What is a Resume? (Resume Definition, Detailed Guide and Examples)

Kellie Hanna, CPRW
By Kellie Hanna, CPRW, Career Advice Expert Last Updated: September 15, 2023
Editor: Maria Ratcliff • Contributor: Marla Figueroa
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It’s no secret that a resume is a crucial part of a job application because it demonstrates your qualifications for a specific job. But it’s more than that. 

A good resume lays the groundwork for professional growth through: 

  • Serving as a reference point for job interviews. 
  • Showcasing your personal brand. 
  • Recording your professional growth and career development. 

So, what is a resume exactly and why are they so important? How do you write one effectively, and what does a good resume look like?

Read on! We’ll share a basic resume definition, tell you how to write a resume, provide resume examples and share tips for building a resume that shines above the rest.

What is a resume? 

According to Merriam-Webster, the standard resume definition is “a short account of one’s career and qualifications.” 

Moreover, a resume is a concise document that provides an overview of your education, work experience, skills and other qualifications such as certifications and awards. It is typically used when applying for job opportunities or internships. The purpose of a resume is to showcase your relevant accomplishments and abilities to potential employers, helping them assess your suitability for a particular role.

Types of resumes 

Now that we’ve answered “What is a resume?” let’s look at the three core resume types.

There is no one-size-fits-all resume. Different resume types can emphasize different job qualifications, depending on your background, career goals and the specific job you are applying for. Remember to customize your resume for each application to highlight the most relevant information.

There are three traditional types of resumes or resume formats

Chronological: This format is the most widely used. It presents your work experience chronologically, starting with your most recent position. This format suits you with a consistent work history and want to highlight your career progression.

Functional: This format focuses on your skills and qualifications rather than your work history. It highlights your abilities and achievements, organized by skill categories. 

Combination: As the name suggests, this format combines elements of chronological and functional resumes. It highlights your skills and work experience, allowing you to showcase your qualifications while providing a chronological overview of your employment history. 

Resume examples

Use the resume examples below for inspiration when it’s time to craft your resume, remembering to tailor your resume for each job application you send. Our Resume Builder can help you create a professional resume in just minutes. When you’re finished, use our Cover Letter Builder to help you write a compelling cover letter to complement your perfect resume.

Chronological resume example for an experienced teacher.

Notice how this teacher used a professional summary instead of an objective and the work history section is emphasized over skills.

Chronological Resume Example for a teacher

Functional resume example for a graphic designer

Since Alfie is applying for his first professional graphic design job, he used a career objective in place of a summary and showcased his hard and soft skills over his internship work.

Functional Resume Example for a Graphic Designer.

Combination resume for a account manager

Victoria Holt wants to highlight her 10 years of experience and her steady work history but she wants to showcase her impressive mix of account management skills equally, so she chose the combination resume format.

Combination Account Manager Resume Example3

How do you write a resume? 

So far we’ve answered “what is a resume?” and we’ve taken a close look at resume formats. Now you probably want to know how to write an effective resume.

Writing a resume can be a straightforward process if you follow these steps:

  1. Choose a suitable format. Select a resume format that best suits your background and the job you are applying for.
  2. Prepare to write your resume.
    • Start by thoroughly understanding the job you are applying for and the company you are targeting. Review the job description and research the company’s values, culture and industry. This will help you tailor your resume to match their requirements and showcase your fit.
    • Identify your key skills and experiences: Make a list of your relevant skills, experiences, achievements and qualifications. Consider both hard skills, such as your technical abilities, and soft skills, like communication and leadership. This will help you determine what to highlight in your resume.
    • Gather the necessary information: Collect all the information you must have in your resume. This includes your contact details, educational background, work experience (including job titles, dates and responsibilities), certifications, relevant projects and any additional sections such as volunteer work or professional affiliations.
  3. Start with the header: Begin by including your full name, contact information (phone number, email address) and, optionally, your LinkedIn profile or personal website
  4. Add a resume objective or summary statement: Write a concise statement highlighting your career goals, relevant skills and what you can bring to the position or field you are applying for. Tailor this statement to match the specific job requirements.
  5. Create a work experience section: Detail your work history, internships, or relevant volunteer experiences. Include the job title, name of the organization, dates of employment and a brief description of your responsibilities and accomplishments. Use action verbs and quantify your achievements whenever possible.
  6. Skills: Create a section to highlight your hard and soft skills. Aim for six to ten of your top job-relevant strengths.
  7. Education: List your educational background in reverse chronological order, starting with your most recent degree or current enrollment. Include the institution’s name, degree earned or pursuing, major or field of study and graduation date or expected graduation date.
  8. Projects or extracurricular activities (Optional). If applicable, showcase any significant projects, research, or extracurricular activities demonstrating your skills and accomplishments. Provide a brief description and highlight your role and contributions.
  9. Awards and certifications (Optional). Include any relevant awards, honors, or certifications you have received. This can showcase your achievements and dedication to your field.
  10. Format your resume. Keep your resume clean, professional and easy to read. Use a consistent font style and size and logically organize information. Utilize bullet points, headings and white space to enhance readability.
  11. Proofread and edit: Before submitting your resume, proofread it for grammatical or spelling errors. Ensure that the information is accurate and up to date. Consider asking a trusted friend or mentor to review it as well.

