Not sure how to organize your resume? We've got you covered

Did you know that most employers only spend about six seconds skimming each resume that hits their desk? That's right; no matter how qualified you might be, your resume needs to capture a hiring manager's interest in just a few short moments. If you do grab their attention, they'll give the rest of the document more consideration. Fortunately, you can increase your resume's readability by including the right resume sections and organizing them in a structured way.

In this post, we'll explain why organization matters and explore the seven key resume sections that you should include in your resume. We'll also provide some useful tips that can help you to maximize the effectiveness of each section of your resume.

Why the order of your resume sections matters

Resumes need to do more than just provide basic information about your skills and employment history. They need to deliver a compelling message about the value that you can bring to any organization that's fortunate enough to hire you. To convey that narrative, however, you need to arrange your resume sections in a way that tells a story about your skills, professional experience, and achievements.

As we go through each of the key resume sections, you'll notice that each is designed to include a specific type of employment information. Several of the sections will also have their own headings, to ensure that employers can quickly locate those specific details. In addition, certain types of information will be formatted using bullet points to make those details even easier for employers to find.

Seven key resume sections

Though there are many ways to organize your resume, we recommend focusing on a seven-section structure. Those seven sections are:

  • Contact information

  • Resume headline

  • Professional summary

  • Core competencies

  • Professional experience

  • Education

  • Optional section (or sections)

To better understand why we organize resumes this way, let's go through each section and explain its important role in establishing your career narrative.

1.     Contact Information

This part of a resume may seem obvious, but a TopResume study found that 25% of people either forget to include all the necessary pieces of contact information or fail to format them in a way that can be read by an ATS. When writing your resume, be sure to include the following personal details at the top of the document, just below the header section:

  • Full name: Include your preferred first name (e.g. Bill instead of William) and last name on your resume. Then, make sure you use the same version of your name on all your other job-search materials, such as your LinkedIn profile, cover letter, and business cards. The key is to be consistent.

  • Cell phone number: It's best to include the phone number to your personal cell phone on your resume. That way, you have control over the voicemail recording, who answers calls, and when.

  • Address: Contrary to popular belief, it's no longer necessary to include your full mailing address on your resume. Instead, include your city, state, and zip code if you're seeking work near your home. If you're conducting a long-distance job search or you're open to relocation, you may opt to not include any mailing address information.

  • Email address: Create an email address that's dedicated to your job-search activities with a modern provider like Gmail, so that it's easy to manage your job applications and communication with recruiters and valuable networking contacts.

  • Social media: The most common social media profile to include on a resume is a customized URL to your public LinkedIn profile. Other social media profiles should only be added if they're relevant to your line of work. If you work in a creative field, you may also want to add a link to your online portfolio or blog.

Related post: How Should I Format My Contact Information on a Resume?

2.     Resume headline

The professional title part of a resume is fairly straightforward. Below your contact information, add a line that describes the type of role you're pursuing. For instance, if you're pursuing a position as a Director or Senior Manager of FP&A, you may put “Senior Financial Planning & Analysis Professional” as your professional title.

When you're submitting your resume for a specific job, it's common to change your professional title to match the one listed in the job posting. If you're updating your resume after changing careers and feel weird about putting a title you've never held before at the top, you can place the word “Objective:” in front of it to provide some context for the reader.

3.     Professional Summary

A resume professional summary - also referred to as a career summary, executive summary, or career statement - has taken the place of the resume objective statement you likely learned how to write back in college.

Historically, a standard resume objective statement focused on the job seeker's wants, needs, and goals. A resume professional summary, however, focuses on what the job seeker has to offer a prospective employer, by describing his or her qualifications. Click on the following link to view some resume statement examples.

If you're still unsure about how to create a winning resume summary statement, just use our simple template:

[Professional title] with [years of experience] in [job-related specializations and experiences]. [Describe a measurable achievement that demonstrates your value]. [Describe a second professional achievement that highlights your skills and how you used them to create value for an employer. Use real numbers to quantify that value].

4.     Core competencies

Your “Core Competencies” or "Key Skills" section is a great place to incorporate the all-important keywords that will help your resume get found in searches. Focus on highlighting the hard and soft skills that are most relevant to the role you're pursuing.

If you're unsure what to include in this part of your resume, gather a few job descriptions that interest you and run them through a word cloud generator. This will help you to quickly identify which terms routinely pop up for this type of job opportunity. If you possess that skill, be sure to incorporate it into this section of your resume, your professional summary, and even your work history, where appropriate.

It's also vital to examine the job posting to see which skills and experiences the company cites as required qualifications. There's always a good chance that those qualifications may be used as keywords by applicant tracking systems. Try to use those exact terms in your resume, to increase your chances of being found.

5.     Professional Experience

The most popular resume format lists your work experience in reverse chronological order. This means that your most recent professional experience will appear toward the top of your resume and your earliest experiences will be listed towards the end of your document. The rule of thumb is to elaborate on the most recent 10-15 years of experience only.

The work history part of the resume can include a variety of professional experiences beyond a full-time job, from unpaid internships to consulting gigs and relevant volunteer work. That can be vitally important if your work experience is a little thin – for example, if you're trying to change careers and suffer from a lack of experience in your chosen industry.

