Updated: July 2023
There are basic elements that should be included in every resume in order to gain the attention of the reader, and to offer a synopsis of your ability to fulfill the job requirements to which you are applying. Those elements include: a Heading; a Professional Summary; Relevant Skills; Areas of Expertise; Career History and Education/Certifications. Extracurricular activities may also be added, but are not necessary. The goal is to provide the best information in the fewest words so that the hiring manager will quickly know whether you are a match for the position. These elements should be arranged according to your level of experience and what you would like to showcase.
No single resume format is perfect for everyone. There are multiple resume formats, of which the three most common are the Chronological, Functional or Combination. Choosing the best format for your experience level and the job to which you are applying is of key importance.
The Chronological Resume is straightforward and provides job experience in chronological order - beginning with the most recent and supported by skills and accomplishments. A Functional resume is often used by entry level candidates or recent graduates with limited experience but transferrable skills. Here the focus is on strengths and capabilities, and less about job experience. A Combination Resume is typically used by more experienced candidates who want to showcase their skills and accomplishments at the top, followed by recent work history. It combines elements from the other two formats in a creative way, specifically matching skills against the job description, to attract the attention of the reader or the algorithm reading the document.
Whichever format you choose, the priority should always be to read the posted job description and match keywords and language within the content of your resume so that the recruiting software or hiring manager will understand that you are a match.
For some positions a Chronological resume may be appropriate; for other jobs, a Functional or Combination resume may be a better choice. There is no one perfect resume format.
Before you begin writing, make sure that you have the correct dates, titles and details of your prior work history. The process is easier if you have these details handy before you begin. Refer to any records you have from former jobs. New-hire forms and evaluations are also great sources of information.
If you will be adding professional organizations or community service to the resume, reconfirm that you have the correct formal names of the organizations and not just acronyms, along with dates of service.
Knowing your Job Target is key, and will make writing your resume much easier. You can actually have more than one Job Target, as each resume will be tailored to the job at hand. Before writing a resume, be very clear about what you want to do, and know what level position would be appropriate. In that way you will be able to focus on job opportunities that are specific to your interests and skills.
Once you have clarity about your ideal job, you'll be able to create a resume that has direction and purpose. If you're applying to an ad posting, the job in the ad will be your job target.
Consider how your strengths will help you function effectively in that role. Not all of your background experience will be necessary to add to your profile, nor is every task or skill in your work history relevant. Only consider adding the experience and skills you have that match the desired position, in order to demonstrate your value to the organization and avoid adding unnecessary language.
In today’s job market, it is preferable to tailor/tweak the resume for each job to which you are applying. Using a generic resume to apply to multiple jobs will not produce great results. By revising each resume against the language in the job description - not only keywords, but descriptive phrases, you will have a better chance of advancing to an interview. Revising the resume for each application may seem challenging, but it is important that the software or hiring manager reading the document identify specific language that they are seeking. Highlighting your skills that are specifically relevant to the job will have a better chance of being noticed.
So now that your job target has been identified, your facts are gathered and you have chosen a format —what next? Now you can begin the process of writing an effective resume.
The heading is the first section of your resume, which includes your name, and contact information.
It is best to write out your formal name. If you prefer a nickname, you may add it in parenthesis, after your name.
The resume need only include your City and State, and email address. For privacy purposes it is best to omit your street address. At a later date you can provide more address details, if the company requires that information.
Employers are more likely to contact you by telephone or by email. Therefore, list only your personal telephone number and area code. During a job search be vigilant about answering your calls professionally, and remember to record an outgoing voice mail message that makes a good first impression - in case a call goes to voice mail.
Include an email address in your heading - preferably not your current work email address. Many job seekers create an email address dedicated to their job search which is easily done through various email websites. Choose an email address that sounds professional as you set up your dedicated account.
Check your voice mail and email often during your job search. Don't miss an opportunity for an interview!
It is essential that every job seeker create and update a proper Linkedin profile. Here, you can also upload your resume. All recruiters and hiring managers check Linkedin after reviewing a resume to glean additional information. Also, many recruiters on Linkedin may reach out to you, as well, if you have the background experience they are seeking. So don’t be surprised if you receive some unsolicited inquiries. Just remember, a resume is a snapshot; however, a Linkedin profile tells your story. The link to your Linkedin profile should always be added to your contact information in the Heading.
In order for your resume to reach the proper hiring professionals, it needs to reflect a job title consistent with the prospective job. There are many ways to include a Targeted Job Title on your resume: next to, or under, your name in the Heading; immediately after the Heading in a one-line identifier; or it can be added in a summary section. This targeted job title may also be present in previous work experience - if applicable. The job title informs the reader of your desired position and functions as your job objective, as well. The Targeted Job Title may change depending on the position to which you are applying and should always match the job you are seeking. Always add language that demonstrates that you are a fit for the desired position.
