the anatomy of a resume

It’s not bragging if you can back it up. – Muhammad Ali

A resume is composed of parts and structure – it has a recognizable anatomy. This you know.

If you give someone a resume that departs too much from the anatomy that they’re familiar with they can’t relate to it. It doesn’t “count” as a real application and they will want to see something that they understand.

If you give someone a resume that is identical to the anatomy of what they are familiar with, they think they know what you do and who you are without actually ever being intrigued enough to read your content or to meet you to know more.

The resume we’re working on together, on the other hand, will neither alienate your readers nor be something they expect.

When you pick up a resume – anyone’s resume for that matter, you know that you are looking at a resume. But rarely do we take the time to study the details that create what we’re looking at.

This article draws your attention to what draws your attention to a resume – a uniqueness encased in familiarity.

One of my favorite museums is the Musée D’Orsay in Paris. I like it better than the Louvre that is home to the infamous Mona Lisa. For me, there’s something about the architecture – it’s an ornate building that was originally a train station. Inside there’s a stunning station clock. And not only that, but I was truly astounded when wandering its halls and corridors that it was filled with many works that I recognized even if I didn’t ever know who the artist was.

I’ve been to this museum twice now and if I ever visit Paris again, I will surely go again and again given the opportunity. I love how the place feels and how I feel in it.

On my two visits, I walked through the museum leisurely appreciating what I was looking at like a layman. I was drawn to … whatever I felt drawn to about a painting … beauty maybe … I couldn’t say for sure what quantified that beauty. A state of mind I travelled to maybe. All I do know is that I didn’t think too much about it. Honestly, I never gave any thought to what actually created the painting that I was appreciating – it’s parts or components or ingredients. I didn’t know how to see what I was looking at. I have come since to realize that while I may have been looking, I didn’t understand what I was seeing that made it so.

I just wanted the art to transform me and the moment without caring about or knowing how.

(And not too deep down, I think that when someone is reading through resumes as they initially assess candidates or even try to help a friend out with their next career move, they want to be transported by what they’re reading to a better place too. And all too often they’re not.)

Recently, while taking a painting class, I was informed by the teacher that many artists whose work is renowned in our modern times learned how to paint, not from painting teachers and not by themselves, but by getting together with other artists at the Louvre and reproducing the paintings there on display. That’s right – attempting to replicate them to figure out what created what effect. And in my painting class, what we’re doing is the same: Studying the personal (hi)story of a selection of artists, selecting a piece of their work and proceeding to reproduce it over the course of several weeks.

Well … let me tell you that I was completely intimidated at the thought of what we were being asked to do. I told myself: “I have no idea what I’m doing and I’m going to sit here and try to copy something that took someone else decades to get to the stage where they were able to paint this piece?”

But my silent mental conclusion was interrupted with a logical, sane and inspiring rebuttal that I had no answer to. And it was this: “This is how the Masters learned how to paint and if how they learned was good enough for them, then it’s good enough for me now.”

So then I started to really look at the painting I selected to try to “copy” it and in the process started to notice things and then wonder: “How the heck am I going to recreate this? This is an oil painting and I’m working in water colors! How did they create this light effect that I see in the foreground?! I don’t think that water color can re-create this technique or section.” On and on and on my mind went full of recordings of incompetence.

I fretted and fretted until my courage caught a wind like a sail. It took over because I spotted a single stroke or a small dime-sized spot, or I was struck by an idea about how to start. I picked up my paintbrush and tried my hand at individual strokes that embraced the creation process of getting pleasantly lost figuring how to create an effect rather than focusing on if I could create an effect. I was contemplating. Then reflecting. Mixing colors. Waiting for spots to dry while I focused on another part of the picture that suddenly seemed possible. Examining the original painting. Meditating in my doing.

You ought to know that I’m completely inexperienced at painting. And if ever you saw one of my (practice) paintings, you would see that what I have created does not replicate the piece I modeled my painting after. Not even close. And yet there is a distinct relationship between the original piece and mine, the way that relatives perhaps share a couple of features – a nose or a laugh, but otherwise are quite distinct and separate people.

Someone else’s original inspired something original through me. The original made me dare greatly. The original gave me the courage to use the tools I have at my disposal and to learn how to use those tools well.

So what, you ask does this have to do with your resume?


When you first learned how to create a resume it was also through the eyes of a layman. You were shown resumes and essentially “told” to create what you saw. Only you were completely different in personality, purpose and experience to what you saw in those samples. So, to do as you were told, you looked for what you had in your own experience that matched what you saw as best you could and wrote only that down proclaiming your activity as resume creation. And that cycle has been perpetuating itself ever since.

You were not introduced to the resume components nor encouraged to examine or discuss the components to understand how to achieve or apply them to your own circumstance. You weren’t encouraged to understand how your circumstance could be reflected in a format that took into account who you were and your history. You were not taught to create something unique encased within a familiar context.

If you knew the different tools and techniques available to you, you would understand what choices you have in the way of design elements, category options, information presentation, details to make resume bullets intriguing to read and more.

So now, in essence, you’re learning how to be an artist creating your own resume. This second time around you’re distilling a blend of your soul and personality and using your present and past experiences as the platform to create (literally) “a professional piece of art” to showcase yourself to your audience.

