Effectively marketing your top skills, achievements, qualifications and experiences is just one part of the résumé-writing process, but presenting that information in a clear and logical order is just as important as what you write about.
Indeed, it allows you to create a great first impression to potential employers, and it makes it easier for them (and the rushed recruiter) to quickly find the information they’re looking for.
So, how do you structure your résumé? What sections are an absolute must, and can you add anything else?
Well, you’ve come to the right place.
In this guide, we’ll show you how to structure your résumé and what to include, and provide you with writing and formatting tips, plus custom examples for each section.
Before you start writing your résumé, it’s always a good idea to plan its structure. Indeed, once you have a general layout determined, you’ll find it easier to fill in the information you want to convey to potential employers.
So, what sections should your résumé comprise? Here, we’ll walk you through the essential components and the optional parts of a résumé.
We’ve created custom examples of each section, using our professionally designed and ATS-friendly Classic résumé template, so you can see what they should look like in action.
Your résumé, whatever your background and whichever résumé format you’re using, must always include these five standard sections:
- Work experience
The header is the topmost part of your résumé and is used to convey basic information about yourself — specifically:
- Your name
- Your job title or a headline (optional)
- Your email address
- Your phone number
- Your general location (not your full address)
Here’s what a typical header looks like:
The profile section acts like an introduction to your résumé, and it always comes first — right underneath the header and above everything else. There are two main types of profile sections: the career summary and the career objective.
A career summary (also known as a professional summary or summary statement) is a three to five-sentence overview of your most valuable experiences, job duties, accomplishments and skills. Its main purpose is to explain why you’re a good fit for the job you’re applying for. Here’s a career summary example:
A career objective (or objective statement) is short description that communicates your professional goals in one or two sentences, particularly the industry you’re looking to enter and the specific skills you’re hoping to build. This is what a career objective typically looks like:
Because objective statements focus more on what you want rather than what you offer, it’s generally best to go with a career summary. That said, an objective statement is ideal for entry-level candidates, career changers, and jobseekers that have recently moved to a new location.
The work experience, or employment history, section is the most important component of your résumé. It is this section that employers pay the most attention to, as it’s where they’ll find concrete evidence of your capabilities — so you need to pay special attention to it.
Here you’ll list your most valuable experiences relating to your target job, each one listed as a separate entry, starting from your most recent position first and working backward through time. Each entry should feature:
- The name of your position
- The name of the company
- The location of the company
- Employment dates
- A short description of the company if it’s unknown (optional)
- A bulleted list of 3–6 of your most notable achievements (not your job duties)
Here’s what a typical employment history entry looks like:
Keep this section as recent as possible and only list positions from the last 15 years — unless you held the same job for more than 15 years or you worked for a prestigious company beyond the 15-year cutoff point.
The education section highlights the relevant schooling and academic training you have completed or are currently pursuing. It generally comes after your employment history (unless you’re an entry-level jobseeker; then it comes before your employment history), and lists your experiences in reverse chronological order.
For the most part, each entry should feature:
- The diploma or degree you obtained (or are working towards)
- The name of your school
- The location of your school
- Your date of graduation (if applicable)
Here’s what a standard education section looks like:
If you’re a recent graduate or otherwise taking your first steps into the world of work, you can briefly expand on each educational experience in 3–5 bullet points to make up for your limited work history. These bullet points should provide details on your coursework, grades, any awards you won, activities you took part in, and clubs you were a member of, like so:
If you’ve completed your university education, you don’t need to list your high school experience; only list qualifications from your graduate or bachelor’s degree onwards.
The skills section of your résumé is the most straightforward one: it’s a bulleted list of 4–10 of your most relevant skills for the job you’re applying for, divided into (preferably equal) columns.
This is what it typically looks like:
If you have any more important skills that you’d like to showcase here, you can group similar skills together in a dedicated bullet point with a relevant name, like so:
You don’t need to explicitly list your soft skills in this section. Instead, try to work these into the main content of your résumé (particularly within the summary and work experience sections) so that you can focus on highlighting your hard skills here.
If you have any additional information that’s relevant to the job you’re applying for and that will help you better market your candidacy, you can include some additional sections, as applicable.
Here, we’ll walk you through some optional sections to consider including in your résumé, along with advice on formatting each one.
Although you’ll have (ideally) incorporated your career achievements into the main content of your résumé, it’s a good idea to list 3–5 of your most notable accomplishments in a dedicated section immediately after your summary. This makes them — and you — stand out more.
Consider this example:
Areas of expertise
An areas of expertise section is similar to a skills section, but instead mostly focuses on your industry knowledge than on your technical skills, and is predominantly used on executive-level résumés. It contains 5–10 relevant strengths, typically listed as a bulleted list right under your summary, like so:
Awards and honors
If you won any professional, academic or otherwise impressive awards and honors throughout your career, listing them in your résumé will help you stand out more from the crowd. You can mention these in the other sections of your résumé (as applicable), but creating a separate awards section for them will really grab the hiring manager’s attention.
