How To Write A Resume

A Definitive Guide From

How do you write a resume? It's a question every job seeker asks eventually, because eventually every job seeker needs to put together a resume.

Below is our step by step guide to writing a resume. The hope is you should be able to read through this entire page, section by section and you'll have a basic resume when you reach the end.

Here are the chapters, in order:

  1. What Should Be In A Resume
  2. A Functional Resume Vs. A Chronological Resume
  3. The Resume Header
  4. Email, Home Address On A Resume
  5. Resume Summary Or Resume Objective?
  6. Skills, Qualifications, Accomplishments Section
  7. Career History - Reverse Chronological
  8. Career History - Job Descriptions
  9. Education On A Resume
  10. Certifications, References and Skills Again
  11. What Doesn't Belong On A Resume
  12. A Multiple Page Resume
  13. What Your Resume Should Look Like

What Should Be In A Resume?

What should be in your resume? Simply put: the stuff that will convince the hiring manager that you're the solution to their problem.

And guess what? ONLY that stuff. Nothing else.

Think of it from the hiring manager's perspective. They have a problem: they have a job opening to fill. You need your resume to convince them that interviewing (and hopefully hiring) you would be the solution to that problem.

Your resume has to be just right. You only want to put in the stuff that will do the convincing. You don't want to put in everything you've ever done. You don't want to write your whole autobiography. You only want to put in the stuff that is applicable to the specific job you are applying for.

This means your resume will change from time to time. It can change depending on the job you're applying for. You add things when applying for one position that you would leave out for another.

It will even mean that sometimes you'll leave out stuff that is super impressive to you and others. Heck, you might even leave out stuff that you feel is the most important work you've ever done in your career.

It all depends.

If you've been sending out the exact same resume to every job you've been applying to (without tweaking it at least a little bit to suit each job) then you've been doing it wrong.

In a couple of minutes here, we're going to sit down and begin writing your baseline resume.

But then, when we're done, and the time comes actually send this resume out to job openings, you're going to need to always be willing to tweak it to make it most effective for each individual job. This can mean leaving things out, adding things in, emphasizing this thing for one job, but emphasizing that other thing for a different job.

Why are we doing this?

Because as I said at the beginning, you want your resume to convince the hiring manager you're the solution to their problem. And not just a generic problem either! You're solution to this one specific problem that they've advertised for with their job opening.

So, first things first:

A Functional Resume Vs. A Chronological Resume

If you've done your research about resumes, you may have heard about different formats. The two most common resume formats are the Functional Resume and the Chronological Resume.

I'm going to show you a resume format that is a bit of a hybrid between the two. Let's call what we're about to write a Combination Resume format.

But just so you understand, let me briefly touch on the two formats and what they entail.

In a functional resume, you de-emphasize your career chronology. Sure, you list your jobs and employers and dates and all of that. But you put more emphasis on other things. A functional resume might have sections like: Skills, Accomplishments, even Core Competencies. And it might have several of them. These would be given precedence over the career history. With a functional resume the idea is that your jobs and titles aren't as important as giving an overall impression of who you are as a professional.

Functional resumes are often utilized by students and people who don't have much of a career history and thus need to show they're well rounded without being able to point to a long career. But they're also used by some executives.

A chronological resume is where you basically lay out your career history, job by job, usually going in reverse chronological order, with the most recent job listed first and the earliest (or least impressive) jobs listed toward the end. The idea behind a chronological resume is to show your career progression as a sort of narrative, emphasizing increasing skills, experience and accomplishments.

As I said, the resume we're going to sit down to write in a few minutes will be a bit of both. But let me show you a functional resume and a chronological resume example so you know what I'm talking about!

The Resume Header

So you're sitting in front of your computer. There's a blank screen in front of you. What do you do first?

Write your name, obviously. Write your name in big, bold letters, as if it was an advertising sign promoting you (and that's what is it, of course). First and last name. Middle name too, or middle initial, or nothing. Depends on what you like to use in your professional life.

There's no need for Mr., Mrs., Ms. or anything else like that. Just your name. Though, if you do have a fancy title like, PHD, MD or some professional title that is important to landing the job, I do recommend you include that.

So there you go. This is your banner headline: ME!

