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.
In just a few sentences, 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.