You’re re-imagining your resume – unlearning that which contradicts what you need to know to feel the way you want to feel about your resume.

Below are two downloads of one resume. One pdf is “educationally marked up” drawing your attention to the features and ingredients of what you’re looking at. The other pdf is a clean copy for you to see the resume without being distracted. By sharing these two pieces with you, I’m not saying that this is how your resume should look. It’s more a painting in one medium if you will and you will use a different medium and who you are to create a piece of art in your energetic and professional signature. Remember, we all know when we pick up a resume that we’re looking at a resume. So there will obviously be a strong resemblance to what you’re seeing and reading below in form and function, but it will be pure you.

Before you continue on though, it is helpful for you to know upfront that part of what will help you make sense of what you’re seeing in the resume pictured below is the story behind the person whose resume it actually is. This is because the story of this person will be used to help explain what informed the decision making behind creating the resulting resume in upcoming sections. The choices made for this resume (and others you will see as we break the creation process into steps/sections) fulfilled a purpose.

This resume is not by any means being presented as the “best” choice for every situation – only the best choice given this person’s story, their soul, their personality and the purpose of their life being given expression through their work (and if you’re alive you have a purpose so there is no need to wonder about that).

By considering this person’s story with openness, you are “as if by magic” engaging yourself in playing with different artistic techniques and deciding upon which one best suits you and your situation. There is no one right answer. There is only the right answer for you. And that may change over time depending on what’s next and as you gain greater clarity about your true desires in life. You’re learning the skill of resume writing for whenever you need it. But keep in mind too that the resume you’re creating using this method will see you through the next five years of your career trajectory if you are able and willing to be clearly authentic in your approach to it.

The story that goes with this resume:

Nathan was 29 and had been managing restaurants for a decade by the time we worked together on (t)his resume. He questioned if the hospitality industry was for him for a long time and ended up doing stints working for public and private organizations in Human Resources all the while maintaining a job in restaurant management. He kept quitting those “secure” jobs always opting for the warmth of the hospitality family that he worked with, the theatrical improv nature of human interactions not found in an office environment, a place where his energy could be expended physically through lots of movement and where his ultra organized ways were so hard to come by for others in this field.

After some soul searching and career exploration he realized that he hadn’t respected his choice to be in hospitality. He always thought it would be the job that he would do until he figured out what he really wanted to do. He didn’t know where he could go from where he was though.

He had toyed with the idea of owning or running his own restaurant, but that never seemed like the right answer. Then one day he came upon a job posting for a Food & Beverage Director and was tipped off about this job genre and direction through a networking contact. The job sounded like something he could absolutely do. The question is whether or not he would like it.

When he gave it some thought, Nathan discovered that he felt insecure that his work experience would appear to be inconsistent given that he had work both related to and unrelated to the field when it was lined up by date and time-line alone. He feared that someone looking at his work history would doubt his commitment to the hospitality path. This was also concerning to him because getting this kind of job in the hospitality industry at his age was almost unheard of. He “hadn’t put his time in” and was warned by well-meaning industry mentors that his chances were slim but that it couldn’t hurt to try applying. “Just for the experience.” Nathan didn’t want to just have the experience of applying. He wanted to know what his next career stepping stone actually was.

Applying for this Director job felt a little intimidating because getting this position meant pressing the ‘fast forward’ button on his career as well as a $25,000 annual salary increase. These facts felt like pressure not pleasure to Nathan. He felt his ego getting in the way of what would feel right and started viewing the job as a prize that he wasn’t sure if he would really want at the end of the day. Part of Nathan wanted to turn away from the job posting because the chances were slim of him getting it, but something about the posting wouldn’t let him – that yearning was beyond his ego.

The benefit, beauty and utility of using this resume method was to let Nathan’s life speak through the experiences he’d had. Life isn’t linear and job postings that we’re drawn to, almost always provoke the notion that we should have known what we wanted to be when we grew up this whole time. That’s not real life though for most of us. Life is discovering and exploring, which gives the illusion of it not making sense. But life is also thematic. And what the resume allows you to do for yourself is to see the 2-3 major themes running through your life in a very particular combination unique to you that makes you make sense to yourself and others.

You’re not actually that complicated, you just think you are.

If you can be open to looking at your life while trusting in something bigger being at work here than just you, the format of your resume will literally present itself to you.

Nathan approached this resume wanting to know the themes that he was living. He was prepared to let his own authentic resume reveal to him whether the job was a real fit or not. The finished resume should “point” to a small selection of jobs and the resume featured in the pdf’s is his final product (doctored for anonymity as will all the samples I will use for illustrative purposes).

How does this story end? Nathan did end up applying to the Food & Beverage Director job and he did get it. And he was “the belle of the ball” in the roll. After his first roll though he realized that what interested him most was Food & Beverage consulting to help bring teams together to deliver caring and genuine service through teaching service skills and leadership.

The anatomy of the resume:
Nathan’s Resume with anatomy markings
Nathan’s Resume

And what are you to do with what you are looking at in the downloads? Spend some time reviewing and reflecting on the sample resume + your own. Ideally in a relaxed state. Note what you like and what you don’t like about the sample + your own. Collect + jot down ideas for what techniques might work best on your own resume. And identify which parts of your own resume you struggle with that you want to feel resolved about by the end of this process.

The information you gather from this review process is needed for the next step.

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