What is a resume template?

A resume template is a predesigned resume layout that serves as a framework for creating a professional resume. It provides a structure and organization for the content of your resume, including sections such as contact information, summary or objective statement, work experience, education, skills and any additional relevant sections.

Resume templates are designed to be visually appealing and easy to read, with consistent formatting and styling. They often include placeholders or prompts to guide you in filling in your own information. Templates can be found in various formats, such as Microsoft Word, Google Docs, or online resume builders.

Using a resume template can save you time and effort in creating a resume from scratch — especially when combined with a resume builder. It ensures that your resume follows a standard format and includes all the necessary sections. However, it’s important to customize the template to fit your specific skills, experiences and the job you are applying for. This customization will help you stand out and tailor your resume to the specific requirements of each job opportunity.

5 tips to build an effective resume 

  1. Tailor your resume to the job: Customize your resume to match the specific job requirements you are applying for. Highlight relevant skills, experiences and achievements that align with the job description.
  2. Format your resume correctly: Ensure your resume is well-organized and easy to read. Use headings, bullet points and a consistent font to make it visually appealing. Avoid using excessive colors or fonts that may distract the reader.
  3. Highlight your achievements: Instead of listing your job responsibilities, focus on your professional or academic accomplishments and how you added value to previous roles. Use quantifiable metrics and specific examples to demonstrate your impact.
  4. Include relevant keywords: Many employers use applicant tracking systems (ATS) to scan resumes for specific keywords. Research the job description and industry trends to identify relevant keywords and incorporate them naturally throughout your resume.
  5. Use numbers to quantify your experience. Incorporating numbers on your resume helps quantify your achievements, make a strong impression and provide evidence of your skills and abilities. It enhances the effectiveness of your resume and increases your chances of getting invited for an interview.

What is a resume?: Key takeaways

  • A resume is a concise document that outlines your professional qualifications. Resumes are crucial because they tell employers what you can do for them, showcase your brand and serve as a timeline of your professional success. 
  • All resumes must be customized for each new job. 
  • Numbers make a strong impression and provide proof of your professional abilities.
  • Use relevant keywords on a resume to help get past ATS and to catch recruiters’ eyes. 
  • There are three standard resume formats: chronological, functional and combination. Each one displays your qualifications differently, based on your experience and goals. 
  • Resume templates provide the framework for your resume and can help you write a professional-quality resume quickly. 

What is a resume? FAQ

Is a resume the same as a CV? 

While a resume and a CV (curriculum vitae) share similarities, they have distinct differences. A resume is typically shorter, usually limited to one or two pages, and focuses on highlighting relevant skills and experiences for a specific job. On the other hand, a CV is more comprehensive, providing a detailed overview of an individual’s academic and professional background, including publications, research and presentations.


What is an ATS resume?

An ATS, or applicant tracking system, refers to a resume that is optimized for electronic scanning and processing by an ATS software. Many companies and organizations use ATS software to manage and streamline recruitment processes. When you submit your resume online or through an application portal, it is often first reviewed by an ATS before being seen by a human recruiter.

By optimizing your resume for ATS, you increase the chances of your resume being selected for further review by human recruiters. However, it is also important to create a visually appealing and well-written resume that effectively showcases your qualifications once it reaches the hands of a human reader.


How do you write an ATS resume?

To create an ATS-friendly resume, it is important to consider the following:

  • Formatting: Use a simple and clean format with standard fonts and avoid using images, graphics, or complex formatting. Stick to headings, bullet points and clear sections to make parsing the information easy for the ATS.
  • Keywords: Tailor your resume to include relevant keywords and phrases commonly used in the job description. This helps the ATS identify your skills and qualifications and rank your resume higher in the search results.
  • File type: Save your resume in a compatible format, such as a Word document (.doc or .docx) or a plain text file (.txt). Avoid using PDFs or other file formats that may not be compatible with the ATS.
  • Section headings: Use standard section headings such as “Education,” “Work Experience,” “Skills” and “Achievements” to make it easier for the ATS to categorize and analyze your information.
  • Spell out acronyms: While you may be familiar with industry-specific acronyms, the ATS may not recognize them. Spell out acronyms to ensure the ATS can properly understand and categorize your skills and qualifications.

What is a cover letter for a resume?

A cover letter is a formal document that accompanies your resume when applying for a job or internship. It allows you to introduce yourself to the employer, highlight your qualifications and express your interest in the position. The purpose of a cover letter is to complement your resume by providing additional context and showcasing your written communication skills.

In a cover letter, you typically address the hiring manager or recruiter, briefly explain why you are interested in the position and the company, and highlight the key qualifications and experiences that make you a strong candidate. It allows you to expand on specific achievements or experiences in your resume, providing more depth and insight into your skills and suitability for the role.

A well-written cover letter should be tailored to the job you are applying for, demonstrating your understanding of the company and how your skills align with their needs. It should be concise, professional and error-free, showcasing your ability to effectively communicate and make a compelling case for why you are the right fit for the position.