By the way, my preference is for all capitals. How big do you go? I'd say that whatever feels right to you, but I wouldn't go any higher than 20pt. or maybe 22pt. font size. Any font size within a range from 14pt. to 18pt. sounds about right to me. Try several different font sizes and go with what feels best. You want your name to be the biggest font size of anything else in your resume.

Should you center it? Left indent? Go for some crazy design? Again, if designing is your thing, and you happen to be a word processing wizard, then you can do whatever you want. My preference is for a nice, centered design, right there at the top. So let's go with that for now. We're just creating the banner headline, remember? So let's make it basic to begin with, and you can go back and customize it later.

Now, underneath this, it's time to put your contact info. For most people, I'd suggest limiting it to the following: address, phone number and email. For some people and industries, you could include a website or even a twitter name. But I'm mostly speaking here about designers, web professionals and the like. If your website or twitter page is part of your professional brand, then it's ok to include. But if your Facebook or Twitter account is manly your personal domain, then leave it off.

What font should the contact info be in? What about font size? I suggest you make it be the same font or a similar font as you chose for your name. But let's let the contact info be normal size. Normal size for basic resume text.

Basic resume text is no smaller than 10pt and no bigger than 12pt in size. That is a hard and fast rule of mine. Smaller than 10pt and it's too hard for some people to read. Larger than 12pt and it looks like you're padding out your resume, making the words really big to hide the fact that you don't have much to put on your resume.

So let's say you make your contact info be 12pt, which will be the same font size you use for the main body of your resume. But to make the contact info stand out, let's make this section bold, while the rest of the resume will be normal text.

A note about design: after this header you're going to get into meat of your resume. Remember, this part is your banner. So let's do something to separate it from the rest of the resume. Let's make it look like a banner, in fact.

Again, if you're proficient with word processing and page design, then do what looks good to you. But I recommend at least using a horizontal line after your header to separate it from the rest of your resume. The following chart will help you do at least the most basic horizontal lines.

You might think something like a horizontal line is an unimportant detail. But your resume needs to be eye catching, and it needs to at least communicate information in a logical, efficient way. So doing things to help organize the information on your resume into easy-to-read, easy-to-understand sections can be quite important.

Email, Home Address On A Resume

So at this point, your header should look something like this:

resume header

In the previous chapter, I mentioned that you put your contact info in below your name. Now, you might have a few questions about what contact info to include, so let me take a minute to address a few issues:

  • A word about email addresses: I'd definitely recommend using a professional email address. Of course, you don't want to use your current work email (for fear of your boss finding out) but you don't want to use either. You probably don't want to use anything to cutsie or personal like or even either. If you don't have a nice, innocuous email address, then get yourself one. There are tons of free and easy options out there. Gmail is probably the best bet. You could even set up a dedicated email address just for your job search. If you're afraid you'll forget to check it, you can always change the settings to have the mail forwarded to your regular email address.
  • A word about phone numbers: what phone number should you use? In this day and age, your cell phone number, of course. But realistically, just use whatever number is easiest for you to be reached at comfortably. If, again, you're afraid of being found out at work, then put your home number.
  • A word about home addresses: are they even important anymore? I mean, it's not like the employer is going to respond to you via a postal letter. I get asked this question a lot, and my answer is that, no, you don't have to include your home address. But unless you have a good reason why you shouldn't, then why not just do it anyway? If your resume is in a pile of 20 others, and I'm looking for quick ways to narrow the pile down, then I'm likely looking for any excuse. And if the other 19 resumes all have home addresses on them, then of course I'm going to wonder why yours does not. Don't give me any reason to ask questions or have doubts. In most cases, I recommend including the address so you don't give the hiring manager a reason to question your resume before even reading it.
  • A note about multiple pages: if your resume runs to two or more pages, then you're going to want to include your name at least on every page. So every page has a header with at least your name, followed by Page 2, Page 3, etc. This is just so that, again, in this mythical pile of 20 resumes, if your 2nd page gets mixed up, they know who the resume belongs to. I recommend making the Your Name, Page 2 header on the other pages be a similar font size and certainly the exact same font as you use on the first page. I'll explain this in greater detail later on.

Resume Summary Or Resume Objective?

