The Most Important Parts of a Resume—Explained was originally published on The Muse, a great place to research companies and careers. Click here to search for great jobs and companies near you.
There are a few things that are part of every resume: your name and contact information, your experience, your skills, and your education. But there are plenty of other optional yet still common components you might choose to include. What you add to your resume (and how much space you give to each part) will vary based on the job you’re applying to, your career, your level of experience, and other details of your personal situation.
When you’re deciding which parts to include on your resume, “thinking about what an employer will be looking for and what additional or optional sections would make sense is a good starting point,” says Muse career coach Cassie Spencer. “Tell a story with your resume and show an employer everything that you bring to the role.”
The most common parts of a resume are:
Regardless of resume format or order, your name and contact information should be at the top of the page. You could have the best resume in the world, but it won’t matter if recruiters don’t know who you are or how to contact you. So always include your name, your phone number, and a professional-sounding email address. If you have a LinkedIn profile (and for most careers and industries you should), include the url as well. If you’re in a field where examples of your work are important—like writing, design, or software development—you might also include a link to your personal website or portfolio.
You may see resume examples and advice that indicate that you should include your street address as well, but your city and state are plenty, and even including that is optional. For instance, if you already live, or are moving, close to the job, you might list your location or “Relocating to: City, State.”
What does this look like all together? Here’s one example:
(555) 444-3333 | email@example.com | Chicago, IL
linkedin.com/in/thomascleo | cleothomas.com
Read More: Here’s Exactly What Should Be Included in Your Resume’s Header
A resume headline, sometimes called a resume title, is a succinct, often single-sentence, description that introduces you to the reader. If you choose to include a resume headline, you might use it to mention common job titles that describe what you do (such as “Front-End Developer” or “Executive Assistant”), experiences or skills that are key for finding your next job, or impressive professional achievements.
Corporate financial analyst who has optimized budgets to save $10+ million annually for tech startups
Read More: What Is a Resume Headline? Tips and Examples to Help You Write Your Own
A resume summary is another optional part of a resume that allows you to sum up who you are and emphasize the skills and experiences you want recruiters to read about first—usually in the form of a few sentences or bullet points just under your headline or contact info.
An experienced science writer who is adept at breaking down and explaining complex medical research topics for a general audience. Possesses expert-level knowledge on topics relating to heart disease, cancer, nutrition, and the drug approval process as well as graduate-level anatomy and dietetics education and 5 years of research experience in an academic setting. Has written reported articles, blog posts, and scripts for informational explainer videos.
Resume summaries are most helpful for later-career professionals who have a number of experiences they want to tie together, people who are looking to switch careers or fields, entry-level candidates who want to show how their background and education connect to the field they’re hoping to enter, and anyone with unusual circumstances, like a career gap, that they’d like to explain up front. If you’re using an uncommon resume format like a hybrid or functional layout, you might also consider using a resume summary to put your skills into context. If you have a relatively straightforward career history, you could skip the summary to make more room for other information.
Read more: 3 Resume Summary Examples That’ll Make Writing Your Own Easier
Your past experience is the main substance of your resume, and as such it often takes up the most room. Your experience section (sometimes labeled “Work Experience” or “Professional Experience”) generally lists any past jobs or internships that you’ve had, though you may omit early positions if you’ve been in the workforce a while. It can also include any freelance or other work directly related to the job you’re applying for. If you’re using the most common resume format—the chronological resume—the jobs should all be listed in reverse chronological order. For each experience, include your position as well what organization you worked for (if applicable), where, and when. Your key job duties and achievements should be included under each position in the form of bullet points.
An example job entry might look like this:
Email Marketing Manager, CKB Inc | September 2017 – October 2019
New York, NY
- Planned, scheduled, built, and sent 4 weekly newsletters to 30K+ email subscribers using Mailchimp, increasing open rate from 8% to 16% and click through rate from 1% to 2.5% over one year.
- Used A/B testing to establish the ideal number of links per newsletter, the most opened subject line format, and the best newsletter copy tone.
- Pulled, analyzed, and presented data to marketing team once a month, and used insights gained to adjust plans for the coming months.
If you’re a recent grad or entry-level candidate, you might choose to place your education above your experience, but on most resumes, it will come after. This part of your resume should include an entry for each school you graduated from or are currently attending. If you’ve finished or are attending college, you can generally leave your high school off your resume.
