I need to thank Erin Greenawald over at The Muse as the inspiration behind this piece as a follow on to her insightful article.

My aim here, is to take her ‘musings’ (sorry) and apply them to you: The Executive Job Seeker.

What Erin highlighted was a 2014 Career Builder survey that sampled over 2000 hiring managers and human resource professionals across industries and company sizes to find out the best and worst ranked words to use on a resume.

Basically, what turns them on and what turns them off.

The headline result was that recruiters love strong action verbs and hate silly grammatical mistakes.


Put simply, action verbs are power words that specifically describe what the subject in a sentence is doing.

Action verbs can give us a lot of information related to the emotion or sense of purpose that extends beyond the definition of the words.

In the context of executive resume writing, action verbs provide power and purpose.


Here’s the top 10:

  1. Achieved
  2. Improved
  3. Trained/Mentored
  4. Managed
  5. Created
  6. Resolved
  7. Volunteered
  8. Influenced
  9. Increased / Decreased
  10. Ideas

What we can see from this is that recruiters like action verbs that will give power and purpose to competencies and achievements.

For example, “Trained and mentored a sales team of 5” OR “Improved revenue performance by 15% year on year.”

When it comes to an executive resume, it’s important that you pick power verbs that:

  1. Give power
  2. Give purpose
  3. Avoid the transactional

When working with executive clients, I often find that if power verbs have been used, they tend to be more relevant at a transactional level rather than a strategic one.

That is, they describe the action of the manager completing the action rather than the leader defining it. For example:

Execute vs Spearhead

Persuade vs Inspire

Plan vs Shape

As an executive, your action verbs are the cornerstones of your professional brand and need to reflect a high-level leadership competency.

Think bold and powerful action verbs such as orchestrate, establish, maximize, shape, grow, transform, cultivate, boost, increase and outgrew.


When applying these powerful action verbs to your resume, think of it like sprinkling seasoning to create a culinary masterpiece – too much and it could ruin the whole dish.

The last thing recruiters want to see is a string of action verbs that describe very little. It takes away from your accomplishments and has the potential to make everything a bit fluffy.

The best way to use action verbs is to pimp your competency statements (which by the way have been empirically proven to boost an application’s chances of being shortlisted.)

Our typical rule of thumb is to start your responsibilities and achievements (your competency statements) with an action verb and again at the start of each clause IF it links action with output. For example:

“Established an accountable business culture with emphasis on collaboration, instilling attention to detail in managers to create a risk aware environment.”

“Boosted revenue from $10M to $18M in 12 months, simplifying the operational model to enable focus on business development activities.”


For good measure, let’s look at the 10 words recruiters hate seeing on a resume, according to the above mentioned survey:

  1. Best of breed
  2. Go-getter
  3. Think outside of the box
  4. Synergy
  5. Go-to person
  6. Thought leadership
  7. Value add
  8. Results-driven
  9. Team player
  10. Bottom-line

Hmm. Seems like recruiters aren’t a fan of nouns. I put this down to an evidence-related problem.

The great Dr. Carl Sagan told us:

‘Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.’

But let’s be honest, he was talking about astronomy rather that the more black and white world of recruitment.

If recruiters can see the powerful nouns describing your executive leadership skill set but can’t see them being evidenced in your resume, then they may well assume it’s a fabrication and you’re wasting their time.

So, it’s no wonder why the term ‘thought leader’ without the complementary evidence to back it up drives them ‘un poco loco’.


Writing an executive resume is not difficult. However, it does require a significant amount of time and attention to detail. When writing your executive resume, don’t forget to pay attention to the following details:

  1. Action verbs make your resume more powerful and purposeful.
  2. Choose them carefully – pitch at an executive level.
  3. Use them smartly and sparingly.
  4. Back up your nouns with evidence.

If you don’t wish to write your executive resume yourself, you might be tempted to hire a professional resume writer. Before you do, take a look at my Guide To Hiring A Resume Writer – doing so will probably save you a considerable amount of time and money.