How to Format a Resume

Our editors explain the resume formatting process

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In our article "How to Write a Resume," we explained that the style of your resume will depend on your individual purpose. However, there are certain components that are the basis of any resume format. We have broken down the main resume format tips, which can be used in most resume styles.

Tips to a great resume format

Once you've read our resume formatting tips, take a look at our example resume to see exactly how each of these components can be formatted in a standard resume.

Header

For all styles, always list your contact information at the top of the first page. Begin with your full name. Use either the full spelling of a middle name or simply the initial (if you have one). Next, supply your current, complete mailing address, followed by your home and cell phone numbers, and/or a fax line, and your email address (optional). The amount of information you provide in this section will determine how readily an employer will be able to contact you.

Objective

This is an optional heading and is used primarily in the Functional and Combination styles of resume writing. It can be used in the other styles, but we recommend including it only if it adds important, new information. Here, in a maximum of two sentences, you will describe your goals and point out how these specific goals mesh with those described in the job advertisement. The aim here is to make your resume stand out from the competition.

Career highlights and qualifications

This is also an optional section, and it serves two purposes: First, it points out your key achievements, skills, and qualifications as they pertain to those described in the job advertisement. Second, it shows the employer you have made an extra effort to point out your particular accomplishments as they relate to that specific application.

Work experience

In this section, list your work history in chronological, reverse date order. For each position you have held, begin by stating the specific period you worked at a location (usually by month and year), and the position(s) or title(s) you held. Describe your key duties and responsibilities for that position in a point-form list.

Be careful when listing your key duties and responsibilities, as this can sometimes read like a job description. Instead, include action statements. For example, instead of saying, "Duties included providing customer service," try something like "Provided customer service through resolution of problems, and explanation of invoices and statements, resulting in greater customer satisfaction."

Education

In this portion of your resume, list the schools you have attended, the degrees or diplomas you have received, and any other honors or awards you may have earned. Again, these should be listed in reverse chronological order. Time periods at a given school can be listed by the span of years in attendance (i.e., 2003 – 2007), since the school year is generally accepted as running with the same semester schedule almost everywhere.

Skills

If you have not listed them already (in section 3, for example), list your skills at the end of your resume. This section should point out your talents that are specific to the job application, such as language or computer skills.

Hobbies or extracurricular activities

Job seekers should exercise caution when considering a section with this heading. Unless the hobbies or activities are directly related to the job for which you are applying, do not include them. This section may also be referred to as "Too Much Information," as often this type of personal information is irrelevant to the application. For example, if you are applying for a technical position, listing the fact that you enjoy reading fantasy or science fiction novels will not increase your odds of being hired as a technical person. There is nothing wrong with liking to read science fiction, but it is irrelevant to your ability to perform the advertised job.

As well, nothing that could be construed as specifically political, religious, or oriented to particular social groups should be included in a resume. As an exception, volunteer work for well-known and publically well-received organizations, such as the Red Cross or Habitat for Humanity, can be included. Again, however, use common sense and discretion here. Listing an affiliation with Greenpeace protesters, for example, may be seen as indicating a confrontational personality trait, which is not in your best interest for getting a job offer. 

Listing specific sports involvement—such as being the captain of your school's badminton team or football squad—is appropriate in most circumstances. This indicates teamwork, organization, and leadership qualities, all of which are commendable in a prospective employee.

Some final thoughts...

Regardless of what style you decide to use, remember to customize your resume to fit your specific needs. Promoting yourself as the ideal match to the job description is the ultimate goal of a good resume. For extra help writing, editing, or formatting your resume, submit your draft to one of our resume editors.

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