Anatomy of a Resume

This is a mega-long post, even for me. Can you see why it’s taken me several days to draft it and get it up? Hopefully this will help people who are at odds and ends when it comes to creating a resume. Again, I’m not a professional resume writer, but I’ve gotten hired with this resume format multiple times, so it obviously works for me.

I originally based my format on an Irish/UK C.V. (The New CV That Gets You Interviewed by Aine Keenan), but there are American resume writers who organize thing similarly, so I don’t see a real difference.

Sample Resume:

Keri Peardon
[Phone number]
[E-mail addy] 


  • Windows XP proficient
  • MS Word and Excel 2003 & 2007 proficient; knowledgeable with MS Publisher, Outlook, Visio, Project, SQL 2007
  • Adobe Photoshop 7, CS4 proficient; knowledgeable with Dreamweaver, Illustrator, Flash, InDesign CS4
  • HTML proficient; knowledgeable with CSS
  • Knowledgeable with Access, Sharepoint, Lotus Notes, Fortis, DeltaView
  • Proficient with a variety of office equipment, including multi-line telephones, copiers, fax machines, dictaphones, etc.
  • Type 55-60 wpm


2005-2008                Newton Oldacre McDonald, LLC                  Nashville, TN
                                    Legal Assistant

 Job Description:

  • Assisted paralegal with real estate closings (purchases and sales).
  • Checked title against underlying documents and worked with title company.
  • Worked with tenants, lenders and buyers to provide closing documents by deadline.
  • Created due diligence packages for buyers, tenants and lenders, both in paper copies and on CDs. 
  • Responsible for tracking all purchases and sales after closing and delivering post-closing items to tenants, lenders and buyers by deadline. 
  • Maintained computer documents on Sharepoint.
  • Managed legal department files and helped manage company files and storage.
  • Converted documents from .pdf or paper copies to Word documents using OCR software.  
  • Substituted for the receptionist: answered phones, greeted visitors, processed incoming mail, stocked supplies, etc.


  • Renamed, organized and uploaded many older documents to Sharepoint.
  • Proposed purchasing OCR software for legal department; when purchased, it saved many hours retyping documents from paper copies.
  • Organized paperwork for legal entity formations into binders and established filing procedure for paperwork going forward. 
  • Organized the post-closing process for both sales and purchases; created a universal checklist for both to ensure no documents were overlooked and no deadlines were missed.   
  • Analyzed costs of production of bound paper copies of due diligence documents for lenders, tenants and buyers; calculated our cost to be approximately $75-$100 in materials, shipping and labor/time per binder.  Received permission to convert department to electronic transmission instead (CDs or e-mails), reducing costs to $25 or less, as well as greatly reducing time spent preparing the documents and paper waste.

2001-2004                CBL & Associates Management, Inc.                        Chattanooga, TN
                                    Legal Secretary

 Job Description:

  • Created leases and other legal documents for shopping mall tenants.
  • Processed leases for Landlord execution: reviewed leases for tenant-made changes, notified leasing agent, sought approval of business points from Vice President of Leasing, made copies of relevant paperwork, delivered to Senior Vice President for signature, updated department database.
  • Received checks for fees and terminations.  Recorded in Excel spreadsheet and forwarded to accounting.
  • Attested, sealed and dated executed legal documents.  Added relevant lease information into Access database to be shared throughout the company.
  • Reviewed/audited bills from outside counsel.
  • Copied tenant operation exclusives and restrictions from leases and maintained records for all malls (approximately 65 malls).
  • Maintained departmental files (current and warehoused).


  • Tested and implemented new software (DeltaView, Crosswords) for conversion from Word Perfect to Word.  Engaged in preliminary reviews of other new software and consulted on database management.
  • Recovered ½ gigabyte storage space on department’s drive by eliminating outdated computer files.
  • Analyzed department production and duplicating costs and presented report to upper management.  Report resulted in new, high-capacity printer which reduced downtime and increased productivity.
  • Developed, designed and implemented watermark in Word to eliminate tampering with electronic copies of leases. 
  • Discovered billing errors from outside legal counsel saving several thousand dollars.
  • Helped implement package shipping from online.  Organized training regarding the same for leasing department secretaries.
  • Listed all department procedures (in order of occurrence) for internal audit.


