How to Use Resume Sections to Shape Your Professional Story

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Learn about the sections you should always include on your resume, and the supplemental ones that can help shape your unique professional narrative.

[Featured image] An abstract image showing a man's hands holding a resume while a person in a suit sits in front of him.

A resume outlines your professional story, so the sections you include should support and strengthen that narrative. While there are some resume sections you should always incorporate, such as work experience and skills, there may be other optional sections that only make sense if they align with your larger goals. 

A resume is a flexible document that can—and will—change over time. In this article, we’ll go over the various sections you should always include and the ones you may want to consider adding, depending on the story you hope to share with recruiters and hiring managers

Required resume sections 

You should make an effort to include the resume sections below to illustrate who you are, the professional experience you’ve acquired, and the skills you’ve developed to be successful in those roles.  

Header 

Your header appears at the top of the page and should include your:

  • Name

  • City and state

  • Phone number

  • Email address

  • Website or link to portfolio (if you have one)

While it used to be common to include your full address, that’s not as necessary now that most applications are online. You may be asked to share that information eventually, but it’s not expected on your resume. 

Many companies now rely on an applicant tracking system (ATS) to handle the volume of applications they receive. In that case, it’s a good idea to keep the formatting of your header relatively straightforward so an ATS can quickly scan and parse your information. Use a larger font for your name, but keep the other pieces of information to a standard 11- or 12-point font size. 

Resume header examples:

A resume header stating Abby Wilson; Software Engineer; Cleveland, Ohio; 1-555-555-5555; awilson@email.com

A resume header with the information: Eleanor Fitzergerland, graphic designer; Atlanta, Georgia; 555-555-5555; efitzgerald@email.com; portfolio.com

Experience

The way you detail your experience will depend on the type of resume you choose—chronological, functional, or combination. Let’s review the difference.  

  • Chronological resume: Lists the roles you’ve held, beginning with your most recent and working backward, as well as your primary responsibilities. Include your job title, company, and the dates you held each position.

  • Functional resume: Also called a skills-based resume, which groups your dominant skills and experience together. While you should still list your titles and companies, you won’t include dates. 

  • Combination resume: A mix of both chronological and functional that calls out the most relevant skills you’ve developed while also detailing your work experience. 

Learn more: How Far Back Should Your Resume Go?

Skills 

In a dedicated section, list your major technical skills or the software and apps you know how to use. A skills section can also be a prime opportunity to highlight any key workplace skills, such as leadership or communication, that you haven’t been able to feature in the bullet points detailing your experience. 

Learn more: How to Feature and Format Key Skills on Your Resume

Education 

In your education section, list the name of the degree you earned (Bachelor of Arts or Master of Science, for example), the name of the college you attended, and the year you graduated. 

When you’re a recent graduate, list your education before your experience. However, once you’ve been working for at least three years, list your experience first. If you’ve recently graduated, consider adding your GPA to your resume if it’s over 3.5.  

Learn more: How to List Education on a Resume

Optional resume sections 

There may be times when you want to include optional resume elements, like a summary or a hobbies section, to clarify who you are. You don’t always need to add the categories below to your resume, but figure out when they make sense to include and do so. 

Learn more: 84 Key Action Words to Enhance Your Resume

Resume objective

A resume objective appears between your header and your first section (be that work experience or education) and details your larger professional goals. It’s a one- to two-sentence summary stating what you want from your next position and why you’d be a strong fit for a new company. For that reason, it can be beneficial when you’ve recently graduated or are interested in changing careers. 

Resume summary 

A resume summary also appears between your header and your experience section. In one to two sentences, explain who you are professionally, the experience you’ve developed, and the impact you’ve had. There’s no strict rule about when to use a resume summary or not, but it can help provide a high-level overview of the theme of your career, so a recruiter quickly understands who you are before moving on to learn the specifics of your background. 

Certifications

It’s becoming more common—and popular—to learn new skills or advance the ones you already have through professional certificate programs, which are specialized education designed to focus on specific job-skills development. 

You can list your certificates in a “Certifications and Licenses” section, which typically appears after your education section. If you choose to include it, list out the following information: 

  • Title of certificate 

  • Awarding institution

  • Date earned

  • Date certificate expires (if applicable) 

  • Relevant skills 

Learn more: How to List Certifications on Your Resume: Guide + Examples

Hobbies

You can help recruiters and hiring managers understand more about who you are in the broader scheme of work by including a hobbies section. If you do, it should be the last section on your resume after you’ve covered everything else. You should also try to keep your hobbies section brief, given that you have limited space to convey your professional story. 

References on resume

Avoid listing references on your resume. A section of references takes up valuable real estate when you ideally want to spend that space explaining your skill set and experience. Instead, create a separate document that mirrors your resume’s font and formatting to list your references, and submit that item when a recruiter or hiring manager requests it. 

Learn more: Should You List References on a Resume?

How to organize different sections on a resume

The way you organize your resume will depend on the type of resume you choose (chronological, functional, or combination), the amount of experience you have, and your larger goals. Review the types of resumes available and decide which would be best for your specific needs. Remember that ATS systems more accurately parse chronological resumes when determining the amount of experience you’ve acquired. 

The length of your resume will depend on your experience. Keep your resume to one page when you have less than 10 years of experience, and expand it to two pages when you have more. 

Remember that a resume should reflect your unique story. Using both the required and optional sections, build a document that explains what you’ve done and your larger career aims. Let’s look at how three different applicants might organize their resume sections: 

Career changer resume sections

A career changer has a specific career outcome in mind and may have taken additional steps, such as completing a professional certificate, to help achieve it. They may also want to use a resume objective to explain the reason behind their career change, helping a recruiter make sense of their story. 

  • Header

  • Resume objective

  • Experience

  • Education

  • Certificates

  • Skills

Recent graduate resume sections

A new graduate will want to highlight their recent education before turning to the experience they’ve acquired, whether through a part-time job, internship, or some other type of work. They may also want to include an objective to explain what they’re seeking in their first major professional role. 

  • Header

  • Resume objective

  • Education 

  • Experience

  • Skills

  • Hobbies

Standard applicant resume sections

A standard applicant isn’t looking to change careers or explain their career goals, and they’ve likely worked for at least a few years. They don’t need to highlight their education near the top of their resume. Instead, they’re committed to advancing in their chosen career path. 

  • Header

  • Resume summary

  • Experience

  • Education

  • Skills 

  • Hobbies

Explore further 

Refine your resume-writing skills with the University of Maryland’s course Writing Winning Resumes and Cover Letters on Coursera. Enroll for free to learn about the real purpose of a resume and how to cut through the candidates and grab a recruiter’s attention. 

You can also add to your resume and develop specific job skills with a Professional Certificate from leaders such as Google, Meta, IBM, Salesforce, and more on Coursera. Learn about in-demand areas like project management, UX design, data science, marketing analytics, and sales

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