How To Structure A Resume For Success

By Heidi Cope and Experts - Mar. 16, 2021

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Writing resumes from scratch is a daunting task and structuring your first resume from scratch can be incredibly nerve-wracking. But don’t worry, we are here to help make the resume writing process as smooth as possible for you.

You probably are sitting at your computer right now, a word document open and ready and…you don’t know where to begin. You might have a list of all the important details you need to include but you are unsure how to fit it all into one page and look professional.

Writing a resume is more than just writing down your education and past jobs — it is also about how you present the information. When crafting a resume from scratch or even when deciding between different resume templates, you want to make sure you organize your information the best way possible.

When looking through hundreds of resumes, employers spend a ridiculously small amount of time reading your resume. And when we say reading, we mean a glance. One way to maximize your resume’s potential is to organize it appropriately so that the quick glance it receives is spent taking in all your awesome details, rather than spent searching for the good stuff.

We want your resume to get all the attention it deserves. That’s why we’re going to walk you through how to structure a resume.

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Sections Your Resume Must Include

A resume is often organized into different sections that are generally standardized across industries. So the first thing you have to know when structuring a resume is what sections to include.

Here are the main sections you should include in your resume:

Let’s break down each section and look at what details should be included in each section.

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Contact Section

The contact section is one of the most underrated sections of the resume. If hiring managers don’t have a way to easily get in contact with you, how will you make it past the resume stage of the hiring process?

Your contact section should include important contact information like your phone number, email address and at the very least, your state or country of residence. If you are applying to non-local areas, you don’t have to add your home address. You can also include a link to your LinkedIn profile in this section.

For more information about including your LinkedIn profile on your resume, check out this article.

Never put your contact section in the header of a document. Some applicant tracking systems (ATS) might not pick up on text included in headers and footers, which would mean that your resume gets weeded out before a human reader even looks at it.

Career Objective/Career Summary Section

The next thing you should include on your resume is a career objective or career summary section.

Remember how we said hiring managers spend a very short amount of time looking at your resume? Adding this brief summary is a great way to add an elevator pitch (resume edition) to your resume.

A career objective and career summary will pitch you as a worker in two or three sentences. Why should they hire you? How does the job align with your career path? What specific details about your work history show your ability to succeed in the position you are applying for?

If you can answer these questions in a few concise sentences with great keywords, you will have a great career objective/career summary section.

An objective statement is viewed as less impactful than a resume summary statement, and many experts are suggesting that job applicants ditch the objective and use a summary instead.

While a resume objective tells employers what you want (a job), a resume summary statement gives a brief overview of your resume’s most important and impressive qualities. However, if you’re a recent graduate or are breaking into a new field after deciding to change careers, a resume objective can be effective.

When writing a resume objective, try to align your career goals with the position you’re applying for and the company you’re applying to. Here’s an example of a resume objective statement:

Copyeditor seeking a chance to utilize my skills in editing, SEO, and user experience to help boost website traffic and drive B2B and B2C content engagement.

It’s good because it aligns the applicant’s goals with the responsibilities of the job she’s applying for. Now let’s take a look at the same candidate using a resume summary statement instead:

Creative copyeditor who combines a background of technical SEO skills with editing chops to deliver high-quality, custom content built to drive traffic and engagement. Thrives in a deadline-driven environment to build winning content strategies.

As you can see, a resume summary statement goes much further in stating that you already have the skills and knowledge to succeed in the job. A resume objective statement is more like saying you’re great and asking for a chance to prove it. Hiring managers and recruiters would rather hire someone who’s already proved their chops.

Skills Section

The skills section is often a bullet point list describing relevant skills you have that will make you a good candidate for the job. Skills include both hard and soft skills.

  1. Hard skills. Hard skills are skills that you learn through training and indicate expertise with a task, process, or tool. Things like languages (both programming and spoken), software knowledge, and job- or industry-specific responsibilities are all considered hard skills. Hard skills can be tested, measured, and evaluated.

  2. Soft skills. Soft skills relate to your intangible qualities like personality traits and interpersonal abilities. Things like communication, leadership, and organization are all considered soft skills. In general, soft skills cannot be taught and are instead a natural collection of your characteristics. They are difficult to test or evaluate.

You can include anywhere between 3-10 skills on your resume, with a healthy mix of hard and soft skills. If hard skills are essential for the job, as they are in any job that involves using technology, consider favoring those slightly more than soft skills — about a 70/30 split.

Be aware that, since soft skills are tough to prove, you may have to support your soft skills throughout the rest of your resume. For instance, if you list collaboration skills, you should include a bullet point in your work section that showcases a successful collaborative project.

This will give your skills section entry a bit more weight.

Our resume builder tool will walk you through the process of creating a stand-out Architect resume.

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Work History Section

The work history section is pretty self-explanatory — it’s a section where you detail out where and when you worked previous jobs.

Some things to keep in mind while you the write your work history section:

  • Keep the work history section relevant. Avoid adding high school babysitting jobs if you are applying for an accounting position, for example, right out of school.

  • Include work from the past 10 years. Only include work experiences past 10 years if it is relevant to the job application.

  • Detail out your roles and responsibilities with keywords related to your job application.

  • Highlight deliverables from your previous jobs with numbers. Show your success versus telling your success.

Your work history section will come immediately after your resume summary/objective if you’re using a chronological resume format, but would follow your skills section in a functional resume (more on resume formats later).

Regardless of your resume format, you should list your work experience in reverse-chronological order, with the most recent experience coming first. Don’t forget to include these key details for each job and company you’ve worked for:

  • Company information. Include the name of your employers, the location, and possibly a brief description, if the company isn’t well-known.

  • Job title. It’s important to get your job title correct, as both ATS and the human reader will be looking at your former titles to judge your suitability for the job you’re applying for.