We have hundreds of professional cover letter examples and a variety of cover letter templates to help you build a compelling cover letter quickly. 

What is included in a resume?

A well-crafted resume typically includes the following sections:

  • Contact information: Your name, phone number, email address and professional social media profiles, such as LinkedIn, if you have them.
  • Summary or objective statement: A brief statement highlighting your career goals, key skills and what you can bring to the position.
  • Education: Information about your educational background, including the institution’s name, degree earned or in progress, graduation date if applicable and any relevant coursework or academic achievements.
  • Work experience: A reverse-chronological list of your current and previous employment, including job titles, company names, dates of employment and a description of your accomplishments in each role.
  • Skills: A section highlighting your relevant hard and soft skills.
  • Additional sections: Depending on your experiences, you may include additional sections such as certifications, volunteer work, projects, publications or professional affiliations.

Remember to tailor your resume to each job application, emphasizing the most relevant experiences and skills that align with the position’s requirements. Keep your resume concise, well-organized and easy to read, using bullet points and clear headings. Proofread carefully to ensure there are no errors or typos.

How do you customize a resume?

Customization is key to making your resume stand out and demonstrate your suitability for a particular job. By aligning your resume with the position’s requirements, you increase your chances of getting noticed by employers and securing an interview. Customizing a resume involves tailoring it to a specific job or industry to highlight your relevant skills, experiences and qualifications. 

Here are some steps to help you customize your resume effectively:

  1. Review the job description: Carefully read the job description and make note of the key skills, qualifications and requirements mentioned. This will help you understand what the employer is looking for in a candidate.
  2. Identify relevant skills and experiences: Match your own skills, experiences and achievements to the requirements of the job. Focus on highlighting those that directly relate to the position you are applying for.
  3. Use keywords: Incorporate relevant keywords from the job description throughout your resume. This can help your resume pass through applicant tracking systems (ATS) and catch the attention of hiring managers.

How should I format my resume?

When formatting a resume, it is important to maintain a clean and professional appearance. Use a clear and legible font, such as Arial or Times New Roman, and organize the content into sections with appropriate headings. Utilize bullet points to highlight key information and ensure consistency in formatting throughout the document. Additionally, consider using a chronological or functional format, depending on your specific circumstances and the job requirements.


What is the best resume format?

When choosing a resume format, consider the job requirements, your level of experience and the industry norms. Additionally, ensure that your resume is well-organized, easy to read and tailored to the job you are applying for. The best resume format ultimately depends on your specific circumstances and the industry or job you are applying for. 

There are three common resume formats to consider:

  • Chronological: This is the best format if you have a consistent work history and want to highlight career progression.  
  • Functional: This format is best if you have limited work experience, are changing careers, or want to emphasize specific skills relevant to the job.
  • Combination: This format is best if you have a diverse skill set and want to emphasize your experience and abilities.

Why is a well-crafted resume important?

A well-crafted resume is crucial as it is your first impression to potential employers. It allows you to effectively showcase your qualifications, skills and experiences, increasing your chances of being invited for an interview. A strong resume demonstrates your professionalism, attention to detail and ability to effectively communicate your value to the employer.

How do you write a resume with no experience?

Writing a resume with no experience can be challenging, but it’s still possible to create a compelling document that highlights your skills and potential. You can still showcase your abilities, enthusiasm and potential through your resume without formal work experience. Focus on transferable skills, relevant coursework or projects and any other experiences that demonstrate your capabilities.

Here are seven tips to help you:

  1. Start with a strong objective or summary statement: Instead of focusing on your work experience, emphasize your skills, education and relevant coursework or projects. Highlight your enthusiasm, willingness to learn and how you can contribute to the organization.
  2. Emphasize transferable skills: Even if you don’t have direct work experience, you likely have developed transferable skills through volunteer work, internships, coursework, or extracurricular activities. These skills include communication, teamwork, problem-solving, organization and leadership. Showcase these skills in your resume.
  3. Highlight academic achievements: If you have recently graduated or are currently a student, include any academic achievements, such as a high GPA, relevant coursework, research projects, or academic awards. This can demonstrate your dedication and potential.
  4. Include relevant projects or coursework: If you have completed any projects or coursework relevant to the job you are applying for, include them in a separate section. Describe the project, your role and the skills you developed or utilized.
  5. Focus on volunteer work or internships: If you have volunteered or completed internships, include them in your resume. Highlight the responsibilities, skills gained and any accomplishments during these experiences.
  6. Include any certifications or training: If you have obtained or completed relevant training programs, mention them in your resume. This can demonstrate your commitment to learning and acquiring new skills.
  7. Customize your resume for each job application: Tailor your resume to match the requirements of each job you apply for. Research the company and the job description to identify the skills and qualities they seek, and highlight how your experiences and skills align with their needs.

How we reviewed this article

Since 2013, we have helped more than 15 million job seekers. We want to make your career journey accessible and manageable through our services and Career Center’s how-to guides and tips. In our commitment to bring you a transparent process, we present our Editorial Process.


Editor: Maria Ratcliff • Contributor: Marla Figueroa

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