2001                           Celtel Internet Centre                                Kilkenny City, Ireland
                                    Cashier / Store Operator

2000-2001                Engineered Roof Systems                          Roanoke, VA
                                    Secretary / Assistant to Office Manager

 1997-2000                Hollins University                                     Roanoke, VA
                                    Assistant to Vice Registrar 


2010                            New Horizons                                            Nashville, TN
                                    Continuing Education/Training

 2001                            Hollins University                                     Roanoke, VA
                                    Bachelor’s Degree in History

1997                            St. Andrew’s Sewanee School                   Sewanee, TN
                                    High School

Okay, let’s break this resume down into its main components.

Contact information: You don’t have to format the top of your resume the same way I have mine done, but whatever you do, make sure it’s not cutesy or in some arcane, hard-to-read font. When in doubt, go with Times New Roman (and never, ever–on pain of death–put a resume in Comic Sans).

A word of warning: Put as many phone numbers as you want (home, cell, and, if it’s okay, work), but be careful about what numbers you give out. For instance, many people these days have “Please enjoy the music while your party is reached” on their cell phones. I know someone who has a country song on his cell phone that starts off with the line, “Do I turn you on when I….” Kiss any potential job offer or interview goodbye if an HR person or hiring manager has to listen to crap like that. If you must have music, switch to something classical (and by that I mean Beethoven), but preferably drop the music all together. When I call someone, I want to hear the phone ringing; I don’t want to be held hostage to whatever crap the other person calls music. Irritating people who are calling to give you an interview or a job is never a good thing to do.

Furthermore, make sure your voicemail–be that on a cell phone or home phone–is professional. This is a good chance to display your phone voice and professionalism. My husband–a former customer service agent–always sound smooth on the phone. Here is an example of the message on his business phone:

Hello, you’ve reached TheLockWorks. I’m sorry that I’m unable to take your call at this time, but if you will leave your name and number, I will return your call as soon as possible. Thank you.

You cannot go wrong if you copy this, insert your name, and make it the voicemail message on your cell/house phone.

Also, be aware that every time your phone rings, it’s a potential job, and answer the phone appropriately. When I was job hunting, and the phone woke me up from a dead sleep first thing in the morning, I always put on my best, most alert-sounding voice so I sounded as if I had been awake for an hour, not three seconds.

Social media/the internet: Do not put a link to your blog or personal website unless you are applying to a job where these things are necessary (writing, editing, web development, e-marketing, etc.). And, for the love of God, go to your Facebook page right now and restrict permission to view your personal information to just your friends or friends of friends. HR managers are becoming tech savvy and they’re Googling potential employees’ names, or looking them up on Facebook. The last thing you want is for your potential boss to be looking through pictures of you drunk at your last frat party.

One link that’s appropriate to share is a LinkedIn profile. Just make sure you have your LinkedIn profile looking complete and professional. A LinkedIn profile is also a good way to share your entire resume if you have to truncate it in paper form for the sake of brevity (more on that below).

Objective: I don’t have an objective on my resume because I typically only applied to posted jobs, making it unnecessary, but if you are sending out/handing out a general resume (including at job fairs), the objective should be the first section under your contact information.

Skills: I used to have this section at the end of my resume (my work experience was at the top). That didn’t seem to matter before the Recession, but after it happened, I couldn’t get an interview. But when I moved this to the top of my resume, I started getting calls.  When hiring managers spend 5-10 seconds glancing over a resume these days, having a short list that’s quick to read apparently makes a big difference.

What goes in your skill list? Computer software you are familiar with, either by use or training, machines you can operate (binding equipment, forklifts, cherry pickers), typing speed, and anything else that is quantifiable. What doesn’t go in your skill list? “Get myself out of bed and get to work on time;” “Able to stock merchandise on shelves.” If you don’t think you have any special skills, leave this section out; don’t put in crap just to have something in the list.

