Learning how to write a resume is easier than ever before. The difficult thing is knowing which resume sections you truly need.
Although the task itself is still a drag, the vast amount of resources available mean that there’s no excuse for not creating an effective resume.
If it’s time to start a new job search, you must first update your resume. Not only does it need to reflect your current skills and experience, but it must also catch the eye of those reviewing it.
Your resume needs to be readable and easy to understand. This includes human readers and machine readers like bots, scanners, and ATS software. Getting your resume past an ATS is no small feat!
You must also strike the perfect balance between too much and not enough detail.
Dividing your resume into relevant sections is an age-old technique. It appeals to humans and computer apps alike.
We’ll show you the following to ensure your job search success:
- What resume sections you need
- What sections will improve your resume
- How to format each section
A cover letter is a short document sent alongside your resume.
Although it’s not quite part of your resume, it’s still important. Many employers now want a cover letter with all job applications.
If the employer doesn’t ask for a cover letter, it can still be smart to include one. A cover letter creates a strong first impression and helps you stand out from the crowd.
Beware though, a bad cover letter can hold your resume back.
What Is a Cover Letter?
A cover letter serves as a short introduction to the employer.
If possible, address it to the hiring manager. This might take some snooping around online. This includes an online search or browsing social media, but it pays off big time.
Use the cover letter to introduce yourself. Briefly discuss your most relevant qualifications. Explain why you’re the best fit for the position.
How to Write a Cover Letter?
A cover letter starts with a greeting.
As mentioned above, address the cover letter to the hiring manager if possible. Use all the tools at your disposal to find this person’s name:
- Social media
- Company’s website
If you're able to find them, you can address the document to them. Don't be creepy about it, though! If you're lucky, though, you might be able to make an emotional connection with your cover letter, which can really pay off.
From here, introduce yourself by explaining who you are. Let them know what job you are applying for, and how you found out about it.
If you heard about the position from someone within or related to the company, this is a good place to mention them. Make sure to clear it by this reference first, though.
The focus of the rest of the cover letter is to sell yourself. Think about it as a way to expand upon your resume. Explain relevant details and add additional information that doesn’t fit in other sections.
Remember to keep your cover letter short. One page is more than enough. Often three to five short paragraphs will do.
Read more: How to Write a Cover Letter That Makes a Resume Stand Out
A resume summary isn’t needed all the time. It is becoming more common these days, though.
In fact, this resume section is quickly replacing the objective statement as the opening section of a resume. It usually goes after your contact information.
As the name implies, the summary is a shortlist of your qualifications.
The whole of your resume includes your work experience and education. Though, the summary should highlight qualifications most relevant to the position.
What Should I Include in a Summary?
Keep your resume summary to three or four short lines.
The goal of the summary is to give a brief overview of your career. So, quickly and clearly summarize your main qualifications.
A short bullet point list (four to six bullets) is a concise way to get your point across.
Bullet points break down qualifications and stand out to hiring managers scanning many resumes.
Don’t just put qualifications/statements in your summary willy-nilly. The best resume has a summary that ties your experience and career goals neatly together.
Who Needs a Summary?
A resume summary is most often used by more experienced pros.
For those with extensive career experience, the summary acts as a way to condense. It helps break qualifications down to a few of the most important highlights.
That said, anyone can use this resume section to great effect. This includes those seeking part-time or seasonal employment, and even work-from-home gigs.
An objective statement is the classic resume introduction.
Like the resume summary, the objective statement lists your employment goals. It also highlights your relevant skills and experience.
An effective statement is very short – only one or two sentences at most.
Often, you’ll include either a summary or objective statement on your resume. There’s no reason to include both since they achieve much the same thing.
That said, objective statements have fallen out of fashion as of late. They usually state the very obvious – that you want a certain job. Many experts agree they’re not usually needed.
When to Use an Objective Statement?
It’s your call to choose between an objective statement or resume summary (or, sometimes, a resume profile).
The summary can include your employment goals as well as your most relevant skills and experience. It’s made the objective statement largely irrelevant.
An objective statement can still be useful for times when emphasizing your goals is important.
For example, part-time or contract jobs – like for remote work. These types of jobs often work well for an objective statement.
