Anatomy of an effective resume (+ free cheat sheet download)


After editing dozens of resumes, it’s super clear that a lot of people are making the same mistakes. The good news is that there’s an easy fix for them!

To boost your chances of getting to the top of the “Yes” pile, you’ll want to make a few tweaks.

Let’s take a look at the anatomy of an effective resume.

Your resume should include:


1. Easy-to-read formatting

Why it matters: Often we’re so caught up in the content, that we forget about formatting. But this is bad news, because unclear formatting can make someone reading your resume feel like they’re about to dive head first into a dense wall of text. Not a good feeling. Instead, you want to encourage quick scanning and approachability.

Take a look at these 2 resume formats:

Resume formatting matters! Which one is more inviting?

Let me guess… You prefer the one on the right. And guess what? Hiring managers are no different. Not paying attention to formatting could hurt your chances of landing a job.

Your strategy: Use a modern template that’s clean and simple. Two-column templates are trendy at the moment, and they help to break up content into smaller, easy-to-digest parts. Use headers, bullets, chunking, bolding, lists, and whitespace to make your resume reader-friendly.


2. A strategic “snapshot” summary

Why it matters: A summary will help your resume stand out because it provides an instant snapshot of who you are and why HR should pay attention to you. It’s your resume first impression!

Remember, HR and hiring managers can sift through hundreds of resumes per day. You want something that will instantly grab their attention and immediately announces you are a great fit for their role.

Your strategy: If you are super qualified for the role, keep your Summary short, and sweet. The info you include will act as a natural intro to the rest of the resume. If you are less-than-perfectly qualified for the role, or are changing careers, you want to use this space to position yourself as an intriguing out-of-the-box candidate. Remember to update your Summary section for each new job you apply to, and use keywords from the job ad.


3. Hard and soft skills section

Why it matters: Most jobs need a mixture of hard and soft skills. Showcasing your skills in a Skills section on your resume signals that you not only have the skills needed, but that you can predict the skills you’ll be using on the job.

  • Hard skills (also called technical skills) are generally things you can formally learn and that can be quantified, like coding languages, computer programs, or copyediting skills.
  • Soft skills on the other hand, are things that are harder to quantify and are closer to temperament or personality-based skills. These are things like patience, leadership, persuasiveness, conflict resolution, and problem solving.

Your strategy: Create a Skills section somewhere on the first page of your resume. This is also a great ‘skimmable’ section that HR will glance at. On that glance, you want to make sure that your skills are relevant and impressive because they’ll show how in tune you are with the job.

Use the job ad, company website, or LinkedIn profiles of current employees to get the insights you need to identify and predict the most relevant skills for the job.


4. Company research

Why it matters:Many job seekers blindly apply to whatever job ads they might be qualified for. But if you’re sending out the same application to different companies, you’re not going to make it to the “Yes” pile. You need to do company research to learn what is important to the role and to the company.

Your strategy: If you are applying via a job ad, print that ad out. Highlight 3 key areas of expertise or experience they are asking for. Now update your Summary section, Skills section, and Work Experience sections to reflect those key areas on your resume. Don’t only focus on the skills. Describe the achievements you made while using those skills. (See #6 for more on this.)


5. Tailored keywords

Why it matters: ATS (Applicant Tracking System) software is a type of computer program that instantly screens resumes. It’s used by large and small companies to help manage the flow of resume applications, and works by comparing language from the job applications to language in the job ads. It makes a guess as to which resumes are a good fit, and it discards the rest before any person gets a chance to read them. The problem is that it often discards top talent that could be a great fit for the role.

Your strategy: Because each ATS works slightly differently, there is no universal way to “beat” the system. Your best bet is to use language, phrasing, and words from the job ad in your application. The best places in your resume to add these are your Summary, Skills section, and Work Experience bullet points. Also, if you are saving your resume as a PDF, ensure that your text is able to be highlighted by your cursor (and thus readable by ATS software).


6. Achievement-focused storytelling

Why it matters: You have a chance to truly stand out in your Work Experience bullet points. Most people only list their tasks at former positions. But to stand out, you want to show that your tasks made a positive impact on the company.

Your strategy: Use your bullet points to tell mini stories of achievement in your former positions. Describe the results of your efforts. This will communicate that you have effective skills, but also that you understand the big picture of your daily efforts.


7. Power verbs

Why it matters: Making micro edits to the language we use to communicate can have powerful results. Using clear and assertive verbs in your Work Experience section signal that you are in charge and effective at your job.

Your strategy: Start each of your Work Experience bullet points with a power verb, like created, resolved, achieved, managed, etc. Stay away from “helped” or “assisted” when you can because they are less bold and communicate a lower level of authority. If you managed it, own it!

Download PDF: Anatomy of an Effective Resume CHEAT SHEET

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Curious about what these look like in action? See examples of these strategies when you take my free course, Learn the 5 Essential Steps to Landing Interviews Within 30 Days.

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