The next section under your name and contact info is perhaps the most important of the resume, because it's the section that the hiring manager will scan first when they look at your resume.  You want to assume it's going to be scanned. You want to assume that this is your 10-second elevator pitch to the hiring manager.

Thus, our strategy here is a short paragraph of maybe 2-3 sentences at most. If you go much beyond 3 sentences, then you're getting way too wordy and you're defeating the purpose of this section.

If you've done any research into resumes at all, then you'll have heard this section referred to as one of two things: some people call it a Summary Paragraph and some people call it an Objective Paragraph.

I much prefer a Summary paragraph. There are certainly some cases where an Objective paragraph is called for. But for most situations, I'd think a summary paragraph will get you what you need. Let me explain what each are, and I'll tell you the reason behind my preference.

A Summary Paragraph is just what the name says: you summarize who you are as a professional and why you're qualified to be hired.

A generic Summary Paragraph would read like this:

Skilled and qualified XYZ Professional with more than 20 years experience in various aspects of XYZ. Specialized training in A, and a proven ability to translate B into C. A lengthy track record of achievement including the successful management of accounts totaling $$$XXX. Excellent management and leadership skills.

An Objective Paragraph is one where you basically name the job you're going for. The job, in this case, is your objective, which you name explicitly.

A generic Objective Paragraph would read like this:

Skilled and qualified XYZ Professional looking to translate a lifetime of training and 20 years of experience as an (Job Title).  Qualifications included previous experience as ABC and XYZ.

An objective paragraph is more to the point, but a summary allows you to say more about yourself without wasting time describing the position you're applying for. Most times, they know which position you're applying for, correct? I mean, that's the position this resume replying to, after all. So don't waste valuable real estate describing the position you want.  Instead, use this space you quickly describe yourself and your qualifications.

The hiring manager likely knows the position you want. After all, she's the one who advertised the open position. She doesn't give a damn if you describe the position back to her or not. She wants to know if you're qualified for the position. That's what she's scanning for. So why not give it to her?

But what do you say in your summary paragraph? Well, this is a key instance where hiring a professional resume writer will really be to your benefit. A professional writer will know not only how to summarize who you are as a professional in the most efficient way possible, but he or she will also know what is the most effective turn of phrase that will show you are qualified for the job.

This isn't easy. You can spend hours going back and forth, agonizing over the right details to include, the right choice of words, even the right order of words. It's like writing an advertising slogan for yourself. How do you communicate the most important details about yourself without doing too much or coming on too strong?

Here is a rule of thumb. Your summary must do 3 things:

  1. Communicate who you are.
  2. Provide one or two primary qualifications.
  3. Provide one or two secondary qualifications.

So basically, in my example Summary Paragraph, you see that I identify myself as an XYZ professional. The other two sentences in that paragraph merely add supporting evidence and qualifications to reinforce that I am, indeed, an XYZ Professional. In fact, I'm the XYZ Professional you (the hiring manager) need.

I feel that I need to stress again, this is a brief paragraph. Don't write a novel here. This is a summary of what you are going to say in the rest of the resume. Allow them to see you at a glance, be intrigued, and hopefully read your resume in greater depth based on the items you've summarized.

So, now that' I've described all that, let's go ahead and put this section down on paper.

Let's start with a Section Title. Title this section "Summary" or "Professional Summary" or "Qualification Summary." Make the title of this section be the same font as you used for your name. To make it stand out, let's let it be slightly bigger in font size than the normal text, but slightly smaller in font size than your name. So, for the sake of argument, let's say your name is 20 pt. in bold. Then let's make this section title (the part that says "Professional Summary" or whatever) be 16pt in bold to help it stand out. The paragraph itself is your normal text size, say 12pt normal.

Go with a Summary paragraph of 2-3 sentences. 4 sentences at the absolute most.

Got it? Ok, now having said that, here are some caveats:

If you have a situation where an Objective Paragraph is better, then go ahead and use one. I mean, maybe THIS IS the job you're looking for. None other. I've already told you it's best to target your resume toward each specific job opening, and doing an objective paragraph can help you achieve this.

Below would be an example of this sort of situation:

Example of an objective paragraph

As you can see, this person knows exactly the job she's going for. She even knows the internal job code. If you have an extremely targeted resume, then an objective paragraph is just fine.

