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What to Put on a Resume

Should you ensure you include specific details, and are there other topics that should be avoided at all costs?

What to Put on a Resume
Photo of Brenna Goyette

By: Brenna Goyette

Updated on10 min read

When you're in the job market, you need to make sure your resume enables you to stand out from the crowd. Considering the fact that 40% of hiring managers spend less than a minute looking at a resume, it seems a little unfair considering how much time and effort you put into its development.

It can't be understated just how important it is that your resume makes a lasting first impression. And because only 5% of applicants for a position end up getting an interview, you need to ensure you work as much relevant information into your resume as possible.

It would help if you also thought about the length of your resume. Research tells us that recruiters prefer your career history to be listed in no more than two pages, so you need to be organized to pack the necessary information into such a limited amount of space.

So, how do you know what to put on your resume to ensure your potential employer actually reads it? Should you ensure you include specific details, and are there other topics that should be avoided at all costs?

This guide will detail everything you need to know about structuring the perfect resume to ensure you’re in with a chance of securing an interview. Let’s dive in and take a look at what details must be on your resume.

1. Name and contact details

Your resume must include your name and contact details. As a minimum requirement, you should list the following:

  • Full name.
  • At least one contact number (cell phone is preferable). Include the dialing code if the position you’re applying for is international.
  • Email address. You need to ensure your email is professional and isn’t one you used when you were younger. For instance, create something like ‘yourfullname@gmail.com’ instead of going with ‘yournamelovesthepanthers@gmail.com.’
  • Details of your LinkedIn profile. This is an excellent way of offering recruiters the chance to find out more information about you.
  • A link to your website (if relevant to the job you’re applying for).

Your name and contact details should be at the very top of the page and should be easy for recruiters to access. Consider formatting them in a way that makes them standout.

2. Concise summary or statement of intent

On average, recruiters spend only six seconds looking at your resume. This might seem harsh to you, but they’re likely to receive hundreds or even thousands of applications for a limited number of positions.

It’s simply unfeasible for them to sit down and comprehensively read every resume they receive. But you can be sure that the first and perhaps only thing they look at will be your summary. If it doesn’t pique their interest, they’ll shred your resume and move on.

So how do you know what to include in the all-important resume summary or statement of intent? The first thing to realize is that they’re slightly different, and which you use depends on your experience.

Your summary introduces your experience and is suited to professionals, and your statement of intent introduces your short-term objectives and is a better choice for students applying for entry-level positions.

Whichever you opt for, you need to ensure that:

  • The statement is concise and to the point. Don’t waste space with waffle; use short, sharp sentences or even bullet points that tell recruiters why you’re an ideal candidate.
  • It is tailored to the company and job in question. Don’t use a generic statement for every position you apply for.
  • It can be read in a matter of seconds, as that’s likely all the time it will be given.

If you’re a professional, your summary might look something like this:

Highly skilled NGO program coordinator, with nine years’ experience working on HIV/AIDS field projects in Arusha, Tanzania.” 

As for a statement of intent, you could try something like:

“Recent MSc International Development graduate hoping to build upon voluntary experience gained in Tanzania with a field-based role in the health & development sector.” 

The statement of intent or the summary is not to tell recruiters what they can expect to read in the resume. Instead, it’s an extremely quick way for them to understand the type of person you are and what you’re looking for.

3. Relevant professional experience

Unless you’re a recent graduate, don’t put your education before your professional experience. Where you’ve worked is likely to be more relevant than where you studied to a potential employer.

It’s also essential that you only include relevant professional experiences. Recruiters don’t need to know that you worked in a bar in Mallorca for the summer season ten years ago if you’re applying for a project management role in international development.

As a minimum, you need to include the following:

  • Full name of the company.
  • The title of your position.
  • The exact month and year that your employment started and ended.

Underneath, you should include a couple of sentences or bullet points listing some key achievements that you’re proud of. Where possible, you should make sure that the achievements are relevant to the job you’re applying for.

Suppose you’re a recent graduate and you don’t necessarily have relevant work experience. In that case, you must highlight either voluntary or paid experiences in the past that have taught you valuable transferrable skills.

Things such as teamwork, willingness to learn, and specific tasks that carried significant responsibility, are all traits that are sought after by employers. It would help if you made it clear that whatever your experiences to date, you have undertaken work that has prepared you for the job that you’re applying for.