Should skills be job-specific? Personally, I used this list on my resume whether I was applying for a legal position or a web design position, and I had many people compliment me on it. Regardless of whether these skills are needed at the position to which I am applying, they do look impressive. Clearly I’m good with computers (which was a bonus for my attorney, as she needs someone who can handle all the technology in the office). I also have the ability to make websites–another bonus for small businesses. Since you never know what someone might be looking for, leave it all in.

How many skills should you have? I wouldn’t bother having this section if you have less than 5 bullet points. Don’t go over 15. (Average should be 7-10.)

Recent Work Experience: This part should be self-explanatory. List your most recent, relevant experience. If your experience is none-too-recent, you can rename this “Work Experience” and leave the “recent” part out.

If you are describing a current position, you should refer to everything in the present tense. If you are describing a job you no longer have, speak in the past tense.

Tweaking the information: You should never, ever lie on your resume, but there is such a thing as refraining from mentioning and making things look better. For instance, many older workers worry about looking too old on a resume. One way around this is to not put all of your work history on your resume. Keeping it recent keeps it from looking too old.

Another thing you can do is put the number of years you worked for someone, rather than the years you actually worked. “1975-1995” looks worse than “20 years.” Twenty years doesn’t sound that long, but when I see “1975,” I think, damn, she was working before I was born. In this case, abstract numbers work better than specific numbers. This is also a good way to smooth over a gap in work history if you’ve been out of the workforce more than a few years. Nothing about this is a lie, but it puts your experience in the best possible light.

Traditionally, you should list work experience starting with the most recent job you’ve had and work back in time from there. There is no rule that says you can’t list your jobs in another fashion, but know that you’re going against custom when you do so, and making your resume confusing might count against you.

You do not have to list every job you’ve worked. In fact, it’s better that you don’t if you have a long work history, because unless you are a doctor, professor, or in another a high-level profession, your resume shouldn’t read like a novella. Many resume books in the U.S. (but not overseas; my resume is actually based on an Irish C.V.) tell you to keep your resume to one page, but I’ve never gotten a job with a one-page resume and I have with a two page resume. For most people, a resume should be 2-3 pages. One page resumes should only be applicable to people with little or no work experience.

I maintain two or three resumes which list different jobs, depending on what I’m searching for. When I’m looking for legal work, I put all of my legal experience on there, but leave off all the part-time jobs I had in retail (why would a lawyer care about that?). On the other hand, when I was looking for management positions in retail, I minimized my legal experience and put in all of my retail and self-employment experience. If you are looking for more than one type of position, don’t be afraid to have a resume which caters specifically to each type of position.

You’ll note under each of my main jobs, I have a list of what my tasks were. It may not be apparent, but I listed my job duties from the things I did most often to the things I did least often.

Depending on how many job duties you had, you may want to combine the duties and accomplishment section into one.

What goes in “accomplishments?” Anything quantifiable or that sounds really good. Your job description should be just that–what your job entailed on a normal day/week/month/quarter. “Accomplishments,” however, should list everything you did that was above and beyond your normal daily routine. Resume experts say you should put as many numbers as possible in your resume, so this is the place to mention you increased sales by 60%, broke sales records at 160 units a month (where average is 80 units a month), etc. This is also a good place to mention any leadership work you did, such as training.

Additional Work Experience: This is where you can show that you have additional, relevant skills without taking up a lot of space with job descriptions. If you worked more than one job with almost identical job descriptions, list only one job with a job description and list the other in this section. You can also turn this into “Additional Experience” and include non-work experience, such as volunteer work or part-time self-employment.

I will admit, when applying to legal jobs, the fact that I worked in an internet cafe in Ireland wasn’t relevant, but I found that it got people’s attention and provided a topic of conversation for interviews, so I left it in. At the very least it spoke to my being a traveler and someone who is open to new experiences.

Education: If you are a recent college graduate, put the year of your graduation down. If you are an older worker, though, you may prefer to leave the year of your graduation off.

In most cases, you should not list that you graduated high school (unless you have been out of school <5 years). For someone with 20 years of work experience, no one cares that you graduated high school two+ decades ago. This does nothing but age you, and if you don’t have a college degree, this just highlights that fact.