You can even do a hybrid of the two... sort of a combination between an objective and a summary paragraph. In the instance of the hybrid, you might say, "I am XYZ Professional and I am eager to apply for the position of Whatever." Then you proceed with you primary and secondary qualifications like I described above.

Once you've gotten this paragraph written, be it Summary, Objective or a Hybrid of the two, move on to the next chapter.

Skills, Qualifications, Accomplishments Section

So now you have your header, your contact info, and your summary or objective paragraph (or hybrid paragraph, if that's your taste).

It probably looks something like this:

resume header with contact info and summary or objective paragraph

But there's one more section I suggest we add before we get to your career history.

This section doesn't have a generic name, but let's say its your Skill Summary. Or your Qualification Summary. Or your Key Accomplishments. Even your Career Highlights.

Whatever you want to call it, I suggest adding a section under your summary/objective paragraph with a bulleted list of some key items. Again, this is near the top of your resume, so this is the area that the hiring manager is going to scan to get a quick glimpse of who you are. Let's use this section to show he/she some of your best stuff.

For most job seekers, I like to see some sort of a section with bulleted items that can flesh out some of the ideas and themes you've hit upon in your Summary/Objective.

I say bulleted items and I mean it. It's a nice little visual break here, and it indicates that you're listing some key items that you want to emphasize.  So, I don't want paragraphs. I want bullets. Some people, especially IT Professionals, could do several columns of bulleted items.

So, let me give you some examples of bulleted lists you can use in this section, and you can decide which type fits your situation.

First, you could make a bulleted list of your skills. These are skills that support the assertions you made in your Summary/Objective section, or even expand upon what you said there.

For example, let's say you're an IT person, and you have explained as much in the Summary/Objective. Well, IT people need specific skills for specific jobs. So this would be a good place to list what platforms, languages, systems, technologies, etc. you have experience with.

Here's an example:

it resume example

Skill set bulleted lists work well for IT Professionals of all stripes, and really any professionals with a technical or analytical bent.

Second, you could make a list of your qualifications. Qualifications include degrees, certifications, specialties, projects or even general experiences that help prove you're qualified for the position you're targeting.

For this example, let's say you're a high school teacher. Obviously, in this section, you can list your specific certifications and areas you're qualified to teach. You can list degrees, areas of specialty and that sort of thing. Other ideas include listing specialized training or seminars, and even specialized subjects you've taught in the past.

Qualification Summary

A qualification summary is designed to bolster your Summary/Objective section with key credentials that the hiring manager can scan and see if you are indeed the sort of specialist they're looking for.

Thirdly, you could have an Accomplishments section. I think an accomplishments section is especially a good idea for, say, a sales professional, or a management professional.

The accomplishments section is just that: you list great things you've done in the past. And by "things" I mean, real, tangible accomplishments. The more dollar figures, sales numbers, percentages, personnel numbers, etc. you can give, the better.

So, I would want to see a list of things like the following:

  • "Cultivated and managed a Western European territory that grew from $10 million in sales per year to $50 million in sales by the end of my tenure."
  • "Directed and managed a division of more than 200 customer service professionals, earning numerous performance and service awards for excellence."

Again, tangible numbers are best.

Each type of list should have a minimum of 3-4 entries. It can be more than that… even 9-12 items if you have them arranged into columns and they're small items.

Which of the options I've described above should you use? Depends on your industry and experience. The key to doing any list of this type is choosing the right items to include. You want ONLY the most important/impressive items. How do you know for sure which to include? Well, I hate to say it, but this is again an area where a professional resume writer can be the most helpful. They can be the impartial 3rd party that tells you what is I really important and what isn't. They're not married to any one item, and they know from everyday experience what employers are finding the most impressive lately. A lot of times when a professional resume writer works with a client, the client wants to include everything they've ever done and the writer has to help the client narrow things down to what is really important.

If you can't afford to hire a professional, at least have a friend or family member take a look and your resume and ask them to be honest with you about what is important to include in this section and what isn't.

So, let's get writing!

You can simply add your bullets and lists right under your summary/objective opening paragraph.

Or, you can create a whole new section. Let's call it Professional Highlights or something like that, let's make it 14pt. and bold just like we did for the section title above. I suggest centering it.

