With all the pressure to write a clean, one-page resume (or 1.5-2 pages if you really have enough content worth sharing), it’s important to remain vigilant when choosing which sections or categories you use to outline your experience and candidacy for a new position. If you simply follow the Microsoft Word tutorial, or constantly add new and exciting sections to your resume, there’s a good chance you’ll end up including information that isn’t relevant to the job search, or simply re-hashing the same experience in different ways. Today, we’ll take a closer look at some common resume sections and discuss which are necessary, which are optional (and under what circumstances), and which should probably disappear from your arsenal.
We’ll be taking a look at the following sections (which we see on many incoming resumes from our clients) and talk about our recommendation on when these should be used every time, which can be used under certain circumstances, and which resume sections should simply almost never appear.
As you can see, there’s a long list of potential sections you might come across when looking at various resume templates or reviewing resumes for other people. But if you think critically about your experience and which of these sections will truly show your candidacy in the best light, I think there’s a good chance you’ll center on 3-4 and rule the rest of them out. Generally speaking, I’m in favor of as few sections as possible. I read so many resumes which try too hard and over-summarize their information, that I’m a fan of the classically written resume, which includes the summary, work experience, and education. I’ll include a technical skills section where appropriate, and almost every other resume section requires our client to do a little convincing to get me on board. This ensures a new section only makes it into our resume after a solid discussion and strategy session, resulting in the best possible final product. I hope this will help each of you think critically about what belongs on your resume and which sections can help you best frame your candidacy for employment.
Upload your resume for a
An Objective statement always sounds something like this: “To utilize my past experience and skills to deliver outstanding customer service and work in an exciting company with the potential for long term growth”. Does this sound familiar? It should. For 10 or so years, this is what every single objective statement looked like (with very little deviation). Recruiters caught on quickly, and this quickly became an ignorable, nonsense section which very rarely added any sort of value. Repetitive, focused on the obvious (you want a job!), and very rarely personalized, it’s no surprise the objective statement is considered an outdated resume element.
At Executive Drafts, we are big fans of a short, narrative introduction of your skills by writing a small summary. The idea is to write 3-4 lines of text that talk about how much experience you have, in what types of industries/verticals/markets, at what sort of companies, and any specific skill sets or areas of expertise you have. Basically, this is your “elevator pitch”.
A great summary does a few things. First, it breaks the ice instead of abruptly starting with your most recent job. The summary is your chance to phrase your entire career before they start looking at each individual job. When written well, it can also prime the reader for a few key concepts you plan to reinforce later in the document.
For example, a sales leader might mention “strong history of creating new partnerships and developing vendor relations to open up acquisition potential and new lines of business.” If he can reinforce that with actual experience, this will cement itself as a common theme of his candidacy. Without a proper summary, you’re relying on the recruiter to make an accurate judgment about you after only 6-10 seconds of reading. Let’s get them on the right path from the start. We write summaries for every single client resume.
If you browse enough standard resume templates in Microsoft Word, you’d be forgiven for believing this is an absolute necessary resume section, since you’ll see it in almost every example. And while common, I recommend clients take a careful look at what they really have to offer in the way of hard/technical skills.
If you’re an IT systems administrator or software developer with a long list of very useful “keyword”-type skills, a skills section is a high-impact way of showing off that information. Technical recruiters often sift through these skills, looking to see if you have the right kind of background or familiarity with enough technical concepts to be worthy of an interview.
We recommend keeping your skills section to between 8-12 keywords. Stick to the best and most in-demand skills. This means if you’re a web developer, it may be time to stop listing Dreamweaver or other outdated programs, and if you’re a systems administrator, you can probably just say “Windows” instead of listing Windows XP, Windows Vista (Seriously?) and Windows 7 as separate skills. A resume is valuable real estate, so we want to use this section smartly and only list skills that will have a high impact, that will cast a wide net over your potential, and that show people the skills you bring to the table are in demand.
