How to Position Yourself for the Top

I see a lot of resumes, typically those of mid- to senior-level professionals from numerous industries. My most common takeaway from their resumes:

“Your resume doesn’t show the strength of your background.”

If you want to get close to or at the C-suite level, it’s not enough to list your accomplishments. Even though you’re often not applying through regular online channels, you must make it clear that you have the skills required for the level you’re targeting.

I’ve worked with many people going for the top, and by focusing on the skills companies look for at those levels, we’ve seen a lot of successes, including a senior director who became the COO of a start-up and the CFO of a small firm who became a VP in a $12B company.

What skills do I need to highlight?

There are three key skills that are almost universally desired in any executive. Other knowledge will be particular to your industry, but can be made explicit when you use examples to support these universal skills. They are:

• Leadership (people, financials, expertise)

• Strategic planning (short- and long-term business plans, innovation/process improvement)

• Change management (communication)

How can you position yourself the right way in your resume?


People management. You usually progress through a career managing your own work to managing projects to overseeing the work of others to direct management of people. If you have not yet managed others directly, you need to highlight the biggest projects and work of others that you’ve managed. If you do supervise others, elaborate on your responsibilities and examples of your management style. Here are some things to consider:

1) Do you coach and mentor your staff on how to improve performance, get promoted, and/or professional development opportunities? Be as specific as possible.

2) Are you evaluating their performance on a regular basis, and in what way? Do you hold regular meetings with individuals and teams to advise them and obtain their feedback?

Financials. There are a number of ways of looking at financial management and leadership. You may be creating budgets and ensuring teams stay within them, or in charge of a business unit, tracking profit and loss. Whatever it is, be clear about what you manage and size. Keep in mind:

1) While the exact numbers are often confidential, you can say “multi-million” or “around” to include an estimate.

2) You can also use percentages to describe increases in sales or profit year-on-year, or the amount of cash you saved by coming in under budget on a project.

Expertise. In many industries, you’d refer to this as thought leadership, but I know a lot of people don’t like that term. What I’m referring to here are opportunities that you have to share your expertise. It could be:

1) informal or formal internal presentations;

2) public speaking engagements;

3) blogs or articles that you author; and/or

4) engagement with C-suite executives (e.g., meetings, briefings, reports).

If you haven’t done these things, think about what issues colleagues approach you about, i.e., for what concerns are they seeking your help?

Strategic planning

Short- and long-term business plans. If you’re involved in meetings and planning for the future of the department or business overall, you’re part of creating business plans. Be as specific as you can about the executives you’re working with and your part in the planning process. Consider:

1) Are you reporting on past performance and recommending future courses of action?

2) Are you analyzing past and current data to inform future plans for the business?

Innovation and process improvement. Innovation is the talk of the town these days, right? It’s just a fancy way of saying bringing new ideas to life. If you’ve introduced new initiatives in your company, describe them. While it’s best to use examples of those that have been implemented successfully, it’s okay to mention those that haven’t yet come to fruition. New ideas could be anything from introducing technical tools to make work more efficient to redesigning the sales process. Typically, these initiatives result in process improvements, which is another way to think about projects you’ve developed and executed.

Change management

Change management is defined as “the discipline that guides how we prepare, equip and support individuals to successfully adopt change in order to drive organizational success and outcomes.” In essence, it’s the management of transformation within a business.

Communication. Besides describing the type of change you’ve managed – it could be anything from implementation of a new software system to merging another company with yours – you should be clear about how you’ve prepared individuals and teams to adopt the change successfully.

1) How did you motivate your teams throughout the process of change?

2) Have you coached and delegated to others to support colleagues during this time of change?

3) How did you continue to inspire your teams to do their best work post-transformation?

4) What are the outcomes of the change (if known)?

Your title and list of accomplishments may make it clear you are executive material, but if someone cannot easily take away from your resume that you have the skills needed at that level, you’ve got some work to do.

If you need help extracting examples of these skills, we ask questions to identify them and then craft the bullets. Set up a free, no obligation consultation by clicking on the button below.

