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.