When sitting down to write an effective resume, you must do more than just list your work experience. A document written clearly, concisely and with detailed examples that highlight your professional accomplishments is critical to helping you land your next job. We’ll show you everything you need to include in your document to impress hiring managers and help get you that coveted interview.
How to write your resume sections
Organizing your resume according to five critical sections makes it easy to create a professional document that’s both well-formatted and inclusive of all the key information that employers expect to see.
- Contact Information
- Professional Summary
- Work Experience
There’s no point in creating a great resume if a recruiter isn’t able to contact you for an interview. It’s vital that you include your complete contact information in the header at the top of your resume.
Consider highlighting your header with a slight change of font size or a rule line to make it stand out. Keep the font simple and legible — Helvetica, Times New Roman, Calibri or Arial are designed for readability and are excellent font choices for a resume. Read on to learn what exactly to include in your contact information section.
This will be the first item read on your resume. You are establishing a professional relationship. Use your full professional name, and don’t include inappropriate nicknames. Consider making your name slightly larger than the rest of the header.
Postal mail is rarely a part of the application process these days, so it’s passé to include your mailing address. Include only your city and state so employers will know that your residence is local or out of the area.
List a number that links to a professional voicemail greeting in case you can’t receive the call.
If you work in an industry that requires a portfolio, be sure to add live links to your work. Or, link to a work-relevant blog that you maintain that demonstrates your knowledge of a particular field or subject.
Make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date and consider including a live link in your resume header. Your LinkedIn should not repeat your resume, but create a fuller idea of your experience and professional expertise.
Employers may visit your personal social media along with your professional sites. Do a deep dive into all of your private channels and scrub your accounts of any content that might offend or violate a potential employers employee conduct or mission statement. For example, it’s a good idea to delete any photos or references to heavy drinking or drug use.
Below is a list of popular social media sites that you should review:
This section is a short explanation of your qualifications and experience, and lets employers know right away what you will bring to the table. A professional summary should touch on your hard and soft skills, be concise and address a problem you can help the company solve.
The idea is to pack it with relevant facts about you and your background, but be intriguing enough to pique an employers’ curiosity about you.
Look closely at the job description and gather the keywords used throughout. Also ask yourself, "What is the company hoping to accomplish with this hire?"
Here’s a summary example that might work well for a recent grad:
"Hardworking recent college graduate seeks an entry-level marketing position. Recently graduated at the top of class with a degree in marketing and a minor in creative writing — eager to put knowledge to use in a busy marketing department. Past experience includes a proven track record of being a team player who can pivot between assignments with ease."
Unlike a resume objective statement, which typically expresses the job seeker’s wants, a professional summary should focus on what you as a candidate will offer the employer. Identify the problem the company is trying to solve with this hire and then explain how you will solve that problem.
The length of this section will depend on how long you’ve been in the workforce.
Use action verbs to describe your duties. Recruiters and hiring managers read several resumes in any given day — use dynamic words in your experience section to stand out. For example, if one of your responsibilities was to order office supplies, it’s more interesting to read that you "executed and maintained a new system for ordering supplies" than it is to read that you were "responsible for placing orders."
Remember, your entire resume should be written in the third person — no first-person pronouns. Use four to six bullet points to break up copy.
This section should not only recount your past duties and responsibilities, but shed light on your accomplishments and achievements. Use data to quantify these achievements. For example, if your new system for ordering supplies saved the company money by reducing duplicate orders, explain it. "Consolidated the weekly orders into monthly orders thereby reducing duplicate ordering and cutting spending by 7 percent."
For recent graduates or those with a limited job history, this section can be tricky. In these cases, list any relevant summer jobs, part-time work or internships that you’ve held. It’s still important to list any past work experience and call out the qualifications and qualities that made you good at your job even if your past roles don’t relate to the current job you are seeking.
Tips section: How to write effective achievements
Identify a problem that existed and the action you took to solve it for each entry.
- Use engaging action words, such as "streamlined", "mobilized" or "dispatched" rather than less-engaging phrases like, "responsible for" or "handled."
- Pull keywords out of the job ad and do your best to mention achievements that touch on those.
- Include data to quantify your experience, such as sales revenue, increased donations and information about website traffic.
Following these tips will help paint a picture of the impact your work had on your last organization.
Here’s an example of a good entry in a work experience section:
Marketing Associate, 2016 – Present
ABC Company, Albany, NY
- Assisted the marketing team with building a global brand strategy for our top-performing product.
- Analyzed market trends and recommend solutions, which resulted in a 10 percent upswing in sales annually.
- Organized travel and lodging for a team of 10+ marketing specialists to attend trade shows.
This section might be the most important area of your resume on which to focus. List your hard, soft and technical skills, paying special attention to repeated phrases and keywords in the job description.
As you scan the job ad, echo exactly the language it uses for skills. If it calls for a candidate with "strong customer service skills", you should duplicate this language in your skills section. Rephrasing the wording, even slightly, can make it difficult to get your resume past applicant tracking systems (ATS).
Personalize this section for each job you apply to. It only takes a few minutes and might be the difference between getting your resume into the hands of a hiring manager or not.
It will help to familiarize yourself with the three different kinds of skills to feature on your resume. Again, these should be personalized to the job description at hand.
These are objective and measurable qualifications you should present to a recruiter or hiring manager in your resume. Because they’re concrete, they serve as strong verification to your potential employer of your ability and skill set.
- A degree or a certificate in a certain field or speciality
- Computer programming abilities
- Machine operation proficiency
- The number of words that you can type per minute
- Forein language proficiency, eg. speaking French fluently
Just be considerate about what skills you feature. Will the skills you include make someone want to hire you for this role? Your hiring manager might be personally impressedthat you can speak fluent French, but if the job you’re applying to will never make use of this skill, it’s best to leave it out.