Below this section title, make your bulleted list, depending on which type you feel fits you. Make sure the list is bulleted so it will stand out. If you can make two or even three columns of bullets (if you know how to do this using Word) then terrific!

Career History - Reverse Chronological

At this point your resume probably looks something like this:

reverse chronological resume

Now we're finally getting to the main section of the resume: your career history.

A lot of people think that a resume is nothing more than a list of jobs you've held. Well, as you've seen in the previous chapters, that's not true. A resume should also have sections that focus on promoting your professional brand in an eye catching and efficient way. These were the summary/objective and skills/qualifications/accomplishments sections. They were short sections. Almost like advertising slogans. They were designed to catch the eye and give quick, important data but not really be comprehensive.

But now we're getting down to the meat of the resume. So brevity is right out. Now we will be comprehensive. The career history is the actual list part of the resume. This next section will be a list of the jobs you've held and the things you achieved in your career.

Yes, we are going to list your jobs. And we're going to do so in a reverse chronological order, which means we list your most recent job first, and you oldest job last.

Why do we do reverse chronological?

Because your career history (like your resume in general) should tell a story- the story of your career. And that story should (hopefully) be an impressive, inspiring tale of increasing responsibilities, accumulating skills and expanding and impressive accomplishments. So in this story, it's best to start at the end... with your most recent job. Hopefully, your career has been evolving from, say, a lowly mail room clerk 20 years ago... to your most recent position where we can see that you've blossomed into a well-rounded and respected professional.

So you'll list your most recent job first and your oldest job last. That way your most impressive job comes first, and your least impressive job comes last.

Hopefully your most recent jobs have your best accomplishments and most impressive details. In fact, you should try to organize it that way. Try to write the most about your most recent jobs. When you get further back in time, you don't have to say as much. You can write less about each job, the further back you go in time. In fact, if you have a 30 year career, then really, you don't have to say much about that internship way back when that got you started three decades ago. In fact, sometimes when I'm doing a client's resume, I'll just list the oldest jobs without describing them in any way: just list the job title, the company and the dates. And that's it. The way, way-back past is simply not as important as the recent past. This is very much a look-at-what-I've-done-lately exercise. I've even been known to leave out some way olden-times jobs completely if I feel they're that unimportant.

So let's get writing! Again, let's make a Section Title. Let's call it what it is: Career History. Again, center it, make it bold and 14pt.

Now, the whole rest of your career history is going to be normal sized text, 11pt. or 12pt. Use 10pt. if you feel you need the space, but don't go any smaller than that.

Let's start with your most recent job.

First, list the job title. Make this bold and underlined.

Then, list the company. Bold the company name but don't underline.

Finally, list the dates employed. Make this be regular sized text. Some people like to use month and year, but just listing years only would be more than fine.

So, for your first job, you should have something like this:

resume job title


You'll do the same thing for each job you list. For later jobs, you would list the dates accordingly: 2003-2007. If you went with the month-year format, then it would look like this: May 2003-June 2007.

Hopefully there are no big gaps in the chronology: one job should lead into another seamlessly. That's why I'm not a fan of including months in the dates. What if you left your job in June 2007, but didn't get your next job until November of 2007? Why leave that gap in there? If you just list the years, then for all anyone knows, you left one job in 2007 and you got the next one in 2007. No one has to know or even wonder about about the months in between.

What about the City and State (in other words, the location) of the job in question? Some people like to include this. Sometimes it's important, even crucial. It depends on the job. You can add the city and state if you feel it's necessary. But it's not the biggest deal in the world if you leave it out.

So now, under these job titles comes the important part: the job description. And I have some very specific views on how you should structure your job descriptions. There's a format that I absolutely think works best. Let me discuss that in the next chapter.

Career History - Job Descriptions

So under each job title like I've described in the previous chapter, you need to tell the reader about the job. And you need to accomplish two things: you need to tell the reader what your responsibilities were at each job, and more importantly, you need to tell the reader what you accomplished at each job.

I like to do this using a mixture of normal paragraphs and bulleted lists.

