How to Structure Resume Sections
Written by Jobseeker Editorial Team, Editorial • Last updated on May 21, 2024

How to structure resume sections

There are certain sections that always need to be included on your resume, but there are a few different organizational tactics that you can use to present your information in the most flattering way possible, as well as optional resume sections that you can include to round out your skills and experience. This article will cover which resume sections to include on your resume, what order to present them in depending on your situation, and some general tips on how to organize your resume sections.

What Sections Should You Include On Your Resume?

There are five key sections that you should always include on your resume: a header, a resume summary or objective, your work experience, your education details, and a skill section. There are also some optional sections that you can add as appropriate if you have space left over.

Resume Header

Your resume header should contain your full name, your phone number, your email address, your address (or at least your city and state), and links to your LinkedIn and personal or portfolio website if you have one.

While it’s no longer considered necessary to include your full mailing address, including your city and state may help your resume pass applicant tracking system (ATS) scans, as priority may be given to those who live in a certain area.

Resume Summary or Objective

Next, include either a resume summary or a resume objective. These introductory sections serve to condense your entire resume into a couple of sentences to entice hiring managers to continue reading through your resume.

Use a resume summary if you have at least a few years of professional experience. Mention your current job title, outline your experience, and highlight your strongest skills and greatest achievements.

If you are a student, recent graduate, or otherwise new to the professional world, use a resume objective to explain your career goals and show how your goals align with the company’s needs.

You can also opt to include a resume headline with either a resume summary or a resume objective, which is an even more condensed statement of your experience and qualifications.

Work Experience

The work experience section of your resume is likely the one that potential employers will spend the most time reading. In your work experience section, list all of your relevant past positions in reverse chronological order, starting with your current or most recent position. Include the company, location, your job title, and the dates that you worked there. Underneath each job entry, add a few bullet points to outline skills you gained in the position as well as your top achievements. Use numbers and quantified data wherever possible to show how much you accomplished.

If you do not have a wealth of professional work experience to list, include part-time jobs, internships, volunteer positions, and so forth to flesh out the section.

Education

List your education details starting with your highest degree - if you have multiple degrees, start with the highest one and then list the others in reverse chronological order. If you have graduated from college and have at least some work experience, you can leave your high school information off your resume. If you are still in high school or college, don’t have a college degree, or don’t have much work experience to list, include your high school details.

For each entry, include the name and location of the school, the degree you earned (if applicable), and the dates you attended (or anticipated graduation date). If you don’t have a lot of other information to list on your resume, you can include additional education details, such as relevant coursework, clubs and organizations, your GPA (if it’s above 3.5), honors and awards, study abroad experience, and so forth.

Expert Tip

If you are more than a few years out of college and have work experience to list, keep your education section brief and focus more on your professional experience and accomplishments in your past positions.

Skills

While you can and should work your skills into your work experience section, resume summary or objective, and even your education section, you can also create a separate skills section to highlight both hard and soft skills that are relevant to the job that you are applying for. Highlight skills that are specifically mentioned in the job description - choose 3-5 of the skills listed that are personal strengths and include them in your skills section.

You can opt to break your skills up into subsections, like hard skills and soft skills or computer, technical, management, and interpersonal skills or something similar. This can be especially beneficial if you are applying to a job that requires a very specific skill set.

Optional Sections

You can also include optional resume sections like certifications and licenses, languages, volunteer work, hobbies and interests, awards, associations, publications, and so forth.

Your resume should only be one page in total length if you have less than 10 years of experience in your field and no more than two pages if you have more experience than that. So, only consider including optional sections if doing so won’t make your resume spill onto another page.

Choose Your Resume Section Order Based On Your Situation

Now that you know which sections to include in your resume, you’ll need to determine which order to use to emphasize your most impressive characteristics and accomplishments. Obviously, most hiring managers will begin reading at the top of your resume, so you’ll want to place your strongest qualifications towards the top. There is a traditional resume section order, but you may opt to rearrange your sections if you are a student or recent graduate, or if you are making a career change. Alternatively, you can use a functional resume format to highlight your skills.

Traditional Resume Order

The traditional resume order essentially includes all of the resume sections listed above, in that same order:

  • Resume header
  • Resume summary
  • Work experience
  • Certifications (if relevant to the job)
  • Education
  • Skills
  • Optional resume sections

This resume order is the best for the majority of job seekers as it highlights your work experience above all else, which is generally what employers want to see.

Student or Recent Graduate Resume Order

If you are a student or recent graduate, you likely don’t have extensive work experience to highlight so you may want to reorder your resume sections as follows:

  • Resume header
  • Resume objective
  • Education (including relevant coursework, GPA, awards and honors, etc.)
  • Work experience
  • Skills
  • Optional resume sections

This resume structure allows you to showcase to a recruiter or hiring manager how your education has prepared you for the role you’re applying for.

