The Anatomy of Your Resume

by Diana La Femina, Senior Editor, INALJ Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories, New Brunswick, Manitoba, British Columbia, Alberta

The Anatomy of Your Resume

diana la feminaA resume is a powerful tool. While your cover letter should be used to explain why you are the best person for this position, your resume should show who you are.

It should tell a story.

Your resume is NOT a dumping ground for every job you’ve ever had, and for this reason you can tailor your resume to different positions. Sometimes you’ll need to include seemingly non-relevant positions or tasks, or change wordings, to modify the story you’re trying to tell. But those are just details in your story. Once you figure out what you’re trying to convey you’ll be able to create a good base document to work with and modify.

Let’s go through the anatomy of a resume. This is a link to my online resume; it’s basically exactly what’s on my current resume, with a few minor tweaks for format. Now, let’s go over the basic parts.

Summary: I fought against this section for a long time. A summary is basically on objective, right? And those are outdated and frowned upon. It wasn’t until a career counselor explained the purpose of a summary that I started using one.

As I said, you’re trying to tell a story with your resume. Most hiring managers will only look at your resume for a few seconds. A summary tells them your story at the beginning, hopefully enticing them to see just how qualified you are for the position. It makes their jobs easier, which will always work in your favor. Also, by telling your story at the beginning you’re coloring how the reader will view your experience. Basically, you’re telling them what story to see rather than making them figure it out on their own. It’s a way for you to control how the reader views you.

Expertise: I have a huge problem with the idea of expertise. I don’t think I’m an “expert” at anything yet. So instead, I called this section “Things Diana Knows or Can Do Well” just to get out of that mind frame. This section is for you to list your competencies and can easily be tailored to each position you apply to. You don’t even have to mention keywords in your actual job descriptions, just here. It opens up the dialogue, saying “I know this” AND adds keywords to your resume. Win-win.

As far as what you call this section, it’s up to you. I kept the title I use because it’s unique and shows off my personality a bit. It’s always best for people to be forewarned about my personality before they meet me.

Experience: Unless you’re doing a functional resume (which should only be if you’re trying to get into a different field from what you have experience in) your experience should make up the bulk of your resume. Don’t include everything you’ve ever done, just what will paint a picture and tell the story you want to tell.

If you look at my resume, this is the story I want to tell:
• Currently working with rare material
• Concurrently volunteering in various positions, which shows drive, commitment, and willingness to gain experiences outside my jobs and librarianship.
• I’ve worked both outside and within librarianship and have taken on challenges after finishing my MLS
• While in my program, I held multiple positions and had the drive to gain as much experience as I could

Did you notice the gaps in my work history? That’s fine. If a hiring manager has a question about those gaps I can tell them the non-related positions I held and why I held them. But those positions don’t help tell the story I want to tell, so I don’t include them. I didn’t even list my time on Wall Street, which was a huge experience for me. If I feel it’s relevant at any point I’ll list in in my cover letter (after the phrase, “What you won’t see on my resume…”), but I keep it off here. Real estate on your resume is valuable, so you have to cut out whatever isn’t serving you.

How do you format the job experiences you do include? Something like this:

Company              Location                 Time at position
• Accomplishments

This is how mine is set up, but you can format yours however you want so long as you have those basic elements.

I can hear you now: “But I don’t have any accomplishments!” Yes, you do. This doesn’t mean you saved your library or company (although if you did, be sure to include that information). It means you accomplished something. You finished a project, you created a system, you were asked to train people, etc. I won’t make this post longer by listing how to do that (perhaps next month). Suffice it to say, accomplishments are ways you helped your company. This is what people want when they tell you to quantify your experience. Give numbers or statistics. You won’t find many numbers on my resume, but that’s just the nature of what I’ve accomplished. And you don’t always have to list an accomplishment, but you should try to.

Education: Your education isn’t as important as you think it is. You have the degree, and that’s really all that matters. It’s your experience that matters more, so put education towards the end. Went to a really good school or know the hiring manager went to the same school as you and want to highlight that fact? Put it in your summary, but leave the education section towards the end.

Foreign Languages / Certifications / Continuing Education / Whatever: Anything else you want to highlight? Make a section for it. It’ll let you stand out and show off your abilities and experience, and you can always add/delete a section based on the position you’re applying to. Just make sure these sections come after your experience.

That’s it! Hopefully this helps you. There’s a lot of information about resumes out there and it can be overwhelming. It helped me when someone broke this down. Just remember: you’re telling a story and it’s up to you to get the person reading your resume to see that story. Have confidence in your experiences and abilities and let how awesome you are shine through.

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