Resumé 101 – Content sections
Content sections you should have
Resumes are typically organized into sections. This helps the recruiters and hiring managers easily find whatever they are looking for, whether that’s your academic credentials, technical skills needed for the job, or something else.
We are talking absolute basics here. At the top of your resume in a larger font size should be your name. It’s common but not necessary to also have a title, especially if you are applying for general role openings or handing out your resume at events. If you only apply for very specific positions directly, having a title doesn’t add much value – the hiring manager and HR professionals will know what title you want. It’s obvious because of the role you applied for.
The best places for contact information
Contact information is a bit unlike other categories. The amount of information and text is very limited, so it probably won’t make sense to have a full size section for this. Additionally, contact information is something that should be easy to find at a glance.
If you have a small column on your resume, that’s a great place for contact info. On a single column resume, it often goes below your name and title.
On my resume, I put the contact info to the side of my name. I had the space there, and it was a great fit. Rather than taking up more vertical space by centering my name and putting the contact info below it, this approach better utilizes the page space.
The contact info you DON’T want
For the actual contact info itself, I suggest taking a very minimal approach. You likely don’t want someone to call you out of the blue with no warning about a job opportunity. With how many spam calls there are these days, myself and many people I know don’t even answer unexpected calls from unknown numbers. Not including your phone number also prevents it from floating around on the internet where a bot might scrape it and put your information on lists that lead to yet more unwanted calls.
Similarly, I suggest excluding your address. If you want location information, city or metro area are fine. I might use “Greater Seattle Area” rather than my specific city name, for example. Home address is very similar to phone number. It’s a bit too personal to be handing out all willy-nilly. It makes it a bit too easy to harass you if your resume ends up in unscrupulous hands. Finally, you probably don’t want to receive information about a job via physical mail. There’s no real benefit to including it, so leave the address off.
The contact info you want
Having a LinkedIn profile link isn’t critical, but highly valuable. Your LinkedIn isn’t constrained to the page(s) of your resume. It gives you more space to provide a full history of your career, rich with detail. A resume is a 1-page brief, but your LinkedIn profile is an opportunity to have a fully fleshed out story of your career so far.
You definitely want to include your email address. Email is the preferred way to communicate for jobs. It has tons of benefits. You don’t need to be available at the same time. This makes it easy to answer outside of work, and schedule a phone call for a time you’ll be available and expecting it. It’s easy to filter out spam emails, making it much safer.
Finally, if you have a website, portfolio, or other relevant web-based content to share, put the link in the contact info section.
This is one of the more straightforward sections. If you’ve never earned a college degree nor taken professional development courses, you’re likely in one of two positions. Either you have professional experience, or you don’t. If you don’t, list your high school, GED, and if applicable, a college you took some classes at. If you do have professional experience, congratulations! You can skip the education section entirely if you want.
If you do have one or more degrees, great! This is the section to call that out. At this point in your life, high school is irrelevant to employers, so there’s little value in adding it to your resume. If you have put in the work for more than one degree, be sure to list all of them here.
This is also a great place to include extra-curricular activities that are relevant to your career. Perhaps you joined or started a club related to your field? Earned scholarships, fellowships, or other merit-based achievements? Were you elected to a student government position? These are great accomplishments to call out in the education section as bullet points under the relevant school.
This section is usually the bread and butter of a resume. If you don’t have any professional experience, naturally you won’t have it. Likewise, if all your work experience is unrelated to the next job you’re looking for, it’s probably wise to de-emphasize this section and draw the parallels with what you’ve done and what you want to be doing.
However, it’s quite likely you are applying to something related to your existing professional experience. This is the place to highlight your professional achievements. Jobs you’ve worked, internships, apprenticeships, and any other work you’ve been paid to complete related to your current field/industry belongs here. This is no place for modesty. You are great, and whether or not you believe that yourself, it’s important you do a good job of telling that story here.
If you’re a student, perhaps there’s some gray area. For example, if you’ve done an internship, worked as a TA, or participated in related research at your school, it can be hard to tell if those belong here.
Personally, I have two simple rules for this section. Anything that doesn’t follow them doesn’t belong here. If it meets the following criteria, this is the section for it:
- You were paid for your time or the work you produced
- You used skills that are relevant to the role you are applying for
The rules are simple. If you don’t have professional experience yet, that’s okay! There are lots of other ways to showcase what you’ve done on your resume.
