How To Structure And Format Your Resume

Staring at a blank page trying to put your professional life into words and make it eye-catching is no small feat. You’re here, which means you’re ready to craft a resume that doesn’t just tick the boxes but speaks volumes. This post promises practical steps and insightful tips on structuring and formatting your resume to stand out in the crowd.

Quick Takeaways:

  • Tailor your resume by incorporating keywords and phrases from the job description to bypass ATS and catch the employer’s eye.
  • Maintain a clean format with professional fonts, strategic whitespace, and a reverse-chronological layout to enhance readability.
  • Avoid common errors like typographic mistakes, using cliche buzzwords, and including irrelevant information to present a polished and relevant application.

Why Is The Structure Of Your Resume So Important?

In the quest for your dream job, your resume acts as your first handshake with a potential employer. Why does this matter? Well, much like a firm, confident handshake, a well-structured resume sets the tone for a positive first impression. It’s not just about the content; the way you present that content plays a crucial role in catching the employer’s eye.

A cluttered or disorganized resume can be off-putting, no matter how impressive your qualifications might seem. On the flip side, a clear, readable layout ensures your accomplishments shine through without making the reader search for them. Plus, most companies use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to sort through submissions. A resume that’s structured properly is more likely to get picked up by the ATS, ensuring it reaches human eyes. Making your resume ATS-friendly involves aligning it with what these systems are programmed to identify – and a big part of that is structure.

What Are The Key Components Of A Resume?

When mapping out your resume, think of it as telling your professional story. You want to include all chapters of your story, but also keep it concise. Here’s what you absolutely need:

  • Contact Information: This one’s a no-brainer. Make sure to include your name, a professional email address, and your phone number at the top. LinkedIn profiles or personal websites can also go here.

  • Summary Statement: This brief section is your elevator pitch. In a few sentences, highlight your key qualifications and professional aspirations.

  • Work Experience: Use reverse chronological order to list your past positions. For each job, include your title, the company’s name, dates of employment, and a bullet-point list of your primary responsibilities and achievements.

  • Education: Again, list in reverse chronological order. Include the name of the institution, degree obtained, and dates attended. If you’re a recent graduate, you might want to place this section above your work experience.

  • Skills: Tailor this section to the job you’re applying for. Include both hard skills (like specific software proficiency) and soft skills (like leadership or teamwork abilities).

Optionally, you can add sections like Certifications, Volunteering, or Awards and Honors based on their relevance to the job you seek.

One often overlooked detail that can set your resume apart is including a Keywords section. Hidden at the bottom and in small font, list out key skills and technologies related to the job but only if you genuinely possess them. This can be a game-changer for getting past ATS systems, and it’s a strategy many applicants miss.

How Can You Tailor Your Resume For The Job You’re Applying For?

Every job application is a unique conversation. You wouldn’t use the same script to talk to different people, so why use the same resume for different jobs?

  • Decipher the Job Description: Before you tweak your resume, pore over the job listing to pick out key words and phrases. Are they looking for someone with “excellent project management skills”? Do they need experience with “Photoshop” or “data analysis”? Jot these down.

  • Highlight Relevant Experience: Once you’ve identified what the employer is looking for, make sure your experience and skills that match these requirements are front and center. For instance, if you’re applying for a marketing role and have experience with Google Analytics, make that pop in your resume.

  • Quantify Your Achievements: Instead of saying “Managed a team,” say “Managed a team of 10 to increase sales by 25% in six months.” Numbers grab attention and make your achievements more tangible.

  • Mirror the Job Description’s Language: Use some of the same terminology in your resume that’s used in the job description. This doesn’t mean copying job listings verbatim, but if they talk about “customer satisfaction,” use that phrase instead of “client happiness.”

Tailoring your resume for each job might seem like a chore, but it’s crucial. It shows potential employers that you’re not just looking for any job – you’re interested in this job. And that can make all the difference.

Remember, the effort you put into structuring and customizing your resume can significantly boost your chances of landing an interview. Keep it clear, concise, and tailored, and you’ll be setting yourself up for success.

What Formatting Choices Make A Resume Stand Out?

When it comes to making your resume stand out, the devil’s in the details. Formatting choices can be the silent heroes (or villains) of your job application process. Let’s dive into how you can turn them into your career-boosting sidekicks.

Font and Size: Opt for professional and easy-to-read fonts such as Arial, Calibri, or Times New Roman. While creativity can be a good thing, when it comes to font choice, simplicity reigns supreme. As for size, keep the bulk of your text between 10 and 12 points. This ensures readability without straining your potential employer’s eyes.

Margins and Layout: Standard margins (1 inch on all sides) create a balanced, uncluttered look. However, if you’re struggling to fit everything onto one page, it’s okay to reduce the margins slightly—just don’t go below 0.5 inches. For layouts, the reverse-chronological format (listing your most recent experience first) remains a solid go-to. However, don’t shy away from combining elements of functional resumes (skills-based) if it helps to showcase what you bring to the table more coherently.

Whitespace: One secret weapon often overlooked is the use of whitespace. It makes your resume appear less daunting and more inviting to read. Use bullet points for lists, and don’t be afraid to leave some areas blank to avoid a cluttered look.

A unique tip? Brand Yourself: Especially for design or creative roles, consider adding a subtle personal logo or monogram as a header. It distinguishes your resume from the moment it’s picked up, setting a professional tone. Just ensure it’s simple and doesn’t overpower the content.

Common Resume Mistakes To Avoid

Now that we’ve covered the basics of making your resume visually appealing let’s tackle some common landmines in resume writing and formatting:

  • Typographical Errors and Grammar Gaffes: These are instant deal-breakers for many employers. They suggest a lack of attention to detail. Always proofread your resume multiple times or, better yet, have a friend or a professional do it for you.

  • The Overuse of Buzzwords: Phrases like “synergy”, “go-getter”, or “think outside the box” have become so common that they’ve lost their meaning. Instead, use concrete examples to demonstrate these qualities. For instance, replace “great leadership skills” with “led a team of 10 in a successful project delivery.”

  • Including Irrelevant Information: This is a tough one. While your stint as a high school football captain was undoubtedly important, unless you’re applying for a sports-related role, it’s probably not relevant. Aim to tailor your resume content to match the job description you’re applying for.

  • Lack of Metrics: Saying you “improved sales” is one thing; providing specifics, e.g., “boosted sales by 20% within six months through targeted social media marketing” gives your achievement the context it needs.

Lastly, here’s a golden nugget that’s often missed: Link to Your Online Professional Profile. In the digital age, having an up-to-date LinkedIn profile (or a portfolio website if you’re in a creative field) and linking it in your resume can be a game-changer. It offers employers a deeper dive into your professional universe and provides you an edge by showcasing your dynamism beyond the one or two pages of your resume.

In summary, standing out with your resume is a mix of showcasing your professionalism through crisp, clear formatting, and avoiding common pitfalls that could undermine your hard work. Keep it straightforward yet engaging, relevant, and error-free. Remember, your resume is a reflection of your professional persona. Make it count.

  • Alex Mitch

    Hi, I'm the founder of! Having been in finance and tech for 10+ years, I was surprised at how hard it can be to find answers to common questions in finance, tech and business in general. Because of this, I decided to create this website to help others!