The Five Vital Resume Elements

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There are five important pieces of information your resume must contain:

  1. Name and contact information
  2. Education
  3. Professional Experience (work history)
  4. Skills and Qualifications
  5. Other relevant information about you, such as achievements, awards, etc.

Contact information always appears first, but the order of the other four sections can vary. If you are a recent graduate applying for your first job, education should appear first. Generally, if you have been working for five years or longer, your professional experience should appear first. Putting your skills and qualifications first can deemphasize any gaps in your employment history.

Notice that “objective statement” is not included on the list. In most cases, these are not needed at all. Everyone has the same objective: to get a job. Save some space and just leave it off.

Instead, consider beginning with a professional summary. The objective statement is all about what you want. The summary is about what your employer wants, and what you have to offer. The summary should be one to three sentences about you, your background, and the skills you are selling to your employer.

Objective: A position at Acme Widgets, Inc. where I can utilize my management skills

The employer doesn’t care what you want. Instead, focus on what you can offer them:

Summary: Server with eight years of award-winning customer service

Summary: Dedicated Retail Store Manager with a decade of experience in sales, display merchandising, and purchasing

Summary: Accomplished marketing representative leading campaigns in social media

1. Contact Information

Label any telephone numbers as (Home), (Work), (Cell), etc. If you include multiple telephone numbers, put the one you are most likely to answer at the top.

The email address you use should be professional and based on your name – first and last, first initial and last, or some variation. If you create a second email account for professional purposes, make sure you actually check it!

Do not include your full physical address. Employers don’t really need it, and anything unnecessary should be taken out of your resume. In most cases, a full address can only hurt you. Employers might think your commute would be too long, or that you might not be able to relocate.

2. Education

Only list your GPA if it is above 3.0. Otherwise, just leave it off. Also, if you are concerned about people thinking you are either too young or too old to be a good candidate for a particular job, don’t be afraid to leave off the date you graduated.

3. Professional Experience (Work History)

Avoid using the term “Work History”. To many employers and human resources professionals, the phrase “Work History” sounds like “I am going to list every single job I’ve ever had, all the way back to the lemonade stand I had when I was nine.” Instead, label that section of your resume “Relevant Professional Experience.” This phrase implies that you personalized your resume for this employer – you’ve gone through your work history and selected the most relevant information.

This phrasing is especially useful for anyone with a gap in employment. As far as the employer knows, you don’t have any gaps; you didn’t list what you were doing in 2007 because it simply isn’t relevant. However, if you are asked directly about a gap, be prepared to explain it in an honest and professional manner. If an employer discovers that you lied or your resume or in an interview, it could be grounds for termination.

If you were at a job for less than one year, only include the year you were employed, not the month. Be consistent and do so for every job on your resume.

Your job title and how long you worked there really doesn’t matter. What any employer wants to know is this: What did you accomplish while you were there, and can you achieve those things for me? It doesn’t matter that you worked at Acme Widgets Inc. What does matter is that you increased sales, started the company’s social media program, increased worker safety, and made production more efficient. When you’re describing your accomplishments, quantify them whenever possible. For example, “increased worker safety, reducing accidents by 23% the first year”.

Do not include any obvious information, such as standard job duties. If you worked as a server at a restaurant, every employer already knows that your job duties included cleaning tables and laying out the silverware. Focus on your achievements and awards. Include anything outside the norm. If you also designed the menus at the restaurant, that would be worth including.

4. Skills and Qualifications

Whenever possible, your skills and qualifications should be included in Professional Experience, under the job where you learned them. Being able to say you used a skill in a professional environment gives it more weight. However, if you did not pick up a skill working at a job, then list it under “Skills”.

When you are discussing computer-related skills, be as specific as possible. Simply saying you have “computer skills” is about as informative as saying “able to answer phone, turn lights on and off.” Include the software you’ve used and your experience with each one, web-based research you’ve conducted, and so on.

Note that qualifications are mostly nouns. Software, certifications, and licenses are qualifications. “Hardworking” and “creative” are not. When you want to use an adjective, you have to prove it. Don’t just say you’re “creative”. Tell me how you’ve used your creativity to benefit an employer.

5. Other Information

Many people include hobbies and interests, but these should only be included if they are relevant to the job. If you are applying for a job that requires public speaking skills, you can mention your time in the Theater Club and that you played Curly in “Oklahoma!” If you are applying for a data entry position where you will never speak to another living soul for eight hours, then it probably isn’t relevant.

The only exception to this rule is if your hobby or interest is so unusual that it makes for a good conversation starter. If you are applying for a job at the Post Office, but you tame lions on the weekend, they may ask you in for an interview just to ask if you’ve ever been bitten.