The resume has stood the test of time as the single most important document needed for finding a job. In fact, it is said the the first example of professional resume writing may date all the way back to 1482, for a document belonging to none other than Leonardo da Vinci!

While certain elements of the resume have certainly changed over the years – such as the objective statement falling out of favor and the shift towards digital versions instead of paper copies – it still remains the single best way to introduce job seekers to employers.

Even though the resume is the almost universally agreed-upon starting point in the job search process, no two examples will ever be the same. Outside of the variety of experience and skills possessed by individual job seekers, there seems to be an endless amount of unwritten rules and personal preferences when it comes to resume format. It makes sense that after more than 500 years of resume writing, there are some strong opinions out there!

To help you navigate the confusing world of resumes, we’ve compiled information from years of recruiting and hiring experience to create our comprehensive guide to resume writing! Below, you will find information about each of the most common resume sections, as well as a list of dos and don’ts to consider when writing or rewriting your resume for a job search.

The Sections

There are certain sections that are expected to be included in every professional resume. These standard sections are: heading, summary, experience, education, professional organizations/community involvement/accolades and skills. Here’s what is expected from each section, and some tips for getting starting on your own:

Please note: Depending on your industry of focus, the sections necessary for inclusion and the order in which they should appear in may vary slightly. Be sure to consult industry publications or employers directly to confirm details of these specialty formats.

Heading

Here’s where all of your contact information goes! This information should be placed right at the top of the resume document to ensure that the applicant’s name stands out. Make sure that the information you are providing is accurate and up-to-date to ensure easy communication between job seeker and potential employer. Important details to consider include:

  • Full Name
  • Mailing Address (optional)
  • Email Address
    • Note: Be sure to use a professional address! For example, a simple email address like firstname.lastname@website.com projects more professionalism than an old address you’ve been using for personal contact, such as iHeartBacon1986@website.net.
  • Phone Number
  • Personal Web Page URL (or LinkedIn Profile Link)

Summary

Gone are the days of objective statements. In its place comes the professional or career summary section. Following your contact information, this section is best used a short and sweet recap of your career thus far. Keep it to fewer than four sentences, and choose your words wisely! A great place to start is including several key accomplishments, as well as job titles you’re interested in.

Example:

Clinical Research Coordinator with three years site experience seeking to make an impact at ABC Employer. Earned 2019 CRC of the Year honors, and achieved 89 percent all-time positive rating from patients.

Experience

This is the meat and potatoes of most professional resumes. In this section, job seekers should list work history, including key details of employment. Before beginning to write this section, job seekers should gather all information from past employers, including:

  • Office Address
  • Contact Information
  • Names of Managers/Coworkers
  • Dates Worked
  • Job Description
  • Responsibilities

When it comes to choosing which experiences to include, be sure to only list your most relevant work experience from the last 10-15 years. For example, unless it was your only job, it’s probably not important to include your high school summer job at the ice cream shop.

Do not be concerned about including any employment gaps in this section; these lapses in employment can be explained through a cover letter or during the interview process!

When digging into your experience, it’s important to go beyond job titles alone. After all, what does that “coordinator” or “assistant” title really tell an employer about your past experiences? The typical job description bullets that accompany a job title may only be telling one small part of a larger story (not to mention, these standardized descriptions can be just plain boring!) To break out of this rut, try making a thorough list of every responsibility you’ve owned in each position. Don’t worry if your list starts to get long; the more you can add to this list, the better. Having a large pool of experiences and skills to draw from helps your resume to be more versatile and adaptable as you create new versions for different opportunities.

However, there’s only so much space available on a resume that’s ready to submit, and if you listed every function you were responsible for in every role, the final project would end up being a novel! Instead, it’s important to pick and choose the responsibilities that best relate to the job you’re applying for from the inventory of terms you generate.

One way to beef up this section is to use the job description to guide the selection of experiences and term used to describe them. Adding numbers that showcase success in each role can also increase the impact of the experiences that are shared.

