How to Write a Resume

Resume Format

A conventional format is easiest on the resume reader's eyes -- and busy schedule.­ 
A conventional format is easiest on the resume reader's eyes -- and busy schedule.­ 

Although you want your resume to stand out, adhering to a conventional format will allow employers to find the information they want easily. Let's go over the components every resume should have.

Contact information: Make sure you feature your name prominently (usually centered and bolded) on the top of the page. Below your name, list your phone number, mailing address and e-mail address.

Objective: This brief statement conveys your intended position, which should sound like it's a perfect match to the position you're applying for. Here's an example: "Office manager position in a fast-paced environment where I can apply my administrative and organizational skills." Although listing an objective is great for those who have work experience in many fields, you may choose to use a summary instead of or in addition to an objective section.

Summary: This section emphasizes the attention-grabbing points you want the prospective employer to see immediately. Summaries are a few sentences long and describe what you're capable of as well as highlight the unique blend of relevant skills, qualities and achievements you bring to the table. The section should be crafted to hook your reader. It may open or end with an objective statement if you choose to not give that its own section.

Experience: You can list relevant experience chronologically, functionally or a combination of the two ways.

  • A chronological format is the most traditional. It begins with your most recent job and works backward. For each job, list your title, the company and an account of your relevant responsibilities. You can also list the applicable skills you displayed in each position.
  • A functional format lists the basics -- job title, company and duration of your employment. This format puts the focus on your skills rather than the positions you've held. Functional formats are best for those changing careers, upper-level executives and those with wide employment gaps.
  • A combined format uses chronological and functional elements. Though it's typically longer, a combined format starts by listing your skills and accomplishments and then goes into a chronological list of work experience.

Skills and accomplishments: If you're using the chronological experience format, you can follow it up with this section, which summarizes your special skills and significant achievements. For instance, a graphic designer might point out that he or she is "Proficient in Quark, Dreamweaver and Photoshop." However, if you're following the functional or combined formats, this section should come before experience. In that case, list subheadings of particular skills or accomplishments followed by short, descriptive evidence. For example, after "Leadership," you can explain, "Headed a committee dedicated to improving energy efficiency."

Education: List the school you attended and the degree you earned. Unless you're a recent graduate and don't have much relevant work experience, you should keep this below the experience and skills and accomplishments sections. If you're working toward finishing a degree, you can mention that here.

References: Many experts suggest stating "Available upon request" in this section. Employers don't tend to check references until after the interview process anyway, so it's a waste of precious space [source: Kennedy]. Others advise dropping this section altogether, as it's understood you will provide references when asked [source: Ireland].

With the exception of your contact information, include a headline above each section. Keep each section title prominent and consistently formatted (e.g., always bolded or always in capital letters). Now, let's zoom in on some tips for an effective resume and some common mistakes you should avoid making.