Executive power words. They belong on executive resumes. We know they’re mostly verbs — words with great emotional power.
We also know they’re embedded in your descriptions of your responsibilities, skills, and accomplishments.
However, we don’t know which words deliver the best results — interviews and job offers.
Power Words That Won Jobs
Last year, several of my resume clients got new jobs very quickly. For example, I sent one client a draft of his resume and then didn’t hear back from him. Odd. After a month, I emailed him a “What’s up?” and he replied that he had a new job. Best answer!
Given this, I decided to review the resumes of my most quickly hired clients and pull together a list of market-proven power words.
“What” and “How” Verbs
The first pattern I noticed was that I could easily classify the words into “what” and “how” groups.
It’s no surprise that my clients who showed their ability to make things happen at work landed new jobs quickly.
My study revealed that resumes that emphasized “what,” the change, progress, and results my clients obtained, quickly won interviews and job offers. 72% of the words on the executive power words list are “what” verbs.
“How” my clients achieved their “whats” mattered too. Resumes that highlighted classic managerial and situational awareness skills got attention. In addition, resumes that described “how” my clients related to and led people got the nod. 28% of the words on the power word list are “how” words.
4 More Patterns
Beyond what and how verbs, the executive power words broke into four more groupings:
First, the most effective resumes described results using verbs such as:
awarded, completed, decreased, exceeded, increased, delivered, differentiated, doubled, earned, executed, gained, grew, met, monetized, netted, optimized, patented, performed, produced, progressed, promoted, received, recognized, recruited, resulted, retained, saved, secured, selected, sold, solved, won
While you wouldn’t think of those as keywords that recruiters look for, they are power words that cause recruiters to schedule interviews and hiring managers to make job offers.
Second, the only constant is change. Thus, executives who show they can plan and execute strategy and lead change make attractive candidates. The best resumes described change using verbs such as:
accelerated, advocated, built, centralized, changed, cleared, converted, defended, defined, eliminated, escalated, established, exited, expanded, formed, fostered, founded, generated, institutionalized, integrated, initiated, introduced, invented, invested, launched, opened, packaged, pioneered, positioned, procured, proved, reduced, renewed, shifted, simplified, sourced, standardized, started, systematized, tightened, turned
Third, companies want executives who can lead and work effectively with others. Thus, people verbs such as these mattered:
brokered, coached, collaborated, contributed, convened, cultivated, engaged, facilitated, led, negotiated, partnered, presented, represented, served
Fourth, beyond leaders, organizations also need managers. The best resumes contained many of these managerial words:
anticipated, avoided, controlled, ensured, evaluated, focused, highlighted, identified, investigated, monitored, prevented, prioritized, protected, reviewed, specified
Compare Your Resume to the List
Check your resume. Look for about a 70/30 distribution between “what” and “how” verbs. If you want a better balance between “what” and “how” verbs, the lists give you market-proven performers. They helped my clients get interviews and six-figure jobs very quickly. I hope they work for you too.
Many people enjoy visualizations, so I put together this infographic that summarizes all of the information above:
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Updated September 2020
© 2014 – 2023, Donna Svei. All rights reserved.
Donna Svei, an executive resume writer and former C-level executive, retained search consultant, and CPA, authors all of AvidCareerist’s posts.
She is a Fast Company Contributor and has written for and been quoted by 100+ business and general media outlets, including Forbes, Inc., Entrepreneur, CNBC, the New York Times, USA Today, Time, US News & World Report, CBS, the BBC, Lifehacker, Social Media Today, IT World, and Business News Daily.
Let her expertise inform your job search strategy and decision-making.
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I am very interested in the proven words.