How to Refine Your Professional Story

To get your dream job, you need confidence. That will come when you have your professional story down pat – in your resume, LinkedIn profile, and your mind. What’s your professional story?

Can you sum up your expertise and skills in a few short lines and weave that story throughout your resume with examples?  

It is far from easy. But it’s critical. Just like in any story or piece of academic writing, you need a clear theme and messages to support that theme.

If you can’t clearly define your narrative, an employer is not going to take the time to read and re-read your resume until they figure out what you are all about. The majority of recruiters spend less than 30 seconds reviewing a resume.

If you have experience in totally different types of roles, that can become confusing.

Hone in on what exactly it is you want to be doing next.

“Sell your destiny, not your history.”

For example, if you did project management in the past but have zero interest in it now, you don’t need to totally lose it, but tone it down. It should not overpower your resume, and you likely don’t want to mention it in your career summary because an employer may get the idea that’s what you want to do. In that case, they may say, “hey, this project manager opportunity would be great for you!” when all you want to do is product development. The same thing happens on LinkedIn all the time. You may be contacted for project management roles when you want nothing to do with them.

Let’s start from the top of your resume.

Career Summary

First, create what I call an umbrella statement, or career summary, at the top of your resume. These first few lines should describe briefly the skills you have in terms of where you want to go. Your bullets under each job in your resume are the supporting evidence for these claims.

Answer these 3 questions to help you craft it.

1.     What do I do in my current or most recent job that I enjoy? What skills am I using?

2.     In my past work, what did I find most rewarding and what skills did I employ?

3.     What skills do I want to use in my next role or in future roles?

The third question is key, because that will tell you how to shape your story from the top and throughout your bullets.

Emphasize everything you’ve done that supports where you want to go.

Here are four sample career summaries.

Expert project manager with 12 years of experience in healthcare non-profits leading program development, community outreach, and the design and delivery of educational content. Acknowledged for event management skills and ability to inspire teammates.

Versatile statistician with 20+ years of experience in healthcare, pharmaceutical, and market research firms developing creative solutions to complex research questions using SAS and other tools. Recognized for communication ability, concise writing skills, and for proactively tackling challenging problems. 

Job Description Bullets

After thinking through the three questions above and crafting your summary toward where you want to go next, you should have a good idea of the skills you need to emphasize to support your story.

Don’t simply tell by making a laundry list of responsibilities; show what you did.

Provide detailed examples with the purpose or result of each task. Group them under a subheading that names a skill you want to emphasize.

For example: 

Program and relationship management

·      Served as project manager for a $25K/month client, utilizing project management tools and methodology.

·      Managed logistics for annual client summit in Washington, D.C., resulting in 75% of clients attending.

Strategic planning

·      Instituted Basecamp as firm’s first project management tool with goal of increasing efficiency and profits.

·      Created marketing plan for nurse philanthropy training (total of 500 attendees), meeting requirements to maintain accreditation as a continuing education program. 

The subheadings relate this candidate’s experience to specific skills she has developed and intends to continue to use in her next job.

Each bullet underneath the subheadings supports her ability to utilize those skills. The examples are specific and contain details, along with the impact or end goal of her work.

When you tell your story effectively in your resume, you let the employer understand clearly who you are and what you have to offer. Narrow your focus and emphasize your skills and experience that relate to what is most important, i.e., where you want to go next.

10 Things to Remove From Your Resume - ClearanceJobs

Attention! There may be parts of your resume that you can immediately remove or change because they are either hurting you or taking up valuable space.


Unless you are asked for one, do not include a photo. Employers expect that you have one on your online career profiles, but not on your resume.


You only need your city and state or city and country if you’re outside the United States.


If you’re using an objective statement at the top of your resume, stop. Employers don’t care what your goal is – they want to know what you can do to support their goals. Use 3-4 lines or bullets that summarize your career and skills as they relate to what you want to do next. This brief statement should show the employer, using data from the job posting, that you meet the main required qualifications.

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