The 7 sections of a resume explained

By Scot Herrick | Job Search

Dec 13

Let’s get resume building back to the beginning for a bit. Let’s start with the basics and go through what sections every resume should include. Even though many, if not most, resumes don’t include all these sections. To their peril.

Each section has unique attributes and all of them together strive to build a story that gets you the interview. Let’s take a look.

Contact Information

You would think this is relatively straightforward and, for the most part, it is. But there are some tricks here.

First, for anything going to the Internet, you should just have your name and email address for your contact information. I don’t recommend putting in a phone number unless you are submitting a resume to a corporate web site with job openings. If you’re putting the resume up on Monster.com (which I don’t recommend), you’re mostly asking for unwanted calls.

Second, your email address does make a difference. Where you host your email makes a difference. Having an @aol.com, @hotmail.com, or even @yahoo.com suffixes are not the best. Having a prefix of ‘hot_dude’ isn’t professional either.

Best: yourname@yourdomain.com or your name @gmail.com or @outlook.com. It’s a quick judgement by a person reading the resume and an easy to throw out your resume out just because of the email address. Note: I didn’t say this was fair. Just real.

Job Skills

Most people don’t have this for a section – they include their job skills, if at all, buried in their work experience. The person reading your resume, however, has a job description in front of them and that job description has a section on….job skills. Required ones. Often preferred ones. But they are always there because job skills are the currency of getting job interviews.

So what are job skills?

  • What you need to know to do your job
  • What software you use to do your job
  • What skills you need to work in this type of culture or team, more commonly known as ‘soft skills.’
  • What certifications you have that help you prove you have what it takes to do your job.

You need a place to list all of them so the person reading your resume can easily find them to compare to the job description.

Profile

Your profile, usually right under the Contact section, is a 2-3 sentence description of who you are and what you bring to the position.

Think of it as your elevator speech you’re making to the person reading your resume.

You can be a person just graduating looking to start building an impactful career with a company to an executive responsible for global operations in a particular industry  responsible for a $10 million budget. What’s your pitch in 2-3 sentences?

This, by the way, is not simple nor easy.

When I was in high school taking all of those exams for getting into college, I really hated my life being shriveled down into a single page with pencil-filled ovals as answers to questions. It doesn’t get any better as an adult; I think my life and career are far more than 2-3 sentences at the top of a resume, but there you go.

You especially have to take your baseline elevator speech and then, on top of that, shift it around a bit so that it represents you but also addresses the need in the job description.

You can spend a lot of time on this. And you should.

Professional Competencies

What are you good at in your job? Think of this as taking your job skills and then describing 4-5 competencies you focus on using your job skills.

If you were a nurse, for example, you can focus all those job skills on what you do as an emergency room nurse. Or a hospice nurse.

If you were a project manager, you can focus it on what type of project manager you are and the unique parts you address. You could be a software development project manager focusing on PeopleSoft implementations or an infrastructure project manager focusing on Microsoft applications across the planet.

What happens here is that you start to build what you do matching up with the job description.

It also forces you to think through what you’re good at and, to avoid the ‘curse of competency,’ describe what you want to do.

For example, I’ve outsourced services and departments to other states and other continents. I hate doing it because it invariably means I’m supporting having people getting laid off — usually when the people getting laid off are actively training the people taking their jobs. I’m not a real happy camper doing those kinds of projects.

So I never mention them as a professional competency.

Professional Accomplishments

This one hardly ever shows on a resume. Yet, it is the killer section to show on the resume. Why? Because it consolidates the best of your best career accomplishments into a single section, making your best accomplishments easily found by the person reading your resume.

This section shows that not only can you do the work, but you also deliver results. If your smart (and Cubicle Warriors are…), this is also the section that you tailor what you have accomplished in your career directly to the job description that is looking for specific kinds of results.

For example, on job description I looked at as a project manager was a specific callout for managing ‘10,000’ hour projects. In other words, big, long, resource intensive projects. So what projects do you think I listed under Professional Accomplishments? Yeah, the 10,000 hour ones.

Most people bury their accomplishments in the Work Experience section — if they really list them at all.

Why bury that massive accomplishment you worked on five years and two jobs ago just because your current company knows your strengths and doesn’t care (which is why you’re leaving!)? Don’t bury the lede, as they say in the reporting business. Put your career accomplishments in a separate section.

Work Experience

Here is the section everyone has on their resume. This is the one most people focus on when building their resume and then modifying to meet a job description.

From my viewpoint, this section is a “one and done” part of the resume — how many more results and accomplishments are you going to get out of that position five years ago anyway? If you don’t have results and accomplishments in your past positions now, you should get them in there. But once they are, there isn’t much more you can do. So, done.