The exception to this is if you went to a private or magnet school which might look impressive, or which you might use for making connections with other alums. Even then, you may want to drop the date of graduation, because that ages you–not a consideration when you’re 25, but a big factor when you’re 55.

(In my case, I left my high school on my resume if I was applying for jobs in the area of my school–knowing I’d get the name recognition, and that would be a positive thing–but I typically erased it when I was applying other places.)

Formating: There is some latitude in resume styles/formatting, but in addition to not using a crazy font or colored text or novelty stationary, you should obey the following rules:

  • Have white space; this allows for ease of reading. Bullet points are easier to read than paragraphs. Put blank lines between sections/paragraphs.
  • Make sure your resume breaks across pages in a logical manner. Force page breaks if you have to, always erring on the side of more white space on one page rather than narrowing the margins.
  • Margins should be one inch. It’s always better to have more pages than to tweak the margins to cram everything onto one page (unless you only have one line running over).
  • If you have more than one page, add a footer on the subsequent pages with a page number and your name and primary phone number or e-mail (or all of your contact information, if it will reasonably fit on one line).
  • Always staple multi-page resumes.

What never goes in a resume:

  • Hobbies/interests. (This is true in the United States, but may not be applicable in the U.K.) If any of your hobbies or interests have any bearing on the type of work you are listing, then find a section to put it in. For instance, I belong to a non-profit medieval re-enactment organization, and I have held several leadership positions, including web design. I sometimes list that under a heading just for volunteer work (which goes after Additional Work Experience).
  • Age or family status. It is actually illegal, in the United States, for employers to ask anyone’s age. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by providing this information on your resume. Also don’t mention your marital status, living arrangements, number of children, etc. in your resume or cover letter.

Anatomy of a Cover Letter

Following up on my previous post–Cover Letter Blunders–here is how to make a cover letter. Again, I’m not a cover letter expert, but I am employed, and I used this cover letter–so draw your own conclusions.

Paragraph 1: Detail what job you are applying for, and how you found it (this comes directly after “Dear X”).


I am applying for the position of Widget Inspector, as posted on on April 1, 2011.


When I spoke last week to John Smith, IT Manager, he indicated that your company is considering hiring a Widget Inspector. I am, therefore, respectfully submitting my resume for your consideration, should this position become available.


Thank you for taking the time on April 1, 2011 to discuss your company with me. As requested, I am transmitting a copy of my resume for your review. Please feel free to keep it on file.

Many companies and headhunters/placement agencies list more than one job at a time, so they need to know, immediately, which position you are applying for. They also need to know how you found out about the position. HR managers always want to know how successful their advertisement campaign has been via whatever media they are using.

If you are sending a resume to someone who is not specifically advertising a job (I’ve done this, and have gotten a couple of interviews from it), call first and talk to someone in HR. You can briefly introduce yourself and ask if you can send them a resume (see example #3 above). Only call companies which you are reasonably sure employee people with your credentials. I.e., if you are a tax accountant, you shouldn’t be carpet-bombing law firms with resumes unless you are reasonably sure they handle tax cases.

Paragraph 2: Reply to the advertisement.

Example advertisement:

Dewey, Cheatam, and Howe Law Firm is seeking an experienced paralegal for their real estate department. Candidate should have 3 or more years’ experience with deeds, title and closings. Candidate should also be proficient with Word 2000, Windows 7 and type 40 wpm+.

Example reply:

I am an experienced paralegal with a total of 5 years’ experience in real estate, and an additional 3 years of general law experience. In my last position at Landgraab Real Estate, Inc., I handled real estate closings, including deed production. I also worked closely with various title companies. I have excellent computer skills, including experience with all versions of Windows and Word, and I type 65wpm.

In short, for every skill they list, you need to briefly mention that you have what they are looking for. But wait, what if you don’t have one or two skills? This is the place to point out where you have transferable skills.

I have worked as a real estate agent for the past five years. While I do not have paralegal experience, per se, as a real estate agent, I drafted deeds and ordered and reviewed titles.