For each entry, include the school name and what degree you earned along with your major and, if you’re early in your career, your graduation year. If you haven’t graduated yet, include your expected graduation month and year. You can also mention online courses and certificates, licenses and certifications (see below), coding bootcamps, and other professional development or training programs in your education section.
If you’re a recent grad, “you may also choose to include your GPA, minors, academic concentrations, awards (such as Dean’s List), and other relevant information about your academic experience,” Spencer says. This additional information might include relevant coursework and major projects you completed during your time in school.
Bachelor of Science, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI | 2019
Major: Physics | Minor: Chemical Physics
Read More: How to (and How Not to) List Education on Your Resume
Depending on your industry and your resume format, your skills section may come before or after your work experience. Include any skills you have that are mentioned in the job description or are directly relevant to the job you’re applying to; if you have a lot of them, consider dividing your skills section into categories for readability.
Design Skills: InDesign, Photoshop, Canva
In addition to listing your skills in this section, you should also work them into bullet points throughout your resume and into your summary or headline. Oh, and resist the temptation to use fancy graphs or charts to display your skills: The computer programs that scan many resumes can’t read them.
Read More: Every Question You Have About Putting Skills on Your Resume, Answered
For certain professions, like nursing, accounting, and teaching, you may legally need licenses and/or certifications in order to do the job. There are other situations where companies require or prefer certain certifications or licenses. In either case, including your certifications or licenses on a resume is a must. They can be in their own section or part of your education section.
What information to include depends on the field, but you should always include the full name of the certification or license, the body that issued it, and the date you obtained it. You can list in-progress certifications and licenses as well.
Certified Public Accountant (CPA) | AICPA | March 2020
Read More: Exactly When, Where, and How to List Certifications on Your Resume (Because You’ve Earned Them)
If you’ve received awards for your performance, especially in areas that specifically relate to the job you’re applying to, you should add these to your resume as well. If they’re from the company you work for, your school (including scholarships), or another experience listed on your resume, you should include the award there. If not, consider an “awards” section. Include the name of the award, why you got it, and who awarded it (if not otherwise obvious).
For example, under an experience entry you might say:
- 2019 Salesperson of the Year: Awarded for securing a record $2 million in new business over four quarters, the highest on the 20-person sales team.
If you’ve done a project (or projects) outside of your full-time job that’s relevant to a job you’re applying for, consider including it. “Project sections can be a good opportunity to showcase technical skills along with other transferable skills like teamwork, time management, and more,” Spencer says.
For example, as a student you may have done a capstone or similar project that gave you skills or experience that are relevant to the job you want. Or maybe you had or have a side project that’s helped you grow your skills or explore a passion.
Special projects can be their own section or part of an education or freelance job entry and should be listed on a resume the same way as a past experience: Include what the project was, when you completed it, and what organization you completed it for, if applicable. Then, use bullet points to describe what skills you used and any results you achieved. If it’s a project that you can easily view online, consider including a link.
If you’ve done volunteer work related to the jobs you’re applying to, go ahead and include it on a resume—especially if you used or gained relevant experience and skills. In addition to demonstrating skills, “volunteer work is a great way to showcase the causes that you’re passionate about,” Spencer says.
A volunteer experience should be formatted the same way as a past job: Include that you were a volunteer, what organization and/or department you volunteered for and when, then use bullet points to highlight your skills and achievements.
Volunteer experience is usually a separate section, but if it’s especially relevant to the job you’re applying to (while the rest of your experience isn’t) or you’re light on paid jobs, you might place it in your experience section.
Read More: This Is Exactly How to List Volunteer Work on Your Resume
If you participate in professional groups or other activities that are related to the job you’re applying to, you might include them on your resume—usually in a separate section. This is especially relevant for people just entering the workforce who were part of a club or activity in school. Like special projects and volunteering, you should format activities, club, and group entries the same way you would a professional experience.
There are a few things that should not be part of your resume regardless of your situation:
- Photos of you: While it’s common in some parts of the world to add your photo to your resume, in the U.S., this is likely to land you straight in the rejection pile because of the potential to create bias in hiring.
- Resume objectives: The objective of your resume is always to get a job. Use a resume summary instead.
- References: Employers will ask for references when they want them. And no need to include “References Available Upon Request” either.
- White text of the job description or anything else intended to game the system: You may have seen advice on how to “cheat” an ATS (applicant tracking system) using tricks like pasting in all the keywords or even the entire job description in white. Don’t do it! You will get caught—and your resume will likely end up in the rejection pile.