for them! Use a graph to spotlight your revenue growth accomplishments or a text box to list your impact on different KPIs.
- Use white space to your advantage. A text-heavy document is going to be overwhelming to look at and harder to read. Your reader is giving you only about 10 seconds of their time at first; break up the text on the page, so it’s easier for them to get through. Use a mixture of headers, paragraphs, bullets, and visuals like graphs to help their eyes move fluidly through the document.
- Let value dictate the length of the resume. It is doubtful that an executive recruiter will toss a resume in the trash based solely on the fact that it is 2 pages instead of 1 or 3 pages. The important thing is that every single word, section, and visual is purposeful and conveys value. That said, regardless of how many pages you have, ensure the pages are full; don’t finish your resume with only a paragraph or two at the top of the last page. Use spacing and formatting to make sure the last page is full to the bottom with meaningful content.
Remember, when designing your executive resume, your goal is to make your reader’s job as easy as possible by helping them find the most relevant information in the document. A visually appealing and strategically designed resume will draw their eyes to the information they need.
Mary Elizabeth Bradford is the Founder and Executive Director of CEOresumewriter.com and a past executive recruiter. A thought leader in the career services industry for over 20 years, she holds 7 distinct advanced certifications for C-suite and board document/resume writing, online branding, executive leadership/mindfulness coaching, and executive/board-level transition coaching (CERM, CMRW+EE, CARW, MCD, NCOPE, IBDC.D, MQLE.D). Her elite team of award-winning, certified, top executive resume writers, former top executive recruiters, and global HR executives help many of the world’s premier C-suite, board members, and thought leaders.