Because of the nature of the work, it pays off to explain what you hope to gain from it as well as how you can help the company accomplish its goals.
Yet another option for the introduction to your resume is the resume profile.
This resume section also shares much with the summary and objective statement sections. It does have a few key differences to be aware of.
A resume profile is more like a resume summary than an objective statement.
It consists of a brief summary of the following items relevant to the position:
- Work experience
- Other qualifications
A resume profile focuses more on career experience. Summaries focus more on your qualifications.
However, for most job seekers, there’s little to no difference between the two. You can think of a profile and summary as much the same thing.
Okay – we’ve finally made it through the resume introduction!
Now that you’ve made the decision between an objective statement and resume summary/profile, it’s time to detail your work experience.
“Work Experience” and “Professional History” are the most popular titles. “Professional Experience,” “Employment History,” or a similar title also works well for this section.
This is the section used to describe any paid work experience – other work experience, such as volunteer work, you can detail later on.
Everyone should have this section on their resume, no matter the position.
What to Include in the Work Experience Section
The work experience section of your resume includes your previous employment experience.
Make sure to include the following or any other relevant information:
- Name of each company
- Dates you worked there
- Your position
There are a ton of different ways to format this section.
Remember, that both human readers and robot resume readers prefer easy to read lists.
One option is to use bullet lists. First, list the main information about a job:
- Dates employed
You can follow this up with a bullet list of your responsibilities.
But remember not to go overboard.
The work experience section is the place to describe your history in-depth. Keep it short and sweet, though.
In the same vein, you don’t have to list all the jobs you’ve ever had.
If you have an extensive career history, only list relevant positions on your resume. Another option is to only go back only 10 or 15 years at the most.
Only list the work experience relevant to the position. If you’re applying for a mid-level position, you don’t need to include entry-level jobs on your resume.
Those with little job history can decide to include each position to fill their resume out. That includes paid internships, summer jobs, contract jobs, and temp jobs.
What to Do If You Have a Gap in Your Employment
A lot of people worry about what to do if they have a gap in their employment.
There’s an endless number of reasons for an employment gap – from raising a young child to taking care of a sick relative.
Keep in mind that an employment gap should only be a big concern if you’re applying for your first position since your career break.
If you've already returned to the workforce, there's usually no reason to call attention to a gap. The employer will more than likely overlook it anyway.
As for applying to your first position since an employment gap, you have two main options:
- Explain the gap upfront
- Make any gaps less obvious
Taking attention away from an employment gap is quite easy by changing dates to include only years (instead of month/year). You can also omit one or two irrelevant or semi-relevant jobs on your resume. Another option is filling in the gaps with freelance work or part-time gigs.
The other option is to bring up the employment gap right away.
Often, this works well for stay-at-home parents returning to the workforce. This is especially true for those interested in part-time, contract, or remote positions.
Explain in your cover letter, objective statement or resume summary the reason for the employment gap.
Whether you choose to explain the gap or make it less obvious, you should always be upfront and honest with the employer if you get an interview.
Here are a few other tips on how to explain gaps in employment.
Skills and Abilities
The work experience section of a resume usually follows the intro sections.
Those that want to highlight skills and abilities might choose to include this section first.
Others, choose to put it after the work experience section. Others yet might include it after the education section. Some don’t include it at all.
The method you choose should depend on the special skills and abilities you have – and how strongly they apply to the position.
What Is the Skills and Abilities Resume Section?
You can use the skills and abilities section to highlight proven skills you’ve learned during your time working and studying.
It’s most common to highlight other skills that your experience section didn’t cover.
- Foreign language skills
- Skills with certain software or hardware
- Public speaking skills
Refrain from listing basic skills like “ability to work under pressure” on your resume. Favor detailing work experience that proves that you have these skills.
Whatever you include in this section, make sure that it’s in some way relevant to the position or industry in question.
Education is usually the second (or third, if you include the objective/summary) section on a resume.
You can include it directly after the work experience section. Another option is to use the skills and experience section between work experience and education.
Either way, the education section is the place to outline your academic achievements. This includes colleges you’ve attended and any degrees you’ve received.
