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Most home-grown executive resumes tend to be written in the same manner and generally contain the same mistakes.  The most critical error, of course, is writing an “experience-related” executive resume that simply focuses on job responsibilities, as opposed to selling skills, abilities and accomplishments.  This type of executive resume does little to gain the attention of employers since it fails to differentiate the job seeker’s talents and successes from the legion of other potential candidates all vying for the same position.  

An Executive Resume Must Always Focus on the Future
The second most common mistake relates to the fact that the great majority of people focus their executive resumes on qualifications and experiences that are central to their current positions, with little or no thought given as to the appropriateness of the material based on their new job objectives. Executive resume writing is about the future, and to be successful you must identify the qualifications and experiences that best support your current job objective so that you may then focus your executive resume on those factors to the degree possible.

Consider, for example, a CFO who has decided to seek a new position as a CEO.  Since the core focus of these two jobs have considerable differences, it would not be wise to write an executive resume that is strictly limited to CFO-related qualifications such as cash management, treasury and corporate credit.  Rather, the CFO’s goal should be one of creating the image of a top-notch financial officer, who is also a key member of the executive team with accountability for establishing the company’s strategic vision and direction.  This means identifying broader general management skills and carefully selected accomplishments that clearly show the CFO has operated within the CEO’s domain, particularly when those activities have helped to streamline operations, grow market share, reduce operating costs, increase gross revenues and improve net earnings.

It must be clearly understood, however, that this does not mean the CFO should downplay his or her financial expertise and successes.  To have the title of CFO, while placing an inordinate emphasis on CEO-related skills and accomplishments, would almost assuredly make the executive resume appear distorted and unrealistic.  But if a reasonable amount of high-impact CEO-related material is judiciously inserted into an achievement-oriented CFO resume, a picture of a corporate builder and leader takes form, rather than just another financial officer.  

The Use of Industry-Specific Language on the Executive Resume
Targeting an executive resume for a future position also requires that you consider industry-specific language.  Assume, for example, that the senior operations executive for a large electric power company has made the decision to transition into a completely different industry.  If this individual has any hope of success, it certainly would not be wise to use an executive resume heavily laced with terminology that relates to 2.5 megawatt air compressors, hard-switch controls and neutron detector chambers.  A significantly more effective executive resume would focus on senior-level management responsibilities and quantified achievements that will be viewed more favorably across a wide variety of industries and market segments.  Never force prospective employers to see you as only fitting into a particular industry by using terminology that is, for the most part, irrelevant for your new job objective.

The concept of industry-specific language is also applicable in other areas, such as when identifying successful business transactions with corporate clients.  For example, if your current customer base includes Ford Motor Company, Chrysler and General Motors, and you do not wish to draw a prospective employer’s attention to the fact that you routinely deal with firms in the automotive industry, you might simply refer to them as “Fortune 500 customers.”  Conversely, if your customer base includes companies such as Hewlett Packard, Microsoft and Oracle, and they help connect you to the type of industry in which you are interested, be sure to mention them by name.

Understanding the subtleties of industry-specific language will prove to be a valuable asset when targeting your executive resume to your new job objective.  But there is an invisible line that must never be crossed if you hope to convince a prospective employer that you are a credible candidate.  Do not exaggerate or fabricate information and choose your words carefully, but always focus your executive resume on what lies ahead, as opposed to where you are now.  

Always Indicate Your Future Job Objective on the Executive Resume
Stating a clearly defined job objective at the beginning of your executive resume is absolutely essential if you expect prospective employers to fully understand the exact type of position you seek.  A targeted job objective tells the reader what you want to do, while the rest of the document explains how well you’ve performed in the past.  An executive resume has about 20 to 30 seconds to garner the reader’s interest, but very few employers will spend even that much time if they do not immediately understand the exact type of position you wish to pursue.

Not identifying your job objective is a mistake, but presenting multiple objectives on a single executive resume can be equally fatal.  Nevertheless, many people continue to submit executive resumes containing multiple objectives under the erroneous assumption that it will actually help them to be considered for a broader array of opportunities.  As a result, their executive resumes typically lack focus and are easily dismissed by prospective employers.  Having several different potential job objectives is not an unusual occurrence, but creating a single executive resume that tries to sell two or more objectives is not the answer.

To help clarify this concept, assume you have a multi-functional background and have decided that you would be equally happy in sales or in operations.  Obviously, the answer is to create two different executive resumes; one focusing on sales (with less attention given to operations) and the other focusing on operations (with less attention given to sales).  A sales executive who has a background in general operations is not at a disadvantage, nor is an operations executive who has worked within the sales function.  Employers generally like candidates who have well-rounded backgrounds, but they do want to know the specific type of position for which you have submitted your executive resume.

While it is important to identify the type of position you are seeking, there are times when you can be too specific.  For example, you may be targeting a CEO position, but would be willing to consider several other positions such as COO or EVP under certain circumstances.  However, if you show a CEO-specific objective on your executive resume, you might very well be passed-up by a company searching for a new Chief Operating Officer or Executive Vice President.  If you want to be a CEO, and nothing but a CEO, say so on your executive resume.  If, however, you are at least willing to look at other high-level positions, an objective that says Senior Operating & General Management Executive is far more appropriate.  

Customize Your Executive Resume to Match Each Employer’s Job Requirements
Many job seekers fail to grasp the importance of customizing their executive resumes before sending them to prospective employers, even when specific information is available about the requirements of the position.  These people seem to feel customization is a time-consuming process that doesn’t really help their cause that much.  This is a flawed assumption and it is likely to cost you a number of potential opportunities if you agree with its premise.

Numerous marketing studies have shown how a simple one- or two-word change in a written advertisement can increase the response rate of that ad by threefold or more.  Since the executive resume is a pure sales document, do not forfeit the opportunity to make your background appear more attractive to an employer when you have any knowledge as to the qualifications that are likely to lead to an interview.  It is a simple fact that your ability to adapt your executive resume to an employer’s specific job requirements – on an opportunity-by-opportunity basis – will significantly improve your chances of success.

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