  • Time frame. List the dates of your employment. We recommend sticking with the mm/yyyy format, as ATS have the easiest time picking this up. However, writing out the full month’s name is also usually okay. However you choose to format your dates, stay consistent throughout your resume.

  • Job description. Give about three bullet points for each of your former positions. List your most impressive achievements from each job — not just the basic responsibilities. Hiring managers and recruiters know what a given job title’s duties are, so you’re not helping them make a decision by describing those.

    Instead, highlight instances where you added tangible value to your employer, and use numbers to talk about past accomplishments to make them more impactful.

resume document image

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Education

Finally, the education section. Education is a very important section to include in a resume. Make sure to include the dates of graduation. If you have a graduate degree, include your bachelor’s and master’s degrees as well. If you have a bachelor’s degree, you don’t have to include your high school diploma.

However, if you do not have a college degree, include your highest form of education diploma or certificate and any work-related education certificates.

You do not have to include your GPA if you don’t want to. If you are a recent graduate, adding your GPA from your most recent school might make you more competitive, but if you haven’t been in school for a while, your work experience is more important.

To format your education section simply provide this information for every college or higher degree that you’ve received or expect to receive soon:

  • Degree/program name

  • College/university name

  • Dates attended

If you want to beef up your education section, consider including some of the following optional information as well:

  • Minor

  • GPA (if 3.5+)

  • Honors (Dean’s List, magna cum laude, etc.

  • Accomplishments (thesis, impressive group projects, etc.)

  • Extracurriculars (if relevant)

class="fancy">Optional Sections

Every resume under the sun should have the sections outlined above. However, there are a few more sections you can choose to include if you’re having trouble filling a page or one of your major assets doesn’t fit neatly into any other section.

Optional resume sections include:

  • Volunteer experience. It’s always good to present as a person who acts for the greater good without thought of compensation. If you’re using volunteer work to cover gaps in your employment history, consider putting volunteer experiences in your resume’s work history section.

    Volunteer experience is especially valuable for those applying for roles in academia, non-profits, and government jobs.

  • Passion projects. If you have a personal project that you work on or a portfolio of impressive independent or contracted work, consider including it in a separate resume section. It shows that you take joy and pride in your job and that you take initiative. Only include this stuff if it relates to the job you’re applying for in some way.

  • Certifications. Some jobs have stringent requirements regarding certifications and licenses. You can also include this sort of information in your education or skills section, but if you have a lot of relevant credentials under your belt, you can make a whole section for them.

  • Interests and hobbies. This is really just for when your resume is too short, but if you can tie in your hobbies and interests to the job duties somehow, go for it.

class="fancy"> Best Way To Structure A Resume For Recent Grads Versus Seasoned Workers

You might be wondering if the structure of a resume differs between recent graduates and people who have been working career jobs. The simple answer to this question is yes.

Recent graduates typically don’t have much work experience so their education is the most important section of the resume. They also have less to discuss in their career summary section. That’s why recent graduates typically write a career objective section instead.

For recent graduates, here is the typical structure of their resume:

  • Contact Information Section

  • Career Objective

  • Skills Section

  • Work History

  • Education

  • Optional Sections

Recent graduates might also want to put the skills section before the work history section because their work history section might be a little bit short.

Seasoned job seekers with a lot of experience, on the other hand, will want to write a career summary and put their work history right after it. Their work history is the most important thing on their resume, so that should be emphasized.

class="fancy">Three Resume Formats

Now that we know what a resume needs to have, let’s cover your formatting options.

  1. Chronological. In this format, you start with a resume summary/objective and then move into your work history section. Your work history section begins with the most recent information first.

    This is the safest choice of format and the one you should use in most circumstances. It highlights your most relevant experiences, draws attention to your upward career trajectory, and demonstrates a consistent and reliable professional.

  2. Functional. Functional resumes are all about showcasing your skills first and foremost, while experience takes a back seat. After your resume summary/objective, give a key skills section.

    Instead of just listing skills, though, you should give a brief synopsis of your experience with that skills. Since this takes up more room, you should only list 3-6 skills, aiming for the lower end.

    Functional resumes are good for people with long gaps in their employment or those who want to switch careers and draw attention to their transferable skills rather than their unrelated work history. Your experience section is shortened with a functional resume.

  3. Combination. A combination resume still puts skills front and center, but also backs those up with a fully-flehsed out work experience section. This format is mostly for those applying for high-level positions that really need to impress hiring manager. It’s definitely not a good choice for entry-level applicants.

class="fancy">Final Thoughts

Structuring a resume might seem daunting at first, but luckily, the way most industries expect a resume to be structured is standardized. No matter what, you want to include your contact, work history, and education sections.

What you choose to include beyond that is up to you, but choose additional sections that are specific and relevant to the job you’re applying for.

Finally, take note of your graduation date and the amount of work experience you have. If you are a recent graduate or are a job seeker without much experience, consider reordering your resume to emphasize your skills over your work history. With a well-structured resume written, you will then be well on your way to landing your next job.

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Author

Heidi Cope

Heidi Cope is a former writer for the Zippia Career Advice blog. Her writing focused primarily on Zippia's suite of rankings and general career advice. After leaving Zippia, Heidi joined The Mighty as a writer and editor, among other positions. She received her BS from UNC Charlotte in German Studies.

Expert

Don Pippin, MHRM, CPRW, CDCS

Don Pippin is an executive and HR leader for Fortune 50 and 500 companies and startups. In 2008, Don launched area|Talent with a focus on helping clients identify their brand. As a Certified Professional Resume Writer, Certified Digital Career Strategist, and Certified Personal Branding Strategist, Don guides clients through career transitions.

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