This one can be a bit of a doozy. Is being a good communicator a skill? How about language proficiency or fluency? And on that topic, how should different skill levels be demonstrated? Do I need to clearly differentiate my level of competence with each skill?
Fortunately I have some guidelines for all of these. Skills should be something that can be objectively measured as either true or false. For example, imagine listing “English” as a skill. If I see that, my expectation as someone working in tech is that if I speak to you in English, you will understand and be able to formulate and communicate a response in English that I understand.
Consider the context
It’s important to consider the context in which you are claiming to be skilled as something. As an example, imagine that same “English” skill is listed. Instead of being read by me, it’s read by someone hiring a new high school English teacher. That may come with expectations that you have a more intimate knowledge of English grammar rules. They might expect you to be able to clearly explain why a sentence is grammatically incorrect, even if it would be perfectly well understand by an average English speaker. If you can do that, you are skilled at English in this context. If you are unable to do that, you aren’t. There are also standard tests that can certify your competence in English. It’s not quite black and white, but the gray area is minimal. 100 different people who know you would almost certainly give the same answer.
What about soft skills?
Conversely, consider claiming competence in communication. How am I supposed to measure if you are good at communication or just average? There’s not a very objective way to judge it. Your current boss, coworkers, friends, and spouse might all have different answers. These are “soft” skills. My opinion is that soft skills don’t belong on a resume. I will draw my own opinion on that based on interactions with you over email, on the phone, and in person.
Instead of claiming to be good at soft skills explicitly, take a slightly less direct approach. Use the content of your resume to highlight how great your soft skills are. Where applicable, you can use verbs like “persuaded,” “negotiated,” and “facilitated” to demonstrate both the soft skills that you possess and the results you are able to achieve with them. That’s a much more compelling way to communicate soft skills.
Because you should be focusing on more objective technical skills, I don’t think it’s important to call out how skilled you think you are at them. If it’s important to the interviewer, they can use the interview to find that out. By asking questions at different difficulty levels and evaluating your answers, it should become clear to them how skilled they think you are. Since level of skill is harder to measure, it’s similar to a soft skill – best to communicate it indirectly.
Sections you might want
Patents, publications, presentations, etc.
If you’re involved in any research or publications for your field, they may not fit neatly in any other section of your resume. Having a specific place to call them out can be an incredible way to call out some of the achievements that help differentiate you from other applicants. Have you been published in an academic or other journal for you field, written a book, or research papers? You may want a publications section.
Perhaps you’re more focused on industry R&D. Have you been named as an inventor on patents in your field? Having patents shows that you innovate in ways that employers have found valuable. This is an incredible way to stand out, and you should definitely call out any patents if you have them.
Personally, I wanted to improve my communication skills and demonstrate my deep technical expertise in C++, data structures, and game engines. I presented lectures and posters at some conferences as a way to do both. Since it was a personal development goal, not part of my formal education or a job, I use a different section. My presentations, along with some other activities, are listed under an “Industry Contributions” section of my resume. If you’ve done anything that stands out, whether it’s patents, publications, presentations, awards, or something else, take credit for it! Create a section that makes sense for those achievements and call them out together.
Some industries have broad efforts beyond the normal requirements of the job. As someone in your industry, you will likely know them if and when you encounter them. There are some very visible examples from the world of software development that I’ll use to paint a picture of what I’m talking about.
The first example is open source software contributions. People all over the world contribute to a thriving ecosystem of open source projects. The most popular mobile phone operating system in the world, Android, is an open source project! Many technologies we encounter daily are built using open source software. Anyone can access the code used to build them, learn how it works, and make contributions. It’s a huge effort with a broad impact, and absolutely worth calling out on your resume!
I found a lot of joy through involvement with the C++ community. C++ is a popular programming language that has been used to build a great deal of high-performance applications ranging from global infrastructure systems to video games. A committee representing dozens of countries and hundreds of companies is responsible for it. I submitted a proposal to advance the core language libraries and presented it to the committee at one of their meetings meeting. Since C++ is such a broadly known and used technology, I include it on my resume.
This type of contribution is excellent to call out on your resume. It shows peer review and possibly approval of your work. Being able to say you’ve worked on something that the interviewer has heard of or uses regularly can be a great way to build a connection. These also send a strong signal that you are highly competent at what you do.