When trying to write your executive resume, you may find yourself lost in a forest of information. Most executives have decades of experience, sometimes spanning many fields and industries. How can you pour all that background into just a few 8 x 11 inch pages? Where do you even start?

To tackle this challenge, it helps to frame your experience and goals as a Venn diagram (see image below). Picture the left circle as every detail of your work experience, going all the way back to that pizza delivery job in high school. Then picture the right circle as every detail of your career goal. This includes your target job title, duties, industry, and company size.

Now for the important part: picture the overlapping portion of the two circles as the details of your past jobs that are also details of your desired future job. This overlapped information is what you should use for your resume. 


If you’re on a straightforward career track and your background is similar to your goal, the overlap of your Venn diagram may be large. On the other hand, if you’re making a big career jump and your background differs strongly from your goal, the overlap may be no more than a sliver. In each case, however, you should base your resume on that overlap and feel free to toss virtually all the other information in your left circle.

A good (if extreme) example of this idea occurs in the movie American Beauty. Recall how the main character, Lester, in the throes of a midlife crisis, applies to work at a fast food restaurant again after decades in the corporate world. During the job interview, he points to the very bottom of his resume and says, “I have fast food experience,” to which the unimpressed manager responds “Yeah, thirty years ago!”

In this case, all the more recent experience detailed on his resume, however notable, actually sets him back because it doesn’t correlate to the job at hand. It falls outside the overlap on his Venn diagram, and therefore casts him as less inclusive to his desired job. For a better shot at this unusual career turn, Lester would be better off drafting a resume that detailed all the ins and outs of his fast food experience (no matter how distant), with perhaps just a bare outline of recent corporate jobs.

Keep this scenario in mind when deciding what’s important for your resume. Draw your own Venn diagram, and concentrate on the overlap to find what you have in common with your target job. By maintaining that focus, you’ll be able to zero in on your best information and make an executive job search document that really sings.

For additional executive resume tips, check out our Career Insider.


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