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What Is a Resume?

Put simply, a resume is a summary of your skills, work experiences and major achievements and education, usually a page or two long. Think of it as your calling card in a job application, and your chance to explain to employers why you’re a good fit for the position.

Whether you’re attaching a resume to an email or filling out a job application that asks you to enter a resume online, having a complete resume at the ready is crucial. Read on to learn how to put each section of your resume together, and how to best format and present it.

The Components of a Resume

  • 1. Contact information

    Keep this simple: just your name, a professional email address, and your city and state of residence. You can also include links to a portfolio website or online job networking profile.

  • 2. Summary

    A professional summary in just a few sentences, should explain your top abilities and work experiences so far. Think of this section as an “elevator pitch” that should communicate your value and strengths as an employee, and compel an employer to keep reading.

  • 3. Work experience

    In reverse-chronological order (current or most recent job first), list your work experience with your job title and company, with bullet points under each entry highlighting notable job achievements. Examples of successful projects and contributions make a bigger impression than just simply listing daily tasks.

  • 4. Skills

    To fill out this section, find required skills from the job posting, match them to your own abilities, and list them in bullet points. Look to feature a mix of hard skills (e.g., specific software programs, or training-based knowledge) as well as important soft skills such as attention to detail, or being a good team player.

  • 5. Education

    Present your most advanced education credentials (e.g., college degree or high school diploma) in reverse-chronological order, along with the name of the institution where you earned your credit. If you have advanced training in areas that are related to the job you’re applying for (e.g., software certification), list these courses here as well.

5sections Lawyer Chronological Resume Template
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The Top 3 Resume Formats

The effectiveness of your resume not only depends on its components, but how you organize them. Pick a format that best presents your qualifications and experience:

Chronological Resume Format

The most common resume format, a chronological resume, is best suited for job seekers who have substantial experience. The layout accommodates an extensive job history section, while also emphasizing in-demand skills.

Functional Resume Format

Highlighting skills and training, the functional resume format is ideal for first-time job seekers or recent graduates who may lack professional experience, but can point to qualifications, abilities and extracurricular activities that show they have what it takes to succeed.

Combination Resume Format

A combination resume features a balanced mix of work history and skills. This format works well if you have a few years of experience, or are switching careers and can feature relevant experiences and skills from other jobs.

What a Resume Is NOT

  • A comprehensive overview of your entire career: Resumes should feature the specific traits and experiences you have that directly apply to the job you’re applying for, rather than a laundry list of everything you’ve ever done.
  • A list of references: While having professional references who can vouch for your work history and ability are important, they don’t belong in a resume. Keep a separate references list instead.
  • A document about your personal goals: A resume is less about your personal aspirations, and more about the value you can bring to a company. Focus on skills, qualifications and experiences that address what the job needs. You can save more personal details and career goals for your cover letter.

5 Tips for Writing a Perfect Resume

  • Perfect Resume Tip

    1. “Tailor” your resume to the job.

    Before you write (or update) your resume, look through the job description. Note the skills required for the job, and its responsibilities. Match your own experiences and skills up with these requirements, and feature them in your own resume.  For more tips on how to “tailor” your resume for the job, see our article How to Create a Targeted Resume.

  • Resume Summary

    2. Nail your summary.

    Your summary is your first opportunity to make the right impression with your resume, so emphasize your best qualities up front. Explain who you are, and the abilities and accomplishments that show why you’re the right person for the job.

  • Step By Step

    3. Show how you use your skills.

    Listing major skills such as “loan application management” is important, but for more impact, show how you put your skills into action in your work achievements or responsibilities. For example: “Managed loan applications for 50+ clients a week for credit union.”

  • Resume Accomplishment

    4. Energize your accomplishments.

    Instead of listing mundane everyday tasks, give examples of major responsibilities or accomplishments that show how you stand out from the crowd. Use active verbs (e.g., “managed” or “led”) and numbers (e.g., “Improved company efficiency by 50%” or “managed team of 15 junior employees”) to give your accomplishments more context.

  • Resume Right Look

    5. Give your resume the right “look.”

    All the right content in your resume can mean little if it has a sloppy or confusing layout. Use a professional template as a foundation for a document, and avoid unusual fonts or design flourishes that might throw off recruiters (or the tracking systems they use to scan resumes).

