How To Structure A Resume For Success

By Heidi Cope and Experts
Sep. 27, 2022

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.

Key Takeaways:

  • The 5 sections a resume must include are contact information, career summary, skills, work history, and education.

  • If the information is relevant you can also provide volunteer experience, personal projects, certifications, or hobbies sections.

  • Recent graduates will want to focus on their skills sections and use any relevant experience possible.

  • The 3 resume formats are chronological, functional, and combination.

How To Structure A Resume For Success

How To Structure Your Resume

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.

The Sections Of A Resume

  1. 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.

  2. Career Summary Section

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

    A career summary will pitch you as a worker in two or three sentences. It should answer questions such as:

    • 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 summary section.

    A resume summary statement gives a brief overview of your resume’s most important and impressive qualities.

    Lets take a look at a candidate using a resume summary statement:

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 states that you already have the skills and knowledge to succeed in the job.

  • 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.

  • 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 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.

  • 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)

  • Optional Sections For Your Resume

    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.

    Resume Structure For Recent Grads Vs. Experienced 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.

    A career objective section is similar to a resume summary, but instead of listing proven experience you focus on your skills and desire to enter a certain career.

    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.

    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.

    Resume Examples

    Now that we have a good idea of how to write a resume, let’s take a look at some example resumes:

    1. Chronological Resume Example

      Jack Pilgrim

      Washington, DC 14015 – (555) 444-3333 – jackpilgrim@gmail.com – www.linkedin.com/jpilgrim

      Resume Summary

      Graphic designer with 3+ years of experience creating and implementing promotional materials and social media graphics. Worked with sales and marketing teams to increase inbound calls by 23% YoY through compelling digital media. Adept at planning, managing, and prioritizing multiple deadlines at once, and thrives in fast-paced work environment.

      Work Experience

      Creative Designs | Washington, DC
      Lead Graphic Designer | June 2018-Present

      • Worked with sales and marketing teams to create landing pages, sales proposals, and supporting media elements to drive sales by over $250,000 per quarter

      • Trained, managed, and mentored team of 4 junior designers to fulfill 40+ project orders on a weekly basis

      • Conducted UX research through surveys, usability testing, and data analysis to plan content marketing strategy, driving organic search traffic by 12%

      • Presented proposals, results, and status updates to set of 4-7 clients, ensuring customer satisfaction at or above 95% for 3 years straight

      Happy Place | Alexandria, VA
      Junior Graphic Designer | July 2016-May 2018

      • Translated client needs and branding strategies into design and content strategy, increasing client retention by 22%

      • Reduced project turnaround time by 8% by Utilizing web-based ticket system for completing and archiving finalized pieces

      • Posted digital artwork to network IPTV using web interface to produce high-end infographics and other materials

      Happy Place | Alexandria, VA
      Marketing Intern | September 2015-July 2016

      • Assisted marketing team with data collection, analysis, and presentation using Google Analytics

      • Drew up storyboards for new marketing campaigns alongside sales team, increasing brand awareness through social media

      • Wrote 500-1000 word articles to pair with graphical elements on page, leading to a 40% boost in engagement on company website

      Education

      Savannah College of Art and Design | Savannah, Georgia
      May 2016
      Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design

      Skills

      • Adobe Creative Suite

      • Typography

      • HTML/CSS

      • WordPress

      • Collaboration

      • Organization

    2. Functional Resume Example

      Allison Neederly

      Chicago, Illinois, 60007 | (333) 222-1111 | jackpilgrim@gmail.com | www.linkedin.com/allison.neederly

      Resume Summary

      Dedicated customer service representative with 4+ years experience resolving customers’ needs in-person, online, and over the phone. Top achiever at XYZ Inc. with a 100% customer satisfaction rate for Q1 of 2020. Friendly personable, and knowledgable about company’s products and services.