Use a paragraph to describe what you did at the job. I'm talking here about describing your duties, general scope of work, who you reported to, who reported to you, etc. Generally, in simple paragraph form, take 2-3 or even 7 sentences to give us the over-all job description.

Below that, in bulleted list format, give us 2-3, or even 5-6 key points or accomplishments from that job.

I love this split paragraph/bullet list format because it organizes things for the eye, and it makes your accomplishments stand out. If you just write the whole thing as one big paragraph with your duties mixed in with your accomplishments, then nothing stands out. By the same token, a lot of people just make everything a bullet item in a list. But if everything is a bulleted list, then nothing stands out that way either!

Divide things up using the paragraph to describe the job, and using the bullets to highlight key points or accomplishments. This makes for a logical, efficient organization of the information.

So, start writing a paragraph that describes what you did for each job. Under that paragraph, add a few bulleted items to highlight what you achieved.

A rule of thumb in resume writing is to "show, don't tell!" Telling me what you did at each job is not as impressive as showing me what you were able to accomplish. Remember, in this reverse chronology of your career history, hopefully each successive job will show you taking on more responsibilities and getting bigger, better results. In other words, you should be describing the growth trajectory of your career.

Again, let the text be normal size (11-12pt. font) with no bolding or underlining.

It's ok to be dry with the job descriptions. They're just the facts, ma'am. But be sure to include things that make you look like you've got plenty of impressive responsibilities. Include just duties you have that, while boring and mundane, combine to show you do a heck of a lot at your job. You want to seem like you can handle anything.

And as for the bulleted accomplishments, tangible numbers are great. Saying you won this award or managed this number of people is fine. But including real numbers, like x number dollars in sales, or x% increase, or x type of improvement... that's the best. And this holds true for all professionals, not just people in sales. If you can show you achieved things, and you can put a solid, tangible descriptor on that achievement, then you're more likely to impress the hiring manager.

Your first few jobs might look something like this:

resume career history

A word here about word tense. Let's keep it simple: if you're currently employed at a job, then use the present tense: "Manage a sales territory encompassing..." But if the job is in the past, then use the past tense: "Managed a sales territory encompassing..."

So if you are currently employed, then ONLY that job description should be in the present tense. If the job was in the past, then use the past tense. And you'll notice this holds true for the bulleted accomplishments at well. If it was an accomplishment, then it happened in the past. Use the past tense.

Education On A Resume

Got your career history finished? Listed every job that mattered? Good.

For most people, the section that comes after the career history is the education section.

But notice, I said most people. If you're someone with 2 or more years of experience in a professional job (i.e., not a part-time student summer job) then most likely your education section comes near the end of your resume.

Why is this? Because most employers are in a what-have-you-done-lately frame of mind. They want to see that you've done in the real world. They want to see that you've gotten results. That's why most resumes give more emphasis to the career history. Don't get me wrong... employers want to know that you have gotten an education. They want to see this info somewhere. A degree also helps. But it's the career history that that is more important to them than anything. So, you emphasize that.

So let's start writing that education section.

Again, let's make a Section Title. Let's call it what it is: Education. Or Education and Training maybe. Again, center it, make it bold and 14pt.

Under this, in normal text size and font (same as the body of your career history) list the facts, one line for each:

  1. Name of the school or university.
  2. Years attended.
  3. Degree attained.

So list the above for each school and each degree as applicable. Again, reverse chronological order is best here, since the most recent degree you attained is most likely the most impressive one, correct? If not, then the first degree you list should be the one most applicable to the job. The lesser degrees can go below the more impressive ones.

Experienced professionals can get by simply listing the degrees and the colleges attended. No other bells an whistles needed. Professionals with 10-20 years experience probably shouldn't bother listing things like Magna Cum Laude and things like that. That's ancient history for more experienced professionals.

But if you're a student, go ahead and list everything: your GPA, your minors, your membership in things like honor societies. Why? Because you don't have an impressive career yet, so you need to make your educational career as impressive as possible.

Now, for the caveats...

Yes, again with the caveats. There are certain cases when you might put your education section near the top of your resume. Is your specific degree important to the job? Then maybe give it more emphasis. A doctor or a college professor might want to put that degree and the (hopefully prestigious) name of the college front and center. Also, if the degree is key to the position you're applying for, then put that near the top to show you're qualified. For example, if you were applying to be a special education teacher, then you might want to front load your Special Ed. certification instead of leaving it for the end.