Choose the Right Resume Template

Creating a resume isn’t just about having the right content — it’s also about having the right presentation. Use one of these professionally designed templates as a foundation for your own resume, or visit our templates page for dozens of more options.

Professional

  • Great for jobs that emphasize efficiency and reliability.
  • Crisp layouts present your credentials clearly.
  • Judicious, subtle use of colors and graphic elements.

Creative

  • Stand out from the crowd with unique designs.
  • Create a presentation that emphasizes your artistic side.
  • Achieve the right balance between originality and readability.

Modern

  • A good fit for cutting-edge industries and jobs.
  • Stylish templates show you’re up on current trends.
  • Colorful elements create a striking yet organized presentation.

Resume Examples for Every Job and Purpose

A resume example can give you a great head-start on composing your own resume. We have resume examples for a variety of jobs and industries — just select from these popular categories, or go to our resume examples page for hundreds of more examples.

Resume examples by industry

How Our Resume Builder Can Help You

  • Resume Review

    Professionally designed templates:

    We provide a wide range of  employer-ready templates for your resume, for all types of jobs.

  • Stand Professionally

    Job-specific suggestions:

    No matter what job you’re applying for, we’ve got you covered — get expert suggestions on skills and experiences you can use in your resume.

  • Guidance Icon

    Step-by-step guidance:

    We walk you through each section of your resume, with tips on how to fill out your document within minutes.

  • Customize Resume Icon

    Customize your resume for different jobs:

    Create and save as many versions of your resume as you want, and download them in all the major file formats, including Microsoft Word and PDF.

  • Stand Professionally

    Pair your resume with a professional cover letter:

    Create a unified “look” for your job application by using our Cover Letter Builder to create a cover letter that matches your resume’s design.

Resume FAQ

1. What makes a good resume?

Above all, a good resume answers the most crucial question of all: What makes you the right person for the job? Gear all your work history, skills and qualifications to answer this question, topped off with a strong summary that states your best attributes. A good resume should also have the right “look,” with a streamlined layout, and a length of no more than two pages.

2. What are the most common resume mistakes (and how do I avoid them)?

  • Simple errors or typos: Few things turn off a recruiter faster than a resume with an easily avoidable mistake. Always review your document a few times before sending it in.
  • Being generic or vague: It’s easy to present yourself as a “superior” employee, but what does that mean, really? You’re better off using specific job achievements and examples to show how good you really are. In the same vein, avoid generic terms like “best in class” and “outside the box.”
  • Copying and pasting keywords: While getting keywords into your resume is critical, just copying and pasting them from the job description into your resume can backfire if the employer notices. Try to present skills and experiences of your own that address keywords. For example, if the job calls for “ability to make quick decisions,” bring up an example of a responsibility from your work history that shows your effectiveness in this area.
  • Including irrelevant personal information: A resume isn’t the place to list your personal interests or hobbies. However, you can feature extracurricular activities, volunteer work, or projects, as long as they involve skills that are necessary for the job.
  • “Stretching the truth” or outright lying. Giving out false information on your resume can lead to serious consequences.

3. What is ATS and how can I be sure my resume is ATS friendly?

Applicant tracking systems (ATS) are used by employers and recruiters to scan resumes, and give them the “thumbs-up” or “thumbs-down” based on their content. To create a resume that passes the ATS test, make sure your layout is straightforward and readable (no strange headings or graphics), and that your resume addresses the specific requirements of the job. For more, see our ATS tips page.

4. How long should a resume be?

Generally, a resume should be up to 2 pages long — any longer, and you risk losing the attention of hiring managers who usually only have a few seconds to scan each resume. To keep your resume the right length, use short, peppy bullet points and phrases rather than over-verbose sentences, focus only on work experiences from the past 10 years, and narrow your skills list to around 10 critical abilities.

5. How can I get help creating my resume?

For top-to-bottom assistance writing your resume, use our Resume Builder, which helps you pick the right template, customize it for your specific needs, and download it in whatever file format you need. You can also use our Cover Letter Builder to create a cover letter that matches your resume. If you need more advice about specific sections of your resume, or how to create a resume for specific jobs, visit our Career Center, which features plenty of tips on creating the perfect resume.