First Name/Last Name - (Job Title) Office Manager
(Followed by your contact information)
First Name/Last Name
(Job Title) Software Developer/IT Project Manager
(Followed by your contact information)
First Name/Last Name
(Job Title) Customer Service Manager
Even if you’re not sure that the job title accurately describes your current situation, it is acceptable to add it next to/under your name so that the hiring professionals will see what job you are seeking.
The Professional Profile or Executive Summary is a brief description that summarizes your years of experience, academic history, job titles, and a short list of your professional skills. It sums up your most relevant qualifications - all of which should match the job description. The professional profile can be presented in a short paragraph or organized with bullets. Do not include any information that is not relevant to the job under consideration.
The Professional Profile (or Executive Summary) is usually placed on the resume below the contact information; however not everyone includes a Professional Profile. A succinct and powerful Profile will be brief and include keywords to attract the hiring manager a/o software algorithm.
As you consider the job to which you are applying, review the specific skills that may add value to that specific position a/o team. These may include organizational skills; communication and interpersonal skills; being detail oriented; excellent written and verbal skills; ability to problem solve, etc. Identify a list of action words that will best demonstrate your skills that may also match the job requirements.
Then, review the requirements of the job target, and add bullets outlining the skills and abilities that best match that job.
Requirements from the Targeted Job description
Excellent written communication skills; committed to open dialogue
Excellent interpersonal skills
Ability to multitask
Ability to shift priorities quickly
Skilled in workflow efficiency and prioritizing tasks
Microsoft Office Suite
Ability to anticipate the needs of others
Demonstrated ability to create positive interaction on a team
You don't need to include every skill required by the targeted job, but include those that best describe your unique talents. Grab the reader's attention by using keyword-dense content. Limit yourself to four or five lines of text and four or five bullets.
Targeted Job Title: Administrative Assistant
Detail-oriented, adaptable and highly organized administrative professional with five years-experience as an executive assistant and office manager. Outstanding interpersonal and communication skills. Ability to multitask and change priorities as needed.
Targeted Job Title: Customer Service Representative
The skills section of your resume is a list of skills that will help describe what you do. They prove your ability to perform the targeted job. The skills section gives added proof that you're worthy of the job. It also enhances the keyword density of your resume.
Begin by selecting a title.
Now compile a list of your skills. The skills section for a human resources and payroll employee might read:
Examples of describing skills and areas of expertise
New Hire On-boarding
New Hire Processing
Payroll Processing Compensation
Fluent in Spanish
Fluent in German
Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access and Outlook.
The work experience section provides information about your employment history. It lists former employers, locations, dates and the jobs/responsibilities you held. You'll add your duties and achievements. Take great care in listing your work experience, and match keywords to the job description. Employers will look for matching language.Possible Titles for this section:
Company Name and Location
List your employers, beginning with the most recent and working your way backward.
When stating the location of each company, it is not necessary to provide an exact address. City and state or city and province will do.
Acme Fencing, LLC - Atlanta, GA
Uptown Brewery - Manhattan, KS
Tapestry Nation, Inc. - Portland, Oregon
It is also helpful to include a brief description of the company, offering size, sales and type of business, so that the hiring manager will understand the scope of your job.
XYZ Corporation; New York, NY.
(XYZ is a midsize global retail company, with sales of $100 million, specializing in athletic apparel)
It's very important to list accurate dates of employment on your resume. Companies are likely to confirm these dates with your former employers. It is generally acceptable to include only month and year of the beginning and end date of your more recent positions. Earlier jobs need only include year. If there are gaps which can be explained, such as, health issues, moving to a new location, etc., you may include a brief sentence and the dates explaining the gap. (See FAQ #6)
Acme Fencing, LLC; Atlanta, GA; (April 2010 - August 2018)
Uptown Brewery Manhattan, KS; (January 2016 - present)
Tapestry Nation, Inc. - Portland, Oregon (2014 - 2017)
Always stay consistent in your format.
To further enlighten the hiring manager with your status and level of responsibility within the organization, it is a good idea to indicate your reporting situation.
Reporting to the Sales Director, responsible for meeting sales initiatives in the Southeast region.
Then, State your major duties, special projects, achievements and promotions. Use action words to describe your successes. Support your skills/efforts with data, metrics and results, whenever possible. Most recruiters also like to see evidence of leadership skills. Even if you are an entry-level candidate or early in your career, there are ways to incorporate leadership into your “Responsibilities” list. Language such as:
Kitchens International - Orlando, FL. (2014 to 2017)
(Kitchens International is a regional construction and remodeling company, with 85 employees and annual sales of$1.5 M; specializing in the renovation of kitchens and baths in the greater suburban area.)
Reporting to the Regional Marketing Manager, conducted market research and analysis on topics of brand recognition, customer satisfaction and value perception. Established pricing strategies, sales performance strategies and marketing effectiveness for various kitchen renovations.
When listing details of previous jobs, pay attention to how the skills you used relate to your targeted job. If the skills are relevant, emphasize them. If they're not, leave them out.
