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Resume Series: The Basics

There are many, many ways to organize a resume. Looking at resume samples and advice can be overwhelming and the advice on what to include can be confusing. Here are the basics of what to include in a resume (in a US context – I’m not sure how well it translates in other parts of the world) and a simple format to get you started designing your own.

So, what is a resume?

Your resume acts as a summary of your work experience. It gives hiring managers and recruiters a snapshot of your experience, skills, and formal education. The detail you use and the skills you focus on can vary depending on your field and hiring level, but you generally want to highlight what you bring to a specific role.

Resumes are usually short documents – not more than two pages, but one page is best. You want it to be short enough that a recruiter can scan over it for keywords, experience, and job-specific training. Some positions, particularly in research and academia, require a curriculum vitae (CV). These are longer documents that outline the entire progression of your career (don’t worry – there will be an article about these, as well). Other positions require a portfolio, where you display samples of work you have completed or your process. Portfolios vary significantly by field and position, are very common in creative fields, and are usually provided as a supplement to a resume or a CV.

Fonts & Formatting

Your resume should be easy to read quickly, so you want to use standard fonts like Calibri, Times New Roman, or Arial. I like to use a serif font, like Times New Roman or Cambria, for headers and a sans serif font, like Calibri or Arial, for the body and bullet points. You should use a 10- or 12-point font for the main text, but you can use larger font sizes for your name and the headings.

You can add color to your resume in a sidebar, border, and headings, but the body of your resume should be black. You may want to avoid bright colors – I like to use blue, green, or purple as accent colors. These accents help your resume stand out without being hard on the eyes or seeming garish.

A traditional resume is formatted like an outline, where each section is separated by a header. You can modernize your resume design by adding a sidebar, where you can highlight your skills and most relevant experience. Another way to add some pizzazz to your resume is to use box borders around each section. These are more advanced designs but will help your resume stand out.

The anatomy of a resume

There are a few sections that every resume should have – header with name & contact information, skills & experience, work history, and education. Many people also include a professional summary. While some people also include a section for volunteer work/community outreach and a section for any industry or field-specific awards or projects, I will be saving those sections for more specialized posts. I’m starting at the top of the resume and working my way down so that you can design your resume as you read.

Contact information

You want the hiring manager or recruiter to know how to reach you. You should put your information in the header so that you have as much space as possible for the rest of your information. Your legal name should be at the top. If you use a nickname or have a chosen name you would like to disclose, you can put it in parentheses (e.g. Jasmine “Jack” Smith). You should always include a phone number, your location, and a professional email address.

Because resumes are often posted and submitted online, either on job boards or social media, safety is a major concern. If you don’t want your personal phone number accessible, you can use a virtual phone number. You would traditionally include your full street address with your contact information, but you can use just your city and state on an online resume.

Professional summary

A professional summary is a short blurb that highlights who you are as a worker. You would place your summary at the top of your resume, under your contact information. It’s usually three or four sentences and should be written in the first person. You can emphasize something you are proud of accomplishing, the kind of work environment you prefer, and what kind of position you are looking for. An example of a professional summary might be:

I am a creative, detail-oriented social media specialist. I love working with a team while taking initiative on new projects and building an engaged audience. I have increased social media followers by 20% each month for the past two years, which has contributed to sales increasing by 30% year-after-year. I thrive in a fast-paced environment where I can always learn new strategies and techniques.

Skills & experience

The skills & experience section is where you draw attention to the experience and skills you bring to the position. This part of your resume lets the recruiter see, at a glance, how much time you have worked in the field, what skills you are transferring from other positions, and what technology you are familiar with.

I usually use a bulleted list, starting with relevant years of experience. You can also include notable achievements, especially if you have quantifiable improvements. Use the job posting or most common skills for your role/field to guide what skills you list here, including soft skills (like communication and problem solving) and hard skills (like specialized knowledge and technical skills). You can also list relevant technology and software you have used that are relevant to your field.

Work history

You would use the work history section to list relevant work experience, usually over the last 10 years. Work history should be listed in reverse chronological order, starting from your most recent job. You should include your most recent title, where you work(ed), the dates you were employed with the company, and three to five of your primary duties and responsibilities.

I usually list the position first, with the dates tabbed to the far right on the same line, and the company and location on the next line. Don’t worry about listing every position you held with the company – you only have so much space and you can explain promotions either in your cover letter or the interview. If you don’t have a lot of work experience, you can have more than five duties or responsibilities, but you should focus on skills and duties that are relevant or transferable to the role you are applying for.


Your education section should include your high school diploma (or equivalent), post-secondary work, and any relevant training or certificates. This section shows your formal classroom training and any certifications you have received in your field. I usually list the school or issuing organization first, with the date tabbed to the right. Then, I list the certificate or degree with the major or focus and list any accolades, like cum laude or GPAs. Your education section should be listed in reverse chronological order, like your work history. This way, the hiring manager can see your most recent certifications, diplomas, and degrees first.

Some people will not list their graduate degrees if they have found that they are considered overqualified for the roles they are applying for. You might find this useful if you are switching careers or are looking for entry-level positions in your field. This is entirely a personal choice, based on your job-hunting experience and the position requirements.

Where you position your education section depends on the position you are applying for and the credentials you need for it. If the role requires a minimum degree or specific certifications, you may want to place it below your skills section. If you believe your work history is more relevant to the position, put your education section at the bottom of your resume.

This should get you a professional, complete resume that’s sure to catch a recruiter’s eye! Feel free to let me know if it was useful in the comments!

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