4. Core skills and professional certifications

Regardless of the job that you’re applying for, you will need to show recruiters that you are suitably skilled to complete the job in question.

While every role requires a specific skill set, and you will have to adapt your resume to ensure it is relevant, there are several skills that employers look for across the board, as they tell them about the kind of person you are.

Research from Zety tells us that the five most common soft skills listed in resumes are:

  1. Communication.
  2. Leadership.
  3. Time management.
  4. Problem-solving.
  5. Customer service.

As for hard skills, the same research tells us the following five are the most commonly listed:

  1. Microsoft office.
  2. Project management.
  3. Microsoft Excel.
  4. Python.
  5. Salesforce.

When you’re listing your soft skills, you should use relevant experiences that have helped shape that particular skill instead of simply detailing it without backing it up on your resume.

The same is true for your hard skills, but you might even be able to include recognized courses you’ve completed to boost your skills. Not only does this add credence to your claims, but it also shows that you’re willing to learn and invest in your personal development.

Professional certifications are also an excellent addition to any resume. Again, you should try and make sure they’re relevant, but it’s a good idea to show how some skills that you’ve learned are transferable.

With professional certifications, make sure you list the name of the certifiers, the date you received it, as well as the title of the award.

5. Education

Some people like to include their education further up their resume, but unless you’re a recent graduate, you will find that your employer isn’t necessarily as concerned with your education experience as you might think.

That’s not to say it isn’t important, but you can think of it more as a check box that recruiters look for rather than something that is going to impress them.

It’s necessary because lots of jobs require a degree or a specific qualification just to get your foot in the door, so you still need to list your education history.

Begin with your most recent education and go as far back as you think is necessary. If you’ve been a professional for 10+ years, it’s unlikely that recruiters will be interested in your high school grades.

The best way to know what to include in your education section is to see what is specified in the job requirements section of the advertisement. Providing you match or exceed what is expected, you will be fine. To properly list your education, you should do the following:

Introduce the name of the school or learning institution.

Write your subject of study, followed by your final grade/s.

List your study dates and whether your course was part or full-time.

If you completed a particular research project relevant to the job you’re applying for, consider writing the title. It could interest recruiters, and you might be asked about it during your interview.

It’s up to you whether you include membership of particular societies during your time at college or university. This might help if you’re a recent graduate but is less likely to be relevant if you’re already an industry professional.

6. Additional accomplishments and voluntary experience

The final section that you should include on your resume consists of any other additional accomplishments you think are relevant to the job you’re applying for.

If you’re not sure of what to include here, think of things you’ve done in life that are noteworthy and help recruiters understand you better. They should paint you in a good light and give them further insight into your character and skills.

This is the same when it comes to voluntary work. Think about experiences that helped shape your personality and provided you with the opportunity to learn essential skills that contribute to your ability to carry out a particular job.

In this section, it’s a good idea to steer away from personal interests and hobbies. Although some people like to include them, it really isn’t necessary.

The football team you support or the fact that you go open-water swimming in your free time doesn’t tell recruiters anything about your suitability for a job. These are things that might come up naturally in an interview when the employer is trying to get to know you better.

Top tips to make your resume standout

Now that we’ve introduced the crucial sections you must include on your resume, here are some general tips that will help your resume stand out:

  • Think about using a template that is appropriately formatted and looks professional.
  • Spell check and edit your resume before sending it out to recruiters. If any mistakes are noticed, your resume will be binned and won’t even be considered, regardless of the content.
  • Update your LinkedIn profile and ensure it matches the content on your resume. Recruiters are very likely to check your online profile to know more about you if your resume piques their interest.
  • Don’t lie on your resume. If you don’t have the desired skills or necessary work experience, don’t be tempted to make up that you do. It’s easy for recruiters to spot lies on resumes, and even if it gets you an interview, you will get found out later down the line.
  • Mention that references are available ‘on request.’ You don’t need to list the details of your professional or personal references until you are asked for them.
  • Update your resume every time you apply for a new position. If you recycle an old resume that is not updated and relevant to the company and position in question, you’re unlikely to be considered for the job.

Conclusion

Developing a concise, relevant resume is absolutely vital if you’re hoping to secure a new job in the near future. You should include all relevant information on two pages if possible and keep it easy to read and understand.

Ensuring it is tailored and relevant to the specific job you’re applying for is also important, so make sure you spend time editing and updating it before sending it out.

Hopefully, this guide has helped you understand what should be on your resume, and very best of luck in your future job search!