Examples of resume bullets:

DON’T

  • Gave wonderful customer service
  • Worked hard to be a good teammate
  • Lead many successful campaigns

DO

  • Achieved 95% positive customer service rating
  • Implemented mentorship program to support teammate initiatives and professional development
  • Launched summer hiring campaign, which attracted 250 applicants and led to 25 new hires for the organization

Education

Just as the name indicates, this section is all about sharing academic achievements. This is where job seekers should include a list of academic institutions attended and the degrees and/or honors earned. As a rule of thumb, include only the most recent, relevant education experience on a resume. For example, if you’ve finished college with a bachelor’s degree, information about high school education may no longer be applicable on a resume.

Please note that it is not required to include graduation dates in this section!

How prominent this section may be is entirely up to the job seeker; newer professionals may want to keep the education section near the top, while more seasoned individuals may choose to lead with their work experience.

Professional Organizations/Community Involvement/Accolades

Outside of work experience and school, involvement in other types of activities can make a major impact on employers during resume evaluation. Dedicating a section to this type of involvement can be a great way to showcase outside interests!

For example, membership in professional organizations illustrates a commitment to one’s craft, as well as ongoing professional development outside of the day-to-day work setting. Alternatively, examples of community involvement, such as charity work, can give employers insight into the sorts of values that are important to a job seeker. Any awards or accolades achieved in the workplace or through passion projects are wonderful inclusions to consider here, as well. This section is also a great way to beef up a resume that may be lacking a bit in the work experience section.

Skills

Also referred to as core competencies in some circles, this is the section where applicants highlight the skill sets and abilities they plan to bring to a job. This is also great place to include proficiencies that may not have been covered in the experience section earlier. In fact, spelling out your skills can give you a big boost with applicant tracking systems (also known as ATS). These systems scan resumes using key words selected by hiring managers, then eliminate those which do not include the predetermined keywords. That’s why knowing the soft and hard skill keywords employers are looking for can mean the difference between being seen and getting passed over! When getting started on this section, a handy tip is to use the job listing as a guide; it should include many of the keywords the employer is looking for.

Beyond that, compile a list of hard and soft skills. Hard skills are those specific skills that you probably learned through training and are quantifiable. Examples include knowledge of how to administer a certain kind of health screen or experience with a specific CRM system.

On the other hand, soft skills are a bit more subjective and hard to pin down with cold hard numbers. Examples of these softer elements include leadership and project management skills. Ideally, your resume skills section will be a blend of both.

Resume Dos and Dont’s

Now that the basic sections of the resume are covered, it’s time to consider some dos and don’ts for resume writing:

The Dos

  • Use exciting action words to grab the reader’s attention, such as “coach,” “strengthen,” and “lead.”
  • Review your resume for typos multiple times before submitting it to an employer. Invite a few trusted friends to review it, as well.
  • Print out a copy; you might catch mistakes you missed on a screen!
  • Keep it to one page, if possible.
  • Maintain consistency in look and feel – fonts, colors, etc. – throughout.
  • Be aware of requested formats from employers, and tailor your submission to the request to avoid formatting hiccups. For example, a Word file may appear differently when read through Google Docs.

The Don’ts

  • Forget to rename the resume file if submitting digitally. A file name like “Resume Version 15 HIRE ME” sends an unprofessional signal.
  • Go overboard with a variety of fonts and design elements.
  • Lie. Ever.
  • Include a photo of yourself (save that for your LinkedIn profile!)
  • End your resume with “References Available Upon Request,” as this is generally understood.

The hiring process may have evolved since Leonardo da Vinci penned the first resume years ago, but this iconic document still survives as the key to landing that next interview. With a mastery of the most common resume sections, as well as a knowledge of some of the unwritten rules, job seekers are more likely to succeed on the way to a new opportunity.

What are your resume writing tips and tricks? Share your advice with other job seekers in the comment section below!