It's also important to make sure that you include measurable achievements for each job title you've held. Instead of listing that role's duties and responsibilities, focus attention on how you used your skills to provide your employers with real value. Aim for four or more bullet point examples of these achievements and quantify each one with numbers. For example:

  • Increased client acquisition by 23%, boosting sales revenue by an average of $120,000 each year

  • Led network acquisition and implementation effort that reduced workplace inefficiencies by 30%

  • Created a new sales training program that reduced onboarding time by 20%, while increasing team productivity and sales goal achievement by 13% and 31% respectively

6.     Education

If you're a recent college graduate, chances are your newly minted diploma is one of your top selling points at this stage in your career. If that's the case, then this information should appear near the top of your resume, just above your work experience. However, if you're no longer an entry-level professional, it's best to move your education details to the end of your resume. 

This section should include the name of the school, its location (city and state), the degree you earned, and any honors with which you graduated (such as summa cum laude). If you graduated college within the past 15 years, include the year that you received your degree; otherwise, leave the date off.

Note also that it's only necessary to include details about your GPA and some of the 400-level courses you completed if you're new to the workforce and need more fodder to demonstrate your employability to companies.

If you've earned multiple degrees, list these accolades in chronological order, starting with the most recent. This part of the resume is also a great place to list any relevant certifications, licenses, training, or professional development coursework you've completed that will make you a more desirable candidate.

7.     Optional: additional parts of a resume

In addition to these standard resume components, you may want to include some of the following sections, depending on your experience and the role you're targeting.

  • Career highlights: This section, which is typically used by senior-level professionals with more than 10 years of experience, may be included in addition to, or in lieu of, a professional summary. It calls attention to relevant, noteworthy achievements that may be scattered throughout a professional's extensive work experience. By highlighting these accomplishments at the top of the first page of the resume, you're helping readers to understand the value you bring to the table and enticing them to thoroughly read your resume to learn more.

  • Volunteer experience: Hiring managers and recruiters alike look favorably on professionals who engage in philanthropic activities such as volunteering for non-profits and mentoring programs. If you actively volunteer for a non-profit organization, consider sharing this information on your resume and LinkedIn profile.

  • Technical hard skills: If you work in a technical field, this section may take the place of your “Core Competencies” at the top of your resume. However, if you work in a non-technical profession but use many technical platforms to do your job - and these tools are often noted in the job descriptions you're interested in - then you may want to add a section at the end of your resume to list all these tools.

  • Language skills: If you're multilingual, be sure to note these language proficiencies in your professional summary and detail them out in a separate section toward the end of your resume. Only list the language on your resume if you would feel comfortable going to an interview that was spoken in that language.

  • Publications: If you are seeking work in the medical, dental, academic, scientific, or research field, then your academic resume - also known as an academic CV - will likely include a section to showcase the presentations you've given or publications you've written or been featured in.

Tips for making the most of your resume sections

To help you quickly get up to speed on how to organize your resume sections and make the most of each one, we've compiled some helpful tips.

Choose the right resume section order

While it's important to include the six essential sections (plus any optional sections) in your resume, there may be times when you need to use a different structure than that provided above. For example:

1.      Resume sections for students are often organized using a different order: contact information, resume headline, resume objective statement, education, experience, skills, optional sections.

 The goal of that structure is to focus on your educational qualifications and career objective, to compensate for your lack of experience and skill.

 2.      Experienced professionals may use a structure that emphasizes their work history and achievements: contact information, resume headline, resume summary, work experience, education, skills, optional sections.

 In most instances, an employee with a great deal of experience in their industry will want to emphasize their career trajectory and achievements rather than their skills.

 3.      Career changers often want to use a structure that focuses attention on transferable skills and related achievements. The following structure can help to draw attention to those qualifications: contact information, resume headline, resume summary (including career objective), key skills, work experience (focusing on related experience and emphasizing achievements), education, and optional sections.

Keep it brief

While it might seem as though seven sections will require a lot of resume space, your goal should be to limit the total length of your resume to no more than two pages. One is even better. Remember, hiring managers may be put off by longer resumes, especially if they have dozens or hundreds of other applicants to consider.

Make it readable and informative

  • Use bullet points for your skills and work achievements. To save space, you should consider formatting your core competencies section into two or three columns.

  • Don't just list skills in your core competencies section. You should scatter mentions of them throughout your resume, including in your resume summary paragraph and work history achievements.

  • Don't use the same resume for every job submission. Instead, tailor your base resume to each job you're seeking. To learn more, check out this related post: How to Tailor Your Resume to a Specific Job Description.

  • Make sure that your resume is easy to read and pleasing to the eye. If everything seems a little cramped on the page, try to adjust your margins, fonts, and other page elements to ensure that there's enough white space on the page to make for easy reading.

  • Always use a blank space or a solid line to separate the different sections on your page. Include headings for your core competencies, professional history, education, and any optional sections, to help hiring managers quickly locate the information they're seeking.

Using the right resume sections is vital for telling the right story

As you design your resume's structure, consider the story you're relaying to your reader. Each resume section is there for a purpose and plays a vital role in convincing the employer that you have what it takes to be a valuable member of their team. With the right resume section structure and a keen commitment to conveying your value as a professional, you can increase your odds of landing that essential interview!

If you're unsure about what should be in a resume, don't be afraid to ask for help. Request a free resume review today to find out how to improve your chances of landing the interview.

This article was originally written by Amanda Augustine and has been updated by Ken Chase.

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