Career Change Resume Order

If you are making a career change, you’ll want to focus on transferable skills that you have learned from your past experience, and use a resume objective to explain your goals with your career change:

  • Resume header
  • Resume objective
  • Work experience (highlighting transferable skills)
  • Education
  • Skills
  • Optional resume sections

When highlighting your transferable skills for a career change resume structure, avoid just flat-out labeling or listing them as “transferable.” Instead, use powerful action verbs to provide context for the hiring manager. Make sure to demonstrate examples of situations in which you used those skills to obtain a good outcome on a project or initiative.

Functional Resume Format

Finally, you might opt to use a functional resume format, which places more emphasis on your skills over your work experience. A functional resume format follows this order:

  • Resume header
  • Resume summary or objective
  • Skills (grouped into categories)
  • Work experience
  • Education
  • Optional resume sections

A functional resume can be helpful if you don’t have much experience in the industry that you are applying for, you have multiple gaps in your employment history, you work in a creative industry where skills are more important than experience, you have developed your skills outside the workplace, or you are technically overqualified for the position.

If you feel that your skills are not adequately represented with a more traditional resume section order, a functional resume can shine the spotlight more effectively on your relevant skills and qualifications.

Combination resume format

Combination resume formats include the best elements of reverse chronological and functional resumes. Similar to a functional resume structure, this format is helpful for those who have a varied professional background or are re-entering the workforce and need to clarify their qualifications. 

You can create an excellent combination resume structure by ordering your sections accordingly:

  • Resume header
  • Resume summary or objective
  • Hard skills
  • Work experience
  • Education
  • Optional resume sections

When creating a combination resume, listing skills is critical in helping hiring managers connect the dots. Consequently, the resume skills section before your work experience should focus on technical skills relevant to the position. While you can include soft skills, it’s best to focus on the core competencies listed in the job description so that the recruiter or hiring manager can clearly see that you have what it takes to get the job done.

Because this resume structure combines functional and reverse chronological resume formats, your work experience section should start with your current or most recent position. The same goes for the education section.

Formatting a resume for applicant tracking systems

An applicant tracking system is a software application that automates resume sorting. When an applicant submits their resume, the ATS software sorts and scans each one to ensure the individual is a match for the role they’re applying for. 

Some people consider the inner workings of ATS software a mystery. However, over the years, recruiters and applicants have figured out ways to work with these systems rather than against them.

First, it’s important to clearly label all of your resume sections. Though your resume order does matter, having a clear resume structure is just as important because it makes your resume highly scannable, which means the ATS can easily read and understand it. As a result, the system will be able to pick up on your work experience, education, and key skills and match them to what the hiring team is looking for.

When submitting to an ATS, you should avoid hiding critical information in tables, charts, graphics, or columns (1). You should also keep stylized fonts to a minimum. While you can include these, keep in mind that an ATS cannot read them. Therefore, you should only use them to convey supplementary information. Avoid using stylized fonts for any resume elements that are crucial to proving your basic qualifications.

Finally, use a standard file type. Most ATS systems will tell you which formats are acceptable. If that information is not provided, submit your resume as a PDF to ensure it retains proper formatting across devices (2).

If you need help formatting your resume for ATS systems, you may want to consider starting with a resume template. These templates typically provide minimalist text-heavy designs that allow systems to pick up on valuable keywords.

Resume Organization Tips

Last but not least, here are some tips to help you organize your resume regardless of how you decide to order your resume sections:

  • Tailor all sections of your resume to each job listing. It takes a little bit of extra time but it will help your resume pass ATS scans and show hiring managers that you are qualified for the position. Use exact keywords and phrases from the job posting in your resume.
  • Only add optional resume sections if you have at least three items to list within the section - otherwise it’s obvious that you are just trying to fill space.
  • Use consistent formatting throughout your resume, including fonts, colors, and typographic emphasis like bold and italicized text.
  • Place your most impressive and relevant resume sections at the top.
  • Do not include a photo or any other information that could cause an employer to discard your resume for fear of a discrimination case.
  • Don’t mention your professional references on your resume - employers know that they can ask for your references later in the hiring process and it takes up valuable resume real estate. Create a separate professional references page that you can produce if/when the employer asks for it.
  • In formatting each section in your resume structure, don’t forget to include powerful action words to demonstrate impact and show the hiring manager how you used your skills to drive results.

Key Takeaways

When structuring your resume, there are various approaches to consider for organizing your sections. However, one widely recommended method is to include a resume header, a concise resume summary or objective, your work experience listed in reverse chronological order, followed by your educational details and relevant skills.

You can also include optional resume sections if you have enough room left over. Select the resume section order that’s best for your situation, whether that’s the traditional resume order or a different order that’s better for students, recent graduates, or those making a career change. You can also use a functional resume format to highlight your skills above everything else.

Need help crafting the perfect resume? Check out Jobseeker’s professional resume creation tool. You can enter all of your details and information and then easily toggle between different resume templates, layouts, reorder your resume sections, or choose different color and font schemes. Then download your resume instantly and get started applying to your dream job today!

Sources:

(1) CIO.com: Applicant tracking system: The secret to beating a resume-filtering ATS

(2) Adobe: Should a resume be in PDF or Word?

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