Adding your military experience on the resume will demonstrate commitment, discipline and leadership. Include your branch of service, highest rank and job duties. It is best to use language that is easy to understand, and avoid using military jargon or acronyms.
U.S. Army, Sergeant (E-5)—Satellite Communications Support, 2014-2018
U.S. Marines, Captain (2014-2022)
If possible, find a match between your prior military skills and the job requirements. Everyone appreciates examples of leadership and the ability to manage processes or inventories. Include training, courses, awards or honors - especially if they support the requirements of the target job.
The placement of Education on the resume depends on its relative importance to you a/o the Target Job. You may want to move the education section between the skills and work experience sections if any of the following applies to you:
For new graduates, education is important. However, if your work experience and related credentials are more relevant, then placing your academic history at the end of the resume is also acceptable. The purpose of the resume is to gain the attention of the reader by adding the most valuable and relatable content at the beginning.
List your highest level of academic achievement first. Include the school name, city, state or province, and degree. Adding the year of the degree is optional. Many candidates choose to omit the year of graduation as it offers insight into age and other privacy issues. Always add scholarships, awards, honors or school activities if they support your job search, as well. Alternatively, these latter items may also be placed at the end of the resume.
Bachelor of Arts—Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism (2019)
Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS
If you're enrolled in a degree program, give details (school, location, courses of study and the anticipated date of graduation).
Clifton Bluff Community College, Middletown, OH (2019 - Present)
Associate Degree in Accounting. (Candidate. Degree anticipated June, 2010)
If you didn't finish college, using language such as “attended” will be sufficient. List the school name, location, relevant courses you took and the dates you attended.
Central Community College, Austin, TX (Attended: 2015-2016)
Completed classes in accounting, taxation and organizational development.
If Education is not relevant, or if your academic history is limited, it may be best to omit.
Some jobs call for certification or licensing. Again, including this information at the top of your resume, in the Profile, Skills list or on a separate line, will ensure that the hiring manager knows of your qualifications. Always include license numbers and effective dates.
New York State Certificate of Qualifications (Secondary Education Social Studies), 2014
Red Cross First Aid Certification for CPR Coaching—2015
If you have taken classes, courses or seminars during your career, employers will notice. This information reveals that you are committed and continuing to learn. Including the professional development courses you have completed on the resume either in the education section, at the end of the resume or as part of your work history will definitely add value, as long as they are relevant to the job. Be sure to include the dates of completion, and a brief byline of the subject matter.
Certificate of Achievement in Advanced Esthetics and Therapies, January 2019
Diversity Training for Human Resources Management—2017
List your professional memberships if it helps your job search. Include the offices you've held, and describe how your activities added value to your job and career.
New York State Bar Association
Association of Trial Lawyers of America (ATLA)
(Collaborated with other legal professionals regarding litigation issues.)
If you have received formal awards or honors that support your job search, you may include them either with the prior job, at the top or at the end of the resume.
Restaurateur of the Year, 2016
Highest Performing Franchise—2014, 2015 and 2017
If there is space at the end of the resume, you may also add a few interests, hobbies, or community service. List only those details that will be of interest to the hiring manager or that support your Target Job.
The layout of your resume will be unique to your specific background and experience. There is no one way to organize a resume, so decide those elements that you feel will showcase your ability against the job description best. Whether a Chronological, Functional or Combination resume, the layout can be flexible. Move sections within the body of the resume to make them more visible. If education, certificates or licenses are important, place that language in a more visible spot. Don't be afraid to experiment with the layout.
Your resume isn't complete until it is polished and proofread. There is research that suggests that a recruiter prefers resumes no longer than two pages. Beyond that, the information does not typically have an impact. As you compose the elements of your resume, make an effort to keep the details brief and within two pages. As previously stated, the resume is a composite of your career history at a particular time. The Linkedin profile is where you can add more details, which will build out a more comprehensive description of your background.
Keep your resume easy to read by limiting your writing to two font types. The most commonly accepted fonts are Arial, Calibri and Times New Roman. Once you choose a font—two at most—remain consistent in your document. Within the font, you may choose to use bold, or italics for certain words or phrases, which will draw attention to salient details you want highlight.
Proofread your resume thoroughly, always checking for typographical errors and correct punctuation. Be sure your use of bold or italicized text is consistent throughout the document. Most word processing programs have a built-in feature to check your grammar and spelling. Take advantage of this. Nothing will doom your resume quicker than errors. So make sure yours is perfect!
Most resumes and cover letters are transmitted digitally, and the hiring company will either review it online or make copies. If you need to have a paper copy of the resume, always use high quality, letter-sized paper. Many stores sell resume paper.
Most resumes pass through a software system before reaching the recruiter. With an effective resume, written specifically to match the job description, you will have a greater chance of landing an interview. Tailor your resume to every Target Job by editing your Job Title and Professional Profile. Presenting your skills and how they relate to the job is of key importance. Show employers that you have what they need by planning, organizing and writing a clear and concise resume.