Now, if you’re a project manager with only a few skills (SCRUM master, Agile, budgets, vendor contract management, etc), I think the better strategy is to mention those skills in the summary and the content of your resume. They’ll still get picked up by any job-scanning software (ATS) you might encounter. I can’t tell you how many times we take a very weak skills section from a client and strengthen the overall resume by dissolving that section and introducing those key skills through the actual resume bullets themselves. One of the first decisions we make when strategizing a new resume is whether or not to include a technical skills section.
First, let’s get the ugly out of the way: Core Competencies amounts to business jargon. It’s better used in your quarterly evaluations or performance reviews, not on a resume. So if you decide to use it, at least rephrase and call this section “Areas of Expertise”. I see this as a largely unneeded resume section. In almost every resume, you can distribute this info in your summary and the body of your work experience. Many skills or areas of expertise are better “shown” than simply “said”.
This means if one of your areas of expertise is “leadership”, it’s far more influential to show us an example of leadership than to simply drop that word on a page and hope it covers your bases. This is also where I see very weak skills like “problem solving” or “analytical thinking”. These are great skills of course, but until you can show a recruiter how you apply these and to what degree, they’re just words any fresh-out-of-college person can write down and forget about.
I have seen a few examples where this can help to organize a long resume. Since I’m not a fan of long resumes (and neither are recruiters), this rarely becomes a valid argument for the section. However, if you’re set on using this as a resume element, I’d suggest elaborating on each skill. Instead of a keyword dump on the page, break each skill out with a qualifier. For example:
IT staff from 2 to over 45 employees, recruiting and developing talent which eventually led to several promotions and the lowest attrition of any department at the company.
Phrased this way, I’m actually convinced you have some leadership principles under your belt, or that you at least understand what leadership means in the context of your role. The elaboration is key! But if you’re looking to play it safe, this section is rarely enough reason to make your resume longer and more complicated to read.
A resume is a summary of your experience. So having too many sections that also serve as summaries is a poor strategy. When you include a “Selected Achievements” section, you’re saying “here are the best things you can read about my career”. But there’s two problems with this: 2) Recruiters don’t know which job these achievements came from so they can’t place them in proper context, and 2) You’re also saying “no need to read the rest of my resume, I put the only things worth reading in this section”. This section does far more harm than good, in my opinion. I think if you’re writing a direct and concise resume of 1-1.5 pages, you should be able to say everything you need within each role you’ve held without the need to create a special section for the “highlights”. When done correctly, the resume itself is the star of the show, not any one section.
Early-career professionals will sometimes use this to separate “experience I have in my field” and “the jobs I needed to work in college to pay the bills”.
I understand the sentiment, but let’s make two counter-arguments here. First, this muddies your timeline. Some of these jobs may overlap, have gaps, or intertwine. I, and many recruiters, often pay attention to the timeline and “flow” of your working life, and this can overcomplicate a career without adding much to your resume. Secondly, recruiters are smart cookies and they know what’s going on if you’ve worked at McDonalds as a fry cook for a few years during college, then took a retail job at Macy’s after graduating before finally landing your first engineer job. They can piece that together quickly and easily and say “That person probably couldn’t land a great job directly out of college so they worked a little longer in their comfort zone before moving on.”
If you give recruiters a little credit when it comes to interpreting your resume, you simply don’t need this section.
This section is paired with “Relevant Experience” and generally includes junk jobs we held in college or any “transition” jobs we had to take while trying to find something in our field. It’s the best way to say “Everything here is not worth your time”. You simply don’t need it.
A project section is used in a very specific scenario: If you’re a graduating senior with very little (or no) work experience, especially in a technical field like software development or engineering, this is a great way to get SOME form of content on the resume. Since you haven’t held a formal job in this capacity, talking about big projects you worked on during school can shift the conversation to a more professional place.
I’d always prefer real-world experience, but sometimes that just isn’t in the cards when you’re just starting out. A projects section where you list a title and give a short (2 or 3 line) description of what technologies you used and the size/scope of the project is a potentially strong section for people who lack real-world experience.