The exception, of course, is your current position as in that position you are consistently adding more business results and accomplishments. That should make sense. But the rest of the work experience? One and done.

The common advice for this section is straightforward:

  • You put in dates of employment. Months are enough, day dates are not necessary. March 2015, not March 25th, 2015.
  • You need to list the company you work(ed) for and the discreet positions in each company
  • You need to list your job title
  • You need to list your accomplishments — business results — in the position

I have a few other items for this section. Here they are:

You need a one-line description of what the company actually does

This is because people regularly assume everyone knows what your company does and what you do for it. Not so much.

I was always amused when I worked for a Regional Operating Company (da phone company) that started off with 100,000 employees and a friend or acquaintance would casually ask me if I knew John Smith in Ohio when I worked in a different state in a different division doing a difference job. Not really. So why would the person reading your resume know what your company does? What part of Alphabet do you work for and what do you do?

Give the person some context about where you worked in the company…so you can relate that to the job description.

You list your generic, standard job title

You list your generic job title. And you list your real title the company gave you.

The reason you list your generic job title is because when people search for qualified candidates for a particular position, they don’t look for the ‘Senior Department Data Guru of the Data Information Division.’ No, they are looking for a Data Janitor.

True story — a coworker actually put ‘Data Janitor III’ as his title below his signature stuff even though he was a Database Administrator. It proves the point, though. If your official title is Data Janitor III because your company likes weird job titles, you’ll never get found when the title being searched is ‘Database Administrator,’ the common, standard title in the industry.

So you list your standard, generic job title so that you can be found. You don’t even need to put in ‘Senior’ or stuff like that. Once they find you with the generic, standard title, it’s a question of money. But they need to find you first.

You list your job title provided by the company

Then your company designated title goes in the section as well with some label on it saying it is the company title.

The reason you need the company title for the position is that when the background checkers go looking for you at that company, they are going to ask if you worked there and if X was your job title. If your job was Database Administrator is the work you do, but Data Janitor III was your company job title, the background check is going to ask if you were a Data Janitor III at that company. Not Database Administrator.

Bad form to get kicked out of the hiring process because you simplified to get found and then got rejected because of some company’s stupid job title.

How far back should you list your company work experience?

As with all good answers, it depends.

If you have less than ten years experience, you list all of the positions at all of the companies.

If you have more than ten years experience, ten years is good enough. Ask yourself what you were doing ten years ago and see if much still applies. Usually not.

It’s kind of like a game I play based on the job interview question, “What do you see yourself doing five years from now?“. My answer is along the lines of, “If someone told me five years ago I would be doing X, living at Y, and had gone through A, B, and C, I would have told them they were nuts.” So, ten years experience.

Exception (this is where the ‘depends’ stuff comes in):

Ten years ago was before the Great Recession. If you had significant accomplishments before the Great Recession, say, and then got laid off and it took you forever to get back to where you were before the Great Recession, you’d want to hang on to those listings in the Work Experience area.

Those accomplishment show you can get the business results needed for the job description before you. Don’t give up awesomeness just because you and millions more did whatever it took to feed your family and pay your bills doing whatever you could to make it through the bad times.

Education

This is the last section you have in your resume and it is relatively short, like the Contact section.

This is where you list your collegiate and post-graduate formal education.

Often, people will put their certifications here, but I don’t recommend that. If it is a certification that directly supports your position, the certification should go right into the job skills section of the resume. Don’t bury it here on the back page of your resume.

What you CAN put in this section outside of formal education, is other events that shows continuous learning, whether that is classes in your field, seminars attended, etc.

But the real net of this section is one thing: Your college education, including your degree if you completed college, and your post-graduate degree(s).

The whole purpose here is to give the information to the background check people that a) you have a degree, and, b) where you got it from so they can go check.

I got questioned once on my resume because I listed the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire as my school and just ‘Business Management’ as my degree. But I didn’t say it was my degree, so the background check people asked whether I actually received my degree. So I changed my resume to read: ‘Degree: Business Management.’

Sometimes, it’s the ridiculous things that can get you thrown out of consideration for a position. At least this background check company asked. And then they verified.

So now what?

First, check to make sure your resume has these seven sections. If it doesn’t, start to get the information needed to build the sections you’re missing.

Second, seriously check out my 4-part series on how to build the first page of your resume. It shows you how to build the important sections and gives you a Word format for setting the sections up in your resume.

The resume is important for one thing: getting the interview. You want to use these sections to do just that.

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About the Author

Scot Herrick is the author of “I’ve Landed My Dream Job–Now What???” and owner of Cube Rules, LLC. Scot has a long history of management and individual contribution in multiple Fortune 100 corporations.