And then there are the students. I'm talking about teenagers, college grads, or really anyone who only has a limited amount of real world work experience. For anyone in this category, you definitely put the education section before your career history.

Why? Because your schooling is the most impressive thing you've done thus far. Your career, such as it is, isn't that interesting yet. If all you've got to show in terms of a career history are a series of part-time summer jobs, then de-emphasize those, and instead, highlight that new Bachelors Degree you got that all those summer jobs helped to pay for.

So in conclusion:

  • Most people put their education section after their career history, usually near the end of the resume.
  • Specialized degree holders (lawyers, doctors, professors and the like) might put education before the career history.
  • Students, recent grads and anyone with a skimpy career history definitely should put the education section before the career history, near the top of the resume.

It probably looks something like this:

education section on a resume

Certifications, References and Skills Again

Another option is to create a completely separate references page in addition to your resume. If you go this route and make a references sheet, who should you use for your references?

  1. Someone the hiring manager knows.
    Like anything else in job search, the most effective connections are personal connections. Getting someone the hiring manager knows to vouch for you can do all the vetting necessary.
  2. Someone the hiring manager respects.
    Another good tactic is to get a reference from someone in the industry the hiring manager might respect or even idolize. If you're interviewing for a fund management position and you can get a reference from Warren Buffett, you're likely to be hired just so the manager can bask in the glow of the Oracle.
  3. Your current boss.
    Here's a really effective reference that you might not always be able to get. If you can get your current or most recent boss to say something like, "Gee, we really hate to see him go, but if we have to lose him, here's why he's such a great guy…" that can do wonders.
  4. Someone in the industry. Even a competitor.
    References are meant to do two things: find out if you're a serial killer; and find out if you can do your job competently. If you have enough of a reputation in the industry to get a recommendation from someone who works in the same field you do, then you've gone a long way to answering the second question.
  5. Any previous boss.
    Try to pick the boss that is most likely to sing the praises of your competency and effectiveness. Again, this is just to reassure the hiring manager that you know what you are doing.
  6. Someone "respectable" in society.
    If you've got none of the above, your last option is someone who could reasonably be expected to be an upstanding member of society. I'm talking about a teacher, professor, minister, doctor, lawyer, etc. This is likely to be a family friend, but pick the friend who is most likely to be widely known in the community.

What Doesn't Belong On A Resume

So that's basically it. Your resume should be done at this point. But before I get to my summation and show you what your resume should look like in general, some of you might be wondering if there aren't a few items I've forgotten to include.

Nope. I haven't forgotten anything. Some people seem to think there are some additional details to add to your resume. But I disagree.

Here are my big three no-nos:

1. Personal Information.

So, you volunteer at your son's school? Great. You love playing volleyball? Fantastic. You've been married for 14 years? Congratulations.

But none of those things belong on a resume in my opinion. Again, a resume is a professional document. It's not your dating profile. Sure, an employer might want to learn a bit more about you so they can get a fuller picture of who you are as a person. But they can get that info in the interview. Don't waste valuable space on your resume talking about how you're the president of the local gardening club.

Even if we're talking about commendable volunteer activities that show you're a good citizen!

I say, leave all the personal stuff out.

(Caveats... caveats... My one caveat here is if volunteering helps you flesh out an otherwise thin resume or helps fill in a gap in your work history. A recent grad might include their volunteer work to show they are engaged in their community and take the place of work experience they don't yet have. Another example would be a stay at home mom or someone who was unemployed for a period of years. People like that probably should include volunteering and community work to show they remained active despite a lull in their career history.)

2. Salary History or Salary Requirements.

This is something else I would leave off the resume and save for the interview. If the employer specifically asks for a salary history, then go ahead and include it. But if it were me, I would hope they wouldn't ask. And if they don't ask, then leave it off entirely.

Why? Simple: you don't know if your salary history or salary requirements will give them a good opportunity to screen you out... or worse, screen you in, but to your disadvantage!

Most open positions… they have a specific budget for the position. If you're dumb enough to volunteer a lower salary… well then, congratulations, you've just given them a bargain and screwed yourself out of what you probably could have gotten paid.