For each award that you list, make sure to include:
- The name of the award
- The name of the awarding body
- The year you received the award
- The purpose of the award (optional, though recommended if it’s not clear what accomplishments the award specifically recognizes)
Here’s how a typical awards section is formatted:
Certifications and licenses
Be sure to list any industry certifications and licenses you have that are relevant to the job in their own section. Each certification should be listed as a separate entry and include:
- The name of the certification
- The name of the certifying agency or body
- The date of obtainment and, if applicable, expiration (but don’t list expired certifications)
- The location (if the certification is location specific)
Below is an example of a certifications section:
Adding a list of conferences or seminars you attended to your résumé is especially recommended if you’re a recent graduate, changing careers, or working in higher education. For each conference, include:
- The name of the keynote speaker
- The dates of the conference
- The name of the talk
- The organization presenting the event or the name of the event
- The location
Here’s an example:
Hobbies and interests
Although your hobbies and interests are personal, they can give employers an idea of how you spend your free time and get a better understanding of your personality. That said, they should be directly relevant to your profession or otherwise demonstrate your transferable skills.
Below is an example of a hobbies and interests section, which should ideally list between three and five different activities:
Do not list hobbies and interests that are potentially controversial, dangerous or illegal, or that reveal your political or religious affiliations.
Memberships and affiliations
If you’re a member of any relevant industry organizations and associations, be sure to highlight them in their own section.
These should be typically listed as individual bullet points, noting:
- The type or level of your membership
- The name of the organization you are a member of/affiliated with
- The date you joined the organization or association
Here’s what this section should look like:
If you speak more than two languages, you can add a dedicated section for these, noting your level of proficiency for each one — like so:
Adding a publications section is a great way to prove your knowledge and experience in a particular area. Here, you’ll list the different types of publications you published (such as books, blogs, research papers and trade association magazine articles) in reverse chronological order.
While you can follow MLA or APA style conventions to reference your works, you can instead simplify your publications by listing:
- The title of your work
- The names of your co-authors (if applicable)
- The name of the publication your work was published in
- The date of publication
- A link to the webpage where it’s located (if applicable)
Check out this sample publications section:
If you have a long list of publications, consider listing them separately in a supplemental document attached at the end of your résumé.
Generally speaking, references should be left off your résumé and instead listed in a separate document that you can share with employers once they ask for this information. That said, if you’re an entry-level jobseeker, you can add a dedicated section for your references (provided that you have the space) at the very end of your résumé.
For each referee, you should include:
- Their name
- Their job title
- The company they work for
- The company’s location
- Their phone number
- Their email address
- Their relationship to you (optional)
Below is an example references section:
Never ever put “References Available upon Request” on your résumé. Not only does it take up valuable space, but it’s also pointless — employers expect you to have “references available upon request”, after all.
A skills summary is a must-have section for any skills-based résumé, and typically follows the career summary or objective section. It’s essentially list of three or four skills you have showcased across your entire work history, each one expanded on a few dedicated bullet points, as shown below:
A skills summary should never replace the standard skills section.
Listing any volunteer work you completed can be especially useful if you’re a recent graduate or you’re changing careers to make up for your limited work experience in your chosen field. Indeed, it not only demonstrates your community involvement but also showcases your transferable skills.
It’s generally formatted like a standard work experience section:
When naming your section headings, it’s best to avoid non-standard titles like “What I’ve Done” or “How I Can Add Value to Your Company”. Instead, as a general rule of thumb, stick to more traditional names that are clear, concise and descriptive.
That, of course, is not to say that you have to use the exact names we used for the different sections we explored above. For example, you can give your work experience section a name like “Employment History”, “Professional Experience” or, simply, “Experience”. Likewise, your education section can alternatively be called “Educational Background” or “Academic Training”.
Whatever you choose to name your résumé sections, make sure it’s clear to the reader what each one is about.
The order of your résumé sections largely depends on your level of experience and overall career situation.
Below, you’ll find recommended structures for traditional, entry-level and career changer résumés:
In most cases, your résumé should start with the five essential sections, followed by the optional extras — exactly like so:
- Career summary or objective statement
- Employment history
- Other sections (optional)
If you have limited work experience, your education will be your selling point and should, therefore, come first. Here’s how to organize an entry-level résumé:
- Objective statement
- Work experience (if applicable)
- Extracurricular activities (optional)
- Projects (optional)
- Volunteering experience (optional)
- Hobbies and interests (optional)
If you’re entering a new industry, you’ll want to focus on your transferable skills and your most impressive experiences. Career changer résumés look like traditional résumés — with the addition of a skills summary, as shown below:
- Career summary or objective statement
- Skills summary
- Employment history
- Other sections (optional)
To sum up, here’s everything you need to know about résumé sections:
- Always include these five sections: header, career summary or objective statement, work experience, education, and skills.
- Consider adding additional sections like awards and honors, certifications, hobbies and interests, and publications — if they are relevant (and you have the space for them).
- Give sections clear and distinctive names.
- Organize your résumé’s sections according to your career situation.
Got a question about structuring your résumé and what sections to include? Let us know in the comments section below.
TOriginally published on December 4 2017.