5 critical elements of any resume
Whether you’re a freshly minted graduate or a professional with decades of experience, your resume should include these core features.
Resumes will certainly vary depending on whether you’re a recent graduate, changing careers, or looking to move up in leadership. But no matter what your level of experience is—or what industry you’re in—experts say every resume should have these core elements.
1. Contact information
“It seems so basic and obvious, but I can’t tell you how many resumes I’ve received that don’t even have the person’s contact information,” says resume expert Kim Isaacs. Your name, city and state, phone number, and email address should be prominently displayed on your resume. You should also include social media profile links (as long as you’ve cleaned them up beforehand) and your personal website or blog, if applicable.
“Stick your contact info toward the top of your resume,” advises executive resume writer Donna Svei. “You don’t want hiring managers to have to go searching for it.”
Scott Vedder, a Fortune 100 recruiter and author of Signs of a Great Resume, says a career summary is the “movie trailer” of a resume: “It’s where you highlight upfront the most important things about you,” he says.
This section should be a brief paragraph (three to five sentences) that shows the value you bring by highlighting your skills and a couple big career wins. But rather than labeling it a “summary,” simply use a headline that encapsulates your credentials.
Isaacs offers this example of an effective career summary:
Corporate Real Estate Executive
Increasing Bottom-Line Profitability Through Real Estate Strategies
- Accomplished executive with a proven ability to develop and implement real-estate strategies that support business and financial objectives. Have led key initiatives that reduced operating budget by $32 million and contributed to 550 percent stock increase. Recognized as an expert in applying financial concepts to asset management decisions.
Isaacs says every resume should have a skills section, which appears beneath your summary in short, bulleted columns. “It gives employers a way to skim through your resume to see that you have the expertise they’re looking for,” she explains. Still, “it has to be very focused on the job that the person is applying for,” says Isaacs.
You’ll want to incorporate the right keywords so that your resume is optimized for application tracking systems (ATS), which employers use to screen job applications. “Look at the job posting to see what key skills the employer is looking for,” Isaacs says.
Matching your skills section to what appears in the job posting is especially important for people applying to technical jobs, like IT positions, since these job seekers have to show employers they possess the hard skills that are required to perform the job.
However, don’t overlook your soft skills, that is, critical workplace skills that you can’t measure, such as problem solving, communication, and leadership. In fact, according to the Society for Human Resource Management, employers actually care more about soft skills than they do technical abilities like reading comprehension and mathematics. Make sure your professional experience section (see below) demonstrates that you have these soft skills.
4. Professional experience
This is the meat of any resume, says Svei, yet many job seekers make the mistake of just listing their job duties. “You need to focus on your accomplishments rather than your day-to-day responsibilities,” Svei says. “You don’t want your resume to read like a job posting.”
Vedder says the best way to showcase your achievements is to cite quantifiable results. “It’s all about numbers, dollars, and percentages,” he explains.
COMPANY NAME—Boston, MA
Data Analyst, 2012
- Data Mining and Modeling: Collected, cleansed, and provided modeling and analyses of structured and unstructured data used for major business initiatives.
- Executed 15% reduction in transportation costs, resulting in $1.2M annual savings.
- Improved demand forecasting that reduced backorders to retail partners by 17%.
- Completed focus group and BI research that helped boost NW region sales by 10%.
Recruiters and hiring managers shouldn’t have to hunt for your education credentials, says Vedder, so designate a section at the bottom of your resume for this information. Simply write where you went college and your degree. And, if you graduated with honors, highlight it.
Ace College—Springfield, Illinois
BA in Accounting (cum laude)—Dean's List, GPA: 3.9
(Note: For recent college graduates, Isaacs recommends putting your education section before your professional experience.)
Bonus: Additional accolades
It’s possible there are other things you could add to your resume that don’t fit in any of the other sections. For example: Testimonials, awards, and publications that you appeared in are all worthy of being included on your resume. Before you add this section, however, ask if the information makes you more attractive to the person hiring for this particular position.
Get your resume reviewed
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