This is also the place to include any relevant awards or honors.
There’s a little debate as far as including the date of graduation goes. Although doing so has been normal for many years, some experts advise against it.
The reason is that the date you graduated can “date you” in some cases.
The only time when you need a date is if you’re still a student or have recently graduated.
Current students and graduates might also consider including their GPA (unless its low). This is not vital – and, in fact, not encouraged – for most other people.
Courses and Certifications
Most job seekers can work relevant courses and certifications into other resume sections.
Sometimes, however, creating a separate section is in your favor.
This is the case if:
- The job is very specialized
- You have specific industry certifications
- You’ve completed relevant coursework
Examples of what you could list here include other degrees, technical courses, and industry certs.
Professional licenses are even more important to list on your resume.
Many people struggle to find another relevant place to include licenses. Including them in this section can take some of the guesswork out of it.
Listing your licenses, courses, and certifications can help your resume stand out.
Like always, keep this resume section short and sweet. Don’t include anything that’s not needed.
For example, only list courses, certifications, and licenses relevant to the position.
Honors & Awards
This is an optional section that not many people need to include on their resume.
Most people can include honors or awards under a different section of their resume. “Work experience” or “Education” are two options.
The exception is if you have important honors or awards you feel are useful to highlight.
Only include prestigious awards or those that have specific relevance to the position you're applying for here.
Remember to detail the scope of the award. Explain what the award is about, and why you received it, rather than just listing the name of the award.
This section is an excellent place to discuss volunteer experience on your resume. People often use names like “Volunteer Work” or “Community Engagement” for this section.
It’s not a required resume section, but it is good for some people.
Only add this section to your resume if the skills and experience are relevant to your job hunt.
It’s an especially good idea to include a volunteer work section if you developed any skills here that you’d like to highlight.
Current students and graduates can also benefit from adding volunteer work to a resume. Because they might lack much work experience, every little bit helps.
Finally, a volunteer work section can help explain gaps in employment.
You can use this section to show you've continued to develop skills during a career break. This is especially useful for stay-at-home parents returning to the workforce.
Activities & Interests
Now that we’re getting towards the end of your resume. Here's an important thing to note. Keep your resume short and concise.
As mentioned above, one – or sometimes two – pages is more than enough.
Although there is a time and place to include your activities and interests on a resume, it’s often the least important section.
Unless your activities and interests are relevant to the job, there's no reason to include them.
In fact, the company likely doesn't care about your outside interests, activities, and hobbies.
The exception is when they are professionally relevant. Another exception is when the knowledge gained from the hobby could help you in the position.
An example is if you apply to a company involved in athletics. Experience in a sport or athletic activity could be relevant.
Running a personal blog is another example. A marketing company might like to hear about your marketing and social media knowledge.
Just don’t include a laundry list of hobbies. And, remember that your interests don’t always translate to actual skills.
A list of professional references has a lot of benefits.
Though, it’s not necessary to include them on or with your resume, unless the job posting requests them.
Although it used to be standard practice, doing so has fallen out of practice. Of course, you can include references if you'd like, but note that it’s not required.
Many experts agree that it's best to leave them off your resume unless asked for them. This is especially true if the job listing asks that you don’t include references.
Like any other resume section, there are some exceptions.
Including a short reference section at the end of your resume, only if space allows, works well for some positions.
If you do decide to include references, or the job posting requests them, make sure that this section is short and sweet, like the rest of your resume. All you need is the name, job title, company, and contact information for each reference.
Another option is to attach a separate references document alongside your cover letter and resume.
Remember to contact your references first. You don't want them caught off guard if they do receive a follow-up call. (you want to make sure they'll give you a positive reference).
Final Thoughts on Resume Sections
Remember that not every resume must include every one of these sections.
Other than these, the other parts of a resume are optional:
- Career summary
- Work experience
- Contact information
You should tailor them to each specific job application.
The same goes for the order of your resume sections. Although our order of sections here works well, it's only a template. Mix the sections around as you see fit for the position in question.
Finally, have someone check over your resume. Even if it’s a friend, it helps catch spelling, grammar, and other errors.
A well-written resume is key to being a top contender for jobs.