A Behind the Scenes Glimpse into the Life of an Executive Resume Writer

I wasn’t sure I really wanted to write this post, after all, resume writers are not celebrities. No one is lining up for my autograph when I take my family out to Appleby’s. Who would really care how I do my work? But then I thought, maybe if people understood what kind of work goes into creating an executive resume they could take those lessons and run with them. At the very least it would clear up some misconceptions about how we work.

The first thing I do when I get a new client is to carefully read over all of their original materials- resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile. Often there are a few supplementary pieces of information they send along as well. This information digestion is important, because this is how the client sees themselves professionally, and if I am going to accurately represent them I need to keep this in mind.

Next, I spend some time looking at the job listings of one to two different positions that they have expressed interest in applying for. Most times their experience and education match their intended target, but not always. If it is a match then I spend my time focusing on the exact wording the company uses to describe the skills they are looking for. We’ll need to use these in all of the application documents. If there is not a match I have one of two tasks ahead of me: either tease out some additional skills and experience from the client, or explain to them why they may need to change direction a bit if they want this job search to be as successful as it can be.

So far the job of a resume writer has not involved much writing. That now changes as I go from research mode to writing mode. The first piece of writing I do for a new client is to create a branding statement. This is a one to two sentence declaration that explains exactly who they are and what they offer. It is meant to be the lens through which the rest of the resume is read. This is a key component both in terms of the client’s job search and in terms of the writer-client relationship. If I can really nail down the branding statement the client then knows that I understand them and what they are trying to achieve. Because of this I spend quite a bit of time on this relatively short piece of the larger resume/personal branding puzzle.

Once the branding statement is done and agreed upon we move on to the core competency list. This is a list of 12-15 skills that serve two different purposes. First, they trigger the ATS (an automated program that scans resumes looking for certain keywords. Only if the resume passes this first test will it move on to a human reader). Second, they act as a short hand, ‘skimmable’ summary of the client’s abilities. The employer or recruiter can scan the list and instantly see if this person has the necessary skills to do the job. One of my most important jobs as an executive resume writer is to make this as easy as possible on the reader. We don’t have a lot of time with them, so the easier they can digest the client’s info the better.

Now I can finally get to the meat of the document, the work history. There is of course some standard information that needs to be included such as the job title, company name and location and the years employed there. Then come the job details. One mistake many job seekers make is to list their job responsibilities, what they were in charge of in each particular position. Or worse, they cut and paste their job duties right from their company’s handbook. This is not what a recruiter or employer wants to see. They need to see quantifiable accomplishments. In other words, what were you able to do for the organization. In order to show this, I often have to tease out more detail from the client by asking some probing questions about their time at each company. Then, I refer back to those core competencies. By tying in the skills we stated above with the history listed below we can create a document that flows and tells a story.

For instance, if we listed Process Improvement as a competency and then can explain how when you worked for ABC Corp you were able to redesign the IT department to decrease downtime by 30% we have proved your skill. This is what an employer needs to see. How you performed and created margin for your previous employers.

The last piece of the work history section that can sometimes be a struggle is the overall length. This is especially hard with executives who have a long work history that they are justifiably proud of. The cold, hard truth is however, most employers have a very “what have you done lately” attitude. Rarely do you need to go beyond 10-15 years of history. Sometimes this takes some convincing on my part.

Now come the easier parts, the education, technical skills and what I’ll call miscellaneous info (languages, certifications, publications, presentations, professional development). These pieces of information can be presented more or less as lists and should be completely “skimmable” for the reader. They need to be there, but should take as little space as possible.

Depending on the responsiveness of the client during this whole process, it usually takes about five to six days for me to complete a resume, from initial information gathering to finished draft ready for sending out. Then I move on to the other pieces of the client’s package which can include letters, reference sheets, LinkedIn profiles and coaching pieces. But after the resume is done these other items move along much more quickly. The resume always does the heavy lifting.

So now you know exactly how an executive resume writer works- or at least this one.