There’s no question about it— job seeking is a competitive business in today’s economy. In my recruitment work, I sometimes receive up to 200 applications per- job. It is important that your resume be not just well-written, but also tailored to the specific job you’re applying for. This can mean the difference between landing the interview and being rejected at the outset.While you want your resume to be eye-catching, employers will expect to see certain resume sections, no matter what the role. Here are some tips on what resume sections make up the backbone of a solid resume. All resume sections profiled below are in the order they should appear in on your resume.
1. The Header
Sounds basic, but you wouldn’t believe how many resumes I receive with no contact details! The header is one of the most crucial resume sections; you can’t be contacted by a recruiter without it. It contains your name and contact information—address (not necessarily a full address—these days many people just note their city and state), phone number, and email address. You can also consider including links to a relevant website, or your personalized LinkedIn URL. There is no need to include information about your age or nationality in this section.
2. Summary Statement
Your summary statement, which follows the header, offers a short, compelling description of your career accomplishments, as well as your future ambitions. This too is one of the key resume sections! The summary statement can work wonders with helping you stand out. By concisely and compellingly stating why you’re the most qualified candidate, you better your chances of grabbing the attention of the recruiter and hiring manger reading your resume (and in turn, better your chances of snagging the interview).
In a few sentences, you’ll want to highlight your most relevant skills and core competencies that are unique to you as a candidate and that are relevant to the job you’re applying for. Have you saved money for a company in the past? Did you streamline an administrative process? It is very important you tailor your summary statement to the specific job posting. Try to incorporate relevant keywords from the job description into your summary, as it will help the recruiter easily see that you’re a good fit for the job.
3. Key Skills & Technologies
Your Key Skills & Technologies section should include computer skills, software skills, and/or language skills. For example, someone applying for a developer role might want to include “deep technical knowledge of mobile application development” or “expert level knowledge in Java and C++” if this something listed on the job description (and if you really have these skills, of course!).
The important thing is that you customize the Skills & Technologies section as much as you can to the job description requirements. You can include both hard skills and soft skills, but bear in mind the latter are harder to quantify. That said, soft skills are becoming increasingly more important to employers.
4. Work Experience
The Work Experience (or Work History) section is one of the resume sections that job seekers most frequently get wrong. By the time you get to the close of this paragraph, you’ll know what to do to get it right! The Work Experience section starts off with your most recent position first, and continues on from there in reverse chronological order. You’ll include the name of the company, your job title, and dates of employment for each position you profile.
Use bullet points (five to eight for each position) to highlight your responsibilities and achievements. If you’re just starting out, list any volunteer experiences or unpaid experiences that could qualify as work experiences. If the list is extensive, you can create a new section for activities, associations, and volunteer work.
Here’s what job seekers most frequently goof on when fleshing out their bullet points—they list a lot of responsibilities, but no tangible achievements, or achievements that are not relevant to the jobs they are applying for.
Imagine the recruiter is reviewing just 20 resumes—how would they know you’re a stellar candidate by looking at your work experience/history? How would you stand out if the achievements you list don’t line up with the job you’re applying for, or show no quantifiable results?
Quantify your experiences as much as you can, whether you’re providing specifics of time/money saved/made, describing the size of the budget or teams you’ve managed, the number of events you’ve organized, etc. Always aim to use numbers to back up your achievements!
If your experience runs deep (i.e., you’ve been in the work world for 10+ years), there is no need to include a ton of detail about positions held, for instance, 15 to 20 years ago. You might just want to include the job titles, companies, and dates. Your Work Experience section’s focus should be on the past 10 years, as this is what employers will be most interested in.
In your Education section, you’ll list—in reverse chronological order—brief details of your academic qualifications (name of university and degree achieved) and dates you attended/graduated. If you’re looking for your first job since leaving an educational institution, information about your education should be at the top of your resume. Translation: have your Education section at the top of your resume, underneath your header.
Once you’ve been working for a few years, you can move this section to the bottom of your resume. However, if you’ve been to one of the best universities in the world—for example, an Ivy League university or top MBA school, aim to work that information into your summary statement. Now that’s something that could really help you stand out! Also—you only need to list a high school degree if you didn’t go to a college or university.
Resume Sections: The Final Touches
Now that you’re clear on the resume sections to include in yours, as well as the content specifications for each of those resume sections, let’s do a quick review of some other resume musts.
Use a standard font in your resume, something that’s easily legible and digestible (think Times New Roman or Georgia). Also, use the same font size throughout (at least 12), with the exception of perhaps making your name slightly larger in the Header section. For past jobs, describe your responsibilities and achievements in the past tense. For a job you might currently be in—use the present tense. Check, double-check, and triple-check your spelling!
Always remember this when you’re cranking through the work on your resume sections—you are writing the document in order to compel an employer to hire you. Keep it concise and interesting—when you do this, you greatly improve your chances of moving forward in the application process.
If you follow the resume sections structure outlined above, you’ll be on the right track to landing the job you want!