Conversely, if you're competing with 200 other applicants, a quick way for the employer to weed you out of consideration is if you show yourself to be too expensive.

The common rule of thumb is to avoid being the first one to suggest a salary at all costs. So why even bring up the salary right off the bat in your resume?

3. Lies.

Obviously, lying on your resume is not the best idea in the world. I don't think you'll be able to find anybody who will tell you that lying on your resume is a good thing to do. So, I'm not going to repeat the obvious.

What I am going to do is tell you why this is a bad idea. Based on my experience working with clients, there are two things that I have observed about resume falsehoods.

First, there's a Murphy's law in play here. Whatever you lie about always has a way of coming to the surface. You can be 99.9% honest on your resume… but fudge in just one little area. If you do, I promise you, that is the one little thing that will trip you up somewhere down the road.

I can think of a very specific example. This is only one example, I know, but this is the kind of thing that happens all the time. One of my writers had a client who was in web programming and development. This was a couple of years ago when AJAX first burst on the scene and was becoming the rage. The client was versed and skilled in an array of languages and programs… but not AJAX. Well, it seems that after we did the resume for the client, he kept hearing in interviews AJAX, AJAX, AJAX. As I said, it was all the rage. So he took it upon himself to add that to his list of skills. Just that one little word: AJAX. I guess he figured he could learn it later if it came up.Well, I heard later it went like this: he got hired at a non-tech firm to be their programming guru. Brought him in to take over the place and bring them into the 21st century. A great gig. But of course, everything they wanted to do (revamp their calender system, their internal messaging system, etc.) they wanted it to be full of AJAXy goodness. Long story short, the guy figured he couldn't learn everything overnight, and he had to fess up that he didn't know much about AJAX. He told the company they'd have to hire a second guy, an AJAX specialist, to come in and help him with the projects. Of course, the company lost a lot of trust in our AJAX-deficient friend, and it turned out that within a few months the second guy, the guy brought in to help with the AJAX, got promoted to project lead ahead of him. I heard all this because the guy was back needing a resume again six months later because he was out of a job.

And that leads me to my second observation about resume lies: they're right there in black and white. You can't talk your way out of them or deny them. It's right there on paper. Our AJAX friend, for example, might have been able to plead confusion or misunderstanding if his thing had just come up in the interview or the conversation. But there was nothing he could say about the fact that right there, on his resume, he had knowingly claimed AJAX as one of his skill sets. He had represented that he could do a certain thing, solve a certain problem for the company. It was obviously a fabrication. And he couldn't make it go away.

So in summation, the things I've learned about resume lies are: the lies have a funny way of surfacing when you least expect them to; and the lies can't be erased: they're right there in black and white.

A Multiple Page Resume

Chances are a majority of you have ended up with a multiple page resume. As I said earlier in this guide, that is perfectly fine. In fact, I would much rather see you go to two pages if your career history calls for it. Resumes of three pages or more are somewhat rare, but they do exist for certain industries and for people with extensive careers to cover.

How do you format your resume if it goes to another page?

Simple. You put another header on the 2nd page. The header on your first page looked something like this:


It had your name and your contact info.

One option is to simply copy this header a 2nd time and include a "Page 2 of 2" or "Page 3 of 3" statement in the header.

What I prefer to do is something like: Name, Page 2 of 2, and some limited contact info. Something like the image below:

2 page resume

Now notice in this image that I have a section title that reads "Career History Continued." This is because the career history got broken up when I went to the 2nd page. If you are able to go to a new page and start a completely new section of your resume on that new page, then you don't need something like this. But if you had to interrupt any section during a page break, then make sure you label the continuation of that section on the new page.

It's important that every page of your resume at least have your name on it. It just looks professional, and it helps the hiring manager keep track of things.

What Your Resume Should Look Like

So, if you've followed my directions in this guide, your resume should look something roughly like this:

This would be the resume as one page:

what a resume should look like

And this would be the resume as a two-pager:

what a multi-age resume should look like 1

Page 2:

what a multi page resume should look like 2

Don't worry if your resume doesn't look exactly like mine. No two resumes should look exactly the same. No two job seekers are exactly the same. But if you have the general format above, then you're in good shape.