      Relevant Skills

      Customer Service

      • Responded to upwards of 200 customer queries daily with XYZ Inc., reducing the average wait time by 56% and increasing customer satsifaction rates by 13%

      • Ability to resolve conflict and create a positive atmosphere for shopping for both new and existing customers through technical proficiency

      • Expert product knowledge and communication skills, and experience training and mentoring new customer service staff

      Web Chat and Phone

      • Skilled in 3 web chat platforms for helping online customers resolve their queries quickly and accurately

      • Achieved fastest call resolution rate at XYZ Inc., with an average resolution time of under 5 minutes per customer

      • Performed outbound calls for customer satisfaction surveys, as well as writing web-based surveys for 10,000+ customers

      Troubleshooting

      • Detailed product knowledge allowed for customer technical issues to be resolved at rate within top 5% of all customer service associates at XYZ Inc.

      • Created manual for step-by-step directions for troubleshooting that was implemented for team of 100+ customer service reps

      • Positive attitude took average tech-related negative response from 1/5 stars to 4/5 stars, increasing trust in brands and services

      Work Experience

      XYZ Inc. | Philadelphia, PA
      Customer Service Associate
      New Look Global | Burlington, VT
      Junior Customer Service Representative
      L.L. Bean | Burlington, VT
      Sales Associate

      Education

      University of Vermont | Burlington, VT
      May 2012
      Bachelor of Arts in Humanities

    3. Combination Resume Example

      Priya Laghari

      New York, NY | (222) 111-0000 | priya.laghari@gmail.com | www.priyabizdev.com

      Resume Profile

      • Strategy Development: Grew John Deere’s international sales by 13% by tapping into underserved countries in Southeast Asia

      • Management: Oversaw a team of managers representing marketing, sales, and product teams. Streamlined collaborative, cross-functional communications through agile and scrum management system

      • CRM: Developed, customized, and implemented new custmer relationship management database for accounts totalling over $10M in value

      Work Experience

      Business Development Manager
      01/2015-Present
      Microsoft | Redmond, WA

      • Developed product strategies and roadmap for Google AdWords, increasing inbound traffic by 26% YoY

      • Reduced time training on new software by 50% for new and existing employees by implement e-learning programs

      • Spearheaded digital marketing campaign worth $1M that saw a return of 200% in first year by qualifying leads earlier in the sales funnel

      Regional Sales Manager
      11/2012-01/2015
      Big Things Inc. | St. Louis, MO

      • Managed territory encompassing 29 regional locations with an annual revenue of approx. $55M

      • Worked with C-level executives to plan business strategies, resulting in 20% reduction in overhead costs

      • Increased client retention by 12% in first year by implementing a CRM approach based on accouunt profiling and elevating levels of relationship selling

      Account Manager
      02/2009-11/2012
      Solutions Corp. | Chicago, IL

      • Implemented and developed CRM strategic plans, increasing retention of long-term clients by 22%

      • Maintained 50+ accounts totaling over $35M in value

      • Generated leads through one-on-one consultation via phone inquiries, online check-ins, and meeting office walk-ins

      Relevant Skills

      • CRM: Proficient with Salesforce, Zoho, and HubSpot; some experience with Keap. Used various CRM software over a decade to successfully manage customer relatinos and quick to adapt to new software and tools that aid in quality of customer experience.

      • Salesmanship: Negotiated and closed over several deals worth $1M+ and skilled in upselling and cross-selling. Adept at working closely with marketing and product teams to maximize the efficiency of the sales funnel for both inbound and outbound traffic.

      • Presentation: Represented Microsoft Northwest Region at quarterly board meetings, ensuring all stakeholders were kept abreast of new developments and opportunities. Also deliver monthly presentations to big clients and vendors to maintain positive relationship.

      • Data analytics. Expert at integrating data from various analytics platforms, inclding Google, Microsoft Power BI, and SAP BusinessObjects

      Education

      Colgate University | May 2008
      MBA

      Fordham University | May 2006
      Bachelor’s Degree in Business

    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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