Last week, we talked about the information you should gather before writing a resume or collaborating with a writer to prepare a resume. We are following-up this week with comments on essential sections of your resume. While there is no right or wrong way to build a resume, we can recommend “best practices.”
The sections we believe are essential include:
- Contact information,
- A personal brand statement,
- An accomplishment-based summary,
- Core competencies,
- Technology skills,
- Employment history,
- Professional certifications, and
There are, of course, some industry and regional variations. Also, I’ve found that as soon as I make a “rule,” I find a reason to make an exception for a specific client or situation.
It’s axiomatic that contact information needs to be on your resume so employers and industry contacts can reach out to you. Your resume will also fail to make it into applicant tracking system (ATS) databases if the software cannot find your contact information.
First, your contact information must be in the body of page one, and not in an MS-Word header. ATS systems typically ignore headers.
Next, it is no longer important to include full street addresses on resumes. Employers and industry contacts will reach out to you via telephone or email, so they don’t need your street address to reach you. However, when you prepare your online applications, the system will require you to enter a street address into their database. So, those of us with safety and privacy concerns will not be able to avoid disclosing their street address during the application process.
We recommend including your full legal name, city, state, and zip code, cellphone number, email address, LinkedIn profile address, and professional Website address, if any, on top of your resume’s first page.
Personal Brand Statement
The modern replacement for a “profile” or “objective” heading is a substantive heading that describes your job target and the results you deliver. Ideally, the personal brand statement will be one or two-lines that grabs attention and summarizes your resume. For example, a recent brand heading was:
Senior Communication Technician
RF, coax, and fiber-optic installer/ troubleshooter with low callback rates
The personal brand is so important to your success most resume writers will recommend you go back to the drawing board if you do not have a job target yet.
Many resumes that come across my screen still jump right to work experience just below the jobseeker’s contact information. This leaves the reader to guess about an applicant’s job target, their expertise, and their most important achievements. Research shows that hiring managers spend just a few seconds reading each resume, so a good accomplishment-based summary, as shown in our resume examples is a must. No one is likely to search through your work history to find out whether they should consider you or not unless the information near the top of your resume grabs their attention fits.
Often, we incorporate a list or matrix of hard business skills related to your job target below the accomplishment-based summary. These skills should be terms your prospective employer will search for in their database. For example, we listed expertise in Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) compliance, and skills in certain Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) pronouncements on the resume for a treasury system consultant who works with international banks.
Basic computer literacy—the ability to use software such as MS-Office, for example, won’t set you apart from other jobseekers anymore. It’s like saying you can read and write English. As a result, we do not recommend treating these skills as core competencies for most jobseekers. Nonetheless, if job descriptions in your occupation or profession specify knowledge of specific systems, such as Salesforce, you should list these under technology or software skills.
It’s easy for employers to test software skills online as part of the application process, so only list technology skills when you can pass a professional-level test on them. Otherwise, you won’t get to the interview.
ATS systems require a reverse-chronological work history so the document can be correctly displayed to the hiring team. So, as discussed last week, have this information before you start building your resume or before you expect a writer to start building a resume for you.
The work history section is the longest and most complex part of the resume, so prepare a worksheet, and then write it first. This approach will give you the opportunity to determine what work history to include and exclude, and how to deal with career changes and employment gaps, if any, before working on the rest of the resume.
More detailed information on the work history section may be found in our April 4, 2020 post.
Professional Certification and Licenses
Professional certifications, licenses, and continuing education are gaining increased importance. Certifications and licenses that you must have to legally do your job should, of course, be listed, and you have to keep them current. Other industry certifications, such as IT certifications, are not legally mandated, but specific employers may require or prefer them. You will have to read the job announcements and make certain you have the required and preferred certifications, and them include them on your resume, to avoid wasting your time.
Although employers are giving more emphasis to certifications rather than college degrees now, it is still wise to include an education section on your resume. This should, at a minimum, include your highest level of formal education, even if it is not related to the job you are applying to fill. Some employers search for people that graduated from specific schools, regardless of the degree. And many jobseekers work in fields that differ from their college major.
These are not the only sections that can be included on your resume. We may, for example, include a “community leadership” section for significant volunteer work. But we almost always include the sections above.