I personally prefer to omit the word “professional”, since that’s mostly implied and I like to use fewer words to get my point across in a clearer and more direct way. But the experience section is the core of any resume. I’ve read many resumes which don’t even mention the first position held until Page 2 (they were so busy over-summarizing their resumes with skills, core competencies, leadership, summaries, etc, that they forgot what recruiters are here to do: look at your background).
I’ll make this part short and sweet. If you have an Associate’s, Vocational, Bachelor’s, or higher degree, it belongs here. If you’ve graduated within 2 years, you can put your GPA but it’s not necessary (and I’d only list a 3.0 or higher). If you were part of a great club, a fraternity (that wasn’t associated with crazy drunken parties) or any other association worth listing, you can mention it here. But keep the focus on the degree. Don’t bog your education section down with extra-curriculars.
This is not a place to list high shool or partial degrees. This last part may take some people by surprise, but unfortunately, listing 2 years of a 4-year degree does not help you, and only calls into question why you might not have finished school. The resume is usually reserved for listing completed achievements and credentials. Partial credit does not exist in the hiring world! Don’t have a formal degree? No problem, simply omit this section and be prepared to answer if it comes up in an interview.
The easy answer here, is if you have professional certifications relevant to your job, then by all means, write them here. This means Microsoft certifications for IT folks, Project Management Professional certs, engineering credentials, security clearances, and any finance tests you’ve passed. It’s important to list certifications that are still relevant to both your field AND your specific career level.
If you’re looking for a sales job and you got your CompTIA A+ certification for computer repair 8 years ago, it’s time to walk away from that. I know it’s hard to omit experience because we feel every little bit can help us, but these often lead us off course and paint us as applicants who potentially lack a focused career. Your resume should be laser focused on a narrow range of positions. Avoid the concern that you may not be fully committed. Also, it’s common for us to combine this section into “Education and Certifications” if we feel they’re related and cut down on the extra resume bloat.
Volunteer experience can be a nice touch on a resume under two circumstances: If you’re a new graduate without much to say about yourself and you’re active in your community, this can help show some character. Alternatively, if you’re an established professional and you volunteer for an organization in a professional capacity related to your career, that’s worth mentioning. In other words, you’re a program manager who works with many non-profit organizations at your day job, and you also sit on a few community boards and help optimize their operations. That’s a nice touch.
However, if you’re just volunteering out of the goodness of your heart and it has no direct professional relevance, my advice is to omit it from the resume. If your interview is going well, you’ll often be asked how you spend your free time, and this is a great thing to bring up if it fits into the conversation. Sometimes, you can write something on a resume that makes the recruiter say “So what?”, but in an interview room, it will get a much warmer reception. This is one of those things.
If you’re an engineer and you belong to a few associates of various engineering groups that hold annual conferences, and you feel you contribute to them or they’re prestigious enough to mention, this is a great optional field.
I say optional, because if we’re choosing between a 1-page resume without this info or a 1.5 page including it, resume length is often more important than whether or not this information is present. This is something we always sit down and discuss with clients ahead of time, to make sure we understand the association and its relevance in the field. With resumes, I often group information into three categories: Essential, “style points” (items that won’t make or break the job search but serve as a nice touch), and things that are either completely irrelevant or draw away from the focus of the resume. Items that serve as style points are always judged based on how much space we have left to make a proper impact.
We don’t include interests and hobbies on resumes, because we don’t think they’re appropriate at the resume stage. Now, you’ll inevitably hear from someone that he landed his job because he and the hiring manager were both avid kayakers or some other anecdotal story about this section. But I challenge you to think about it this way: For every kayaker you get, there’s 99 other hiring managers or recruiters who aren’t kayakers, don’t care about kayaking, and wonder why you thought it was worth valuable resume space to include.
In other words, it’s a polarizing section, and I don’t like resume sections that exclude people from considering you. This falls into another category of things you can mention in an interview (if asked), but that aren’t appropriate on a modern professional resume.
Upload your resume for a