If you do not have transferable skills, then say nothing. Most people shoot for the moon when seeking a candidate, but are content to settle for a little less—not a lot less, mind you, but a little less. If you are missing only a few things out of a long list, or you feel your fault is minor (you are short a year of experience, or your typing isn’t as fast as they want), then go ahead and apply—being sure to point out all of the ways you match their profile. If you are way off, though, don’t apply; you’ll just waste your time/paper/postage.

If necessary, your paragraph 2 can be split into two or three paragraphs, but try to keep it short and sweet unless you are applying for a high-level professional position and you need to go into more detail about your previous experience.

Paragraph 3: This paragraph should contain your closing

Thank people for their time, etc. If you are going to contact someone to follow-up, let them know here when exactly you will be contacting them. Also let people know when you will be available to start. This is especially important if you are applying for a job outside your commuting range (i.e. you will have to move).

Here is the standard cover letter I have used for years. I change my first paragraph and my second paragraph to match the job I am applying for.

Keri Peardon
[My address]
[My Phone number]
[My e-mail]  

To Whom It May Concern:

I am replying to your advertisement as seen on on July 13, 2010 for a Maintenance Secretary. Please find attached to this e-mail a copy of my resume. 

I have six years of experience performing a wide-variety of legal secretary/paralegal tasks, from document production to file management.  I believe my skills closely relate to the position as described: I am familiar with many of the documents involved in entity formation; I have experience compiling due diligence materials for real estate transactions; I have excellent paper and online filing skills; and I have been in charge of tracking documents post-closing and seeing that everything was completed and finalized before any deadlines.  I am also quite proficient in a number of databases and software programs, including MS Office.

I am available for work immediately.  If you are interested in having an experienced legal professional on your office team, please contact me at the above number or by e-mail. 

Thank you for your consideration.


 Keri Peardon

This letter is meant for e-mailing. If you are sending out a paper copy, you should put both your address and the recipient’s address at the top.

I also found it helpful to keep a spreadsheet of everything I sent out. You may want to track the date sent (and possibly the date and place you saw the ad), address you sent it to, contact name (if any), and maybe even copy the description of the job (if it was online). Online job databases frequently swap information, so keeping track of what all you’ve done prevents you from sending a resume out to the same place twice.

Also, if you see the same job posted on different weeks, or with slightly different wording, you may want to send a follow-up e-mail. Sometimes a company will think it has a new-hire in the bag, then the new-hire changes his or her mind, and they have to start the search all over again. But if you follow-up in those situations, you will catch their attention; it shows you are eager for the position, and they may very well move you to the front of the pack.

My husband and I get to spend the weekend trying to unbury our truck from the hickory tree (our insurance isn’t going to cover the truck OR tree removal), so if I’m not crippled and laid up in bed by the time Monday comes around, I’ll start discussing resumes.

Cover Letter Blunders

Having performed what I consider a great public service by helping demystify the exclamation point, semi-colon and colon in previous blog posts, I thought I would continue to help by giving lessons on cover letters and resumes.

I am not a professional resume writer–I don’t even play one on TV–but I have had success with my cover letters and resumes (as evidenced by the fact that I have been employed and am currently employed), and I have helped family members and friends with their resumes and cover letters too. Therefore, I must not suck at it. Besides, this is free help, which is great when you’re poor and unemployed (although, do remember that you get what you pay for).

We will first cover what not to do in a cover letter, using an honest-to-God real cover letter as an example.


My honesty, talents and punctuality make me a strong candidate for the position….

You’re supposed to have confidence, but telling me that your talents make you good for a job sounds like outright hubris—especially as these talents are not enumerated.


Based on my past work experience and education, I believe I would be an excellent fit for the position.

And, by the way, this should be the conclusion to your cover letter, not the introduction.

I maintain all the maturity skills and experience that your are looking for and more; Production Office Clerk & Human Resource Secretary & Benefits Coordinator for a Generic Company for X + years.

WTF is “maturity skills?” I mean… what is it? It’s possible that the writer meant “maturity, skills, and experience.” People who can’t use commas are not wanted in legal document production. And blathering on about your maturity and skills without providing any examples is just that: blather. Yes, your resume lists these things in detail, but your cover letter should not be full of generic, meaningless statements. This is the place where you specifically highlight the things on your resume which you think the reader most needs to notice.