These skills are also helpful for you to showcase. However, unlike hard skills, soft skills are a bit more subjective and harder to quantify. Most interpersonal skills fall under the umbrella of soft skills.
- Organizational ability
- Grace under pressure
It’s important to let your potential employer know that you have these skills. Of course, since they can’t be quantified they should not have too much focus on your resume. This material might be better suited to include in your cover letter, or given as an anecdote about your ability to multitask in an interview setting.
These fall under the umbrella of hard skills. Moreso, they’re hard skills that involve nuanced or niche-specific technology and computer-based ability. Technical skills often require more education, training or hands-on experience. So, they are very advantageous to showcase on your resume, especially when applying to a job in the realm of computers and technology.
- Data analytics
- Data modeling
- Technical writing
- Digital marketing
- Experience using various trade-specific computer programs
These skills can be imperative to helping you land a job, especially in an IT-related field. However, it’s important to tailor the technological skills you are plugging to the specific job that you are pursuing. What skills do you offer that would be the most useful to your potential employer? What computer programs do you have experience with that they most likely use?
Now that you have an understanding of the different kinds of skills you should feature in your resume, it’ll be useful to look at the best way to present them.
Here are skills examples you could use for a customer service resume:
- MS Excel — Advanced (Macros, Pivot Tables)
- Bilingual in French and English
- Strong written and verbal communication skills
- Team player with excellent conflict-resolution skills
How you approach writing your skills depends on the resume format you select. The layout of your skills section changes depending on which of the three main resume formats that you chose. For example, the functional resume is a skills-based format that highlights your hard, soft and technical expertise over your conventional work history and can have multiple resume sections dedicated to your practical skills.
Employers are interested in your education, especially if you’re a recent graduate. While it’s always important to list your degree(s), new grads with limited work experience may choose to make their education more prominent.
It’s OK to list your GPA if you just graduated, but if you’ve been in the workforce for a while, don’t list it. GPAs are only relevant for a year or two out of college.
- University name, city, country or state.
- Full dates you were in school. For example, January 2016-Present, 2013-2017, or list your anticipated date of graduation.
- Degree title (B.A., MFA, etc.)
- Your major and minor, if applicable to the job you are seeking.
- Only include your GPA if it is 3.5 or higher and you are still a student or recent graduate.
MA in English Literature, minor in French, 2019
While the sections above are "must include" information, there might be additional accomplishments or activities that you’d like an employer to know about.
Recent graduates who are learning how to write a resume might want to include interesting pastimes in a "Hobbies" section. Or, for those who might have had their thesis or research papers published, a "Publications and Conferences" section could be ideal to add.
How long should my resume be?
This might be the most common question people ask when they are learning how to write a resume. The answer? Years ago experts told job seekers never to write a resume that was longer than one page — today there is no hard and fast rule. Typically, the longer you’ve been working, the longer your resume will be.
A loose rule of thumb: If you’ve been working for less than 10 years, keep your resume to one page. If you have been working for 11+ years, your resume can be two pages. Remember, however, that listing 15 to 20 years’ worth of work experience on your resume could inadvertently age you in the eyes of a recruiter.
Making your resume three pages or longer isn’t advised, unless you’re a senior-level manager or an executive. A resume that is longer than two pages is also appropriate for academics or other professions where you’d want to list speaking engagements, publications or other activities related to your work. However, if you believe you need more than two pages, you should consider writing a curriculum vitae, or CV, a professional document with dedicated sections to expand upon your accomplishments.
The importance of a resume format
Increase the chances of getting your resume past an ATS program and into the hands of a hiring manager by sticking with one of these three time-tested formats: chronological, functional or combination.
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) revealed several factors that employers consider heavily when evaluating a resume. These include resume organization (66 percent prefer a chronological format), the use of bullet points in formatting a resume section (43 percent like them), and including skills and professional summaries in the document (27 percent and 18 percent of recruiters, respectively, consider the inclusion of these sections when reviewing a resume). Sixty-six percent of recruiters and hiring managers prefer a resume in a chronological format.
Need more evidence? An eye-tracking study found that professionally prepared resumes scored far better with ATS programs than those that are poorly organized. Take a look at our resume format guide to learn more about proper layout and formatting.
Writing tips to remember
- Choose the resume format that best meets your needs. While the chronological resume is the format most preferred by recruiters, it might not be the best choice for a recent grad or someone with gaps in their job history. Think about what you want to emphasize and choose the format that best serves that purpose.
- Always add quantifiable achievements to your resume. Add numbers about sales revenue, website traffic, employee engagement — anything that will demonstrate how your work has made an impact.
- Always tailor your resume to the job at hand. This will likely mean rewriting your Professional Summary and reordering or rewording your Skills section to make the skills most relevant to the position pop. Remember, the more closely your resume echoes the language of the job description, the higher it will rank when run through an ATS program.
Use a clean, easy-to-read font such as Arial or Times New Roman. Use a font size of 10 or 12 to make your resume easy on the eyes.
- Always proofread your resume. Submitting a resume with a spelling or grammatical error can trip up ATS programs and hurt your professional standing in the eyes of a recruiter. Use the spell-check feature of the writing software you’re using.
Next, print your resume and read it carefully, word for word. Check for misspellings, verb tense, consistency of format and punctuation, and click any active URLs to ensure they work. Take a break and revisit it, reading it out loud. If you have a trusted friend or colleague, ask if they can also review it. You can also use a professional resume builder, which will help you create an error-free document.
- Choose a word document or a PDF format for sending your resume. These are the most easily read formats by ATS programs. Avoid using photos, graphics or special characters in the document as these can confuse an ATS.