Good resume design is all about ensuring that your most important skills, experience, and qualifications are easily understood by a recruiter or hiring manager. These days, that means your resume sections must make it easy for both human readers and the applicant tracking systems (ATS) they use. In order to do both, your resume sections and headings must follow these best practices.
Standard resume sections
Every resume template includes these three resume sections:
- Name and Contact Information
- Work Experience
Name and contact information section
Include the first and last name you use in professional contexts. Make it prominent and easy to read so that your reader can commit your name to memory. Include your location, primary phone number, and email address below your name.
Consider adding links to relevant online profiles here as well– keyword: relevant. Update your LinkedIn profile and include the link in this section. Add any other profiles and links that align with the industry to which you’re applying, such as a Github profile if you’re a software engineer, or a portfolio website if you’re a visual designer.
Should I include my home address on my resume?
Traditionally, your home address would go in the contact section. This is no longer required by most employers as it could lead to discrimination and privacy concerns. That said, employers are still interested in knowing general location. One reason might be to filter prospects by distance to assess commute times or traffic obstacles that might impact your future satisfaction.
“I generally would like to keep my search under a 20-mile radius,” a tech recruiter told Jobscan. “Sometimes I would even do five miles.”
At very least include your city and state. Adding your zip code gives a better idea of your location and allows your resume to be found based on location within ATS or other sourcing platforms.
What if I’m willing to move to a new city?
If you’re living in San Antonio and trying to relocate to Seattle, having only “San Antonio” on your resume could knock you out of consideration. Meanwhile, only having “Seattle” in your contact section despite all your work experience being in San Antonio could be a red flag.
Be transparent by listing both on your resume with something along the lines of “Seattle, WA (relocating from San Antonio, TX)” or “San Antonio, TX (relocating to Seattle, WA).” Explain your situation in more detail in your cover letter.
Work experience section
The core of any resume, the work experience section will take up most of the page. Include the company name and location, your job title, and your tenure for each position.
Jobscan, Seattle, WA
Content Producer (June 2017-Present)
You might need to get creative when it comes to formatting your promotions and title changes.
Underneath each job heading, include duties and accomplishments that are most relevant to the job for which you’re applying. This is not a place to detail every single one of your daily tasks. Briefly include your most important core responsibilities, but use this space to focus more on the skills and duties that best correspond with the the new job description.
Jobscan can help you determine which skills are most important to include in your work experience section. Just copy your resume text and the job description and paste it below.
For professionals with a few years of work experience, the education section should be kept as short and simple as possible to allow more space for other resume sections. Most applicants can get by simply listing the degree, graduation year, school name, and location. For example:
BA Psychology, 2009
University of Washington, Seattle, WA
If your formal education is crucial to your career path, include additional details below such as special projects, associations, and/or your GPA (if it was high). For the nitty-gritty on how to format your education section, including special cases (incomplete education, multiple degrees, etc.), Zety offers a comprehensive resource here.
Naturally, recent graduates should do more to bring attention to their education as opposed to their work history. This means adding things like relevant coursework, honors, clubs, and extracurriculars.
Additional common resume sections
- Career Summary or Objective Statement: Summarize your qualifications and experience to set the tone for the person reading your resume.
- Accomplishments or Achievements: Highlighting these in a separate section highlights that you convert your skills and experience into results. Alternatively, sprinkle measurable results across multiple resume sections.
- Skills Section: Consolidate your most important hard skills and resume keywords to provide an overview of what you bring to the table while optimizing your resume for ATS search.
- Executive Core Qualifications: Some positions (particularly federal jobs) require qualifications to be addressed in this specific format.
- Volunteer Work: Helping out at a non-profit is a great way to add key skills and experience to your resume. Format this section similarly to your work experience.
- Certifications and Licenses: Adding paid or even free certifications to your resume can set you apart from other candidates while adding skills that might be missing in your work experience.
- Awards and Honors: Add clout to your resume by listing relevant awards and commendations. Once again, the operative word is relevant.
- Hobbies and Interests: Unless your hobby has added key skills, knowledge, or experience that is relevant to the job, this section is typically reserved for recent grads and entry-level candidates who lack work experience.
Do references go on a resume?
References were once a common resume section. This is no longer the standard. Recruiters and hiring managers assume you have references and will ask for them later on in the interview process.
How to organize your resume sections
Now that you’ve got a bunch of resume sections to choose from, how do they all fit together? Some placements are set in stone while others depend on your preference or situation.
Resume section order
Required sections, from top to bottom:
- Name and contact information – This should always be at the top.
- Work experience – Regardless of what sections you put above it, your work experience should take up most of the page in chronological or hybrid resume formats.
- Education (if applicable) – Most job seekers should put education at the bottom of their resume
The other optional sections can go anywhere underneath your name and contact information. Top-loading your resume with a curated skills section, accomplishments, or relevant awards under your contact info can make your resume more impactful. Just don’t drive your work experience too far down the page.
Volunteer experience, certifications, and other resume sections typically slot in between your work experience and education.
Resume section order for recent grads
The biggest section formatting difference for college students and recent graduates is that their education section should go below their contact information and above everything else. Flesh out this section with the additional information mentioned above (GPA, extracurriculars, et al.).
ATS-friendly resume headings
Some top ATS, such as iCIMS, parse your resume into a digital applicant profile. To do this, the system must recognize your resume headings.
For example, ATS will be likely be programmed to recognize “Work Experience,” “Professional Experience,” or “Work History.” It may not be able to pick up unconventional headings such as “Where I’ve Been” or simply “Work.” Keep your resume section headings as straight-forward as possible to enable accurate parsing. If the ATS can’t figure out how to parse your resume, your information might not be searchable or readable for a recruiter.
Additionally, understand that ATS don’t scan your resume visually. While your resume layout might seem intuitive to you, adding tables or using a design program to create a custom resume format could complicate parsing for an ATS. Unless you are in a creative field, lean towards using a traditional, no-frills resume when applying through an ATS online.
Work experience format
Similarly, most ATS identify and parse your past jobs based on a standard order: Company, Location, Job Title, Start Date-End Date.
Jobscan, Seattle, WA
Content Producer (June 2017-Present)
ATS including SmartRecruiters and Taleo prefer this format.
How recruiters view your resume
It’s not just about ATS. When a human recruiter gets ahold of your resume, you only have about 6 seconds to make an impression according to a study by The Ladders. Using eye-tracking technology, the study also found that recruiters home in on these sections first:
- Current title and company
- Position start and end dates
- Previous title and company
- Position start and ends dates
No matter what sections you add to your resume, be sure that this core information is easily accessible and clearly labeled. Your resume should have a strong visual hierarchy that guides the reader through your resume.
Just as an overcomplicated and cluttered resume could get rejected or lost in an ATS, it will frustrate a recruiter and speak poorly of your organization and presentation skills. That’s a lose-lose.
“I’m looking at the logical flow of it, how you categorize the information, how does it read,” a healthcare recruiter told Jobscan. “The quality of presentation tells me something about you.”
Be thoughtful about your resume sections and create a document that is fool- and bot-proof.