Bad goof #2: “Your are” is a grammar error. I had one cover letter that I sent out, with my basic info checked, double-checked and triple-checked for errors. That pretty much left only one paragraph which fluctuated from application to application, thus reducing the chance that I made a typo. If you are not good at grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc., have a friend/family member review your cover and resume for errors.

Goof #3: Using a semi-colon instead of a colon. (Confused about how to handle the two? Check out my previous posts on how to use a semi-colon and colon.)

Goof #4: Most of the jobs/titles listed should not be capitalized because they’re not actual titles. When you speak of being a secretary, you use a small “s,” because that’s a job, not a title. When you say that you are “Secretary to Vice President John Smith,” you use capital words, because that’s a title. If you aren’t sure if you’re talking about a job or a title, use small letters; that’s a safer bet.

Goof #5: Ampersand (&) usage. The only time you use an ampersand in a formal letter is if it’s part of a company name, or it’s how your actual title is listed  (example: CEO of Means & Production). Because the letter writer used ampersands, it looks like one long title, which is crazy, as I don’t think anyone had that as one job. Likely the LW had different positions at the company over the years, and each should have been separated by commas, not ampersands.

Goof #6: Use of a generic company description and capitalizing it to boot. You should not say “I was the secretary for an Automotive Dealership for 5 years.” Be specific; name the company (and when you use the company’s actual name, you can capitalize it!).

Goof #7: Poorly constructed sentence. When you say, “I have the skills which you are looking for” and follow that by a colon, what follows the colon should be a list of the skills. A list of job titles is not a list of skills; it’s a non sequitur (let’s play “learn legalese” today: non sequitur is Latin for “does not follow”).

Goof #8: Use of “+” in a formal letter. If you have worked at a job for more than ten years, but less than 11 (or you can’t quite remember how many years you’ve been a Widget Inspector, but you know for certain it’s been at least 15), you should say “over 10 years” or “more than 10 years.”

Note: In most formal letters and legal documents, you should always spell out numbers (“ten” instead of “10”), however, cover letters and resumes tend to be an exception. While it’s not incorrect to use words instead of numbers, it is generally better to use numbers, because it catches the attention–which is very important when you’re trying to get a job. In fact, most resume experts say the more things you can quantify and convert into numbers, the better.

What would the corrected paragraph look like?

I have extensive experience: I have worked as a production office clerk, Human Resources secretary, and benefits coordinator at Widgets-R-Us for over 10 years.

That’s still not how I would personally write a sentence in a cover letter, but you can see how I corrected the original into something that’s actually grammatically correct and cover letter-appropriate.

But the hits just keep coming:

If you agree after reading my cover letter and resume, that I am indeed the person your are looking for; please contact me.

Goof #1: Comma splice. There are two ways to fix this: either put a comma after “agree,” which creates a proper clause, or take out the comma after “resume.”

Goof #2: There’s “your are” again. This is clearly not a typo; the LW simply does not understand how to properly say “you are.” Major fail for a legal assistant.

Goof #3: Semi-colon splice. The LW used a semi-colon when a comma should have been used.

Goof #4: The entire sentence comes off as arrogant. You shouldn’t ask a potential employer to agree with you that you are the cat’s pajamas. Instead, you should phrase it more like this:

If you have any questions, or would like to meet, please do not hesitate to call me.

It used to be, before the Great Recession, that you would write “I will follow-up with you next Monday, April 8, 2011, at 9:00 AM,” but the job-hunting landscape has dramatically altered, and you are frequently not given contact information in job ads, or are specifically told “do not call.” I have a friend who works in HR, and she said, at the height of the recession, she received several hundred applications for one position. That is why people don’t want to be called.

My sincere appreciation for interrupting your many tasks.

This is a poorly constructed sentence. The LW is appreciative that she interrupted your tasks? What is meant is that she appreciates that you have interrupted your many tasks. If you want to convey this sentiment, try:

Thank you for taking the time to review my resume.

Now that we know some of the things not to do, tomorrow I will go over the anatomy of a cover letter and give you examples of what to do.