Writing an awesome resume is hard! Everyone knows that a blank page is the hardest place to start. So, let’s go over some ways to lay out and organize your resume so that plugging in the relevant information will be much easier. The appearance of your resume will be largely dictated by its layout. The resume's layout will be determined by the placement and style of its sections and headers. There's a lot of confusion about how a resume's headers should look. In this blog post, we are going to discuss the perfect layout for your resume headers and the corresponding sections.
Why are proper resume headers so important?
Applicant tracking systems (ATS) and hiring managers depend heavily on your resume layout to find the information that is relevant to them, so an easy-to-read layout will greatly improve your chances of securing an interview.
In short, the more intuitively you organize your resume, the easier it is to decipher your information and land you that interview.
There are certain important things to keep in mind when drafting your resume; namely, deciding where to put information and how to label it.
When hiring managers have just a few seconds to glance over your resume, it’s important that you organize it efficiently so that they can easily find the most important information.
The way you organize the information on your resume is almost as important as the resume itself.
Again, there are a few reasons for the supreme importance of resume organization:
Your resume will likely have to make it through the filters of an applicant tracking system.
If your information is not labeled correctly, the computer will simply be unable to read it.
Applicant tracking systems scan through your information using page markers like headers. If you have your resume headers correctly formatted and labeled, the ATS will have no problem parsing your information correctly and passing the relevant information on to the employer.
If your resume is not labeled correctly, the applicant tracking system will have a hard time finding where your relevant information is. It will present the employer with misinformation or irrelevant information--or just reject your resume altogether.
In short, don't confuse the machine! A well-organized resume will make it easy for the computer to determine your objectives and, in turn, make it more likely that you land the interview.
Your resume will be scanned by a hiring manager, and only for a few seconds.
Most hiring managers are tasked with going through dozens, sometimes hundreds, of resumes in a short period of time. Because of this high demand, most hiring managers spend an average of about six seconds scanning each resume. Of course, six seconds is not even close to enough time to actually read the whole resume. So, how can we guide the eyes of the employer to the information that we absolutely want them to see? Clear and concise headers of course!
Let’s expand on the role of the hiring manager and look more in-depth at how hiring managers spend these precious six seconds analyzing each resume.
Ladders analyzed the tendencies of 30 recruiters over a 10 week period. The results speak volumes about what the most important aspects of a successful resume are.
(You can check out the full report here )
In short, here is what Ladders found:
Of those six seconds that an average hiring manager spends looking at each resume, 80% of the time was spent looking at the following data points:
Current position / start-end dates
Previous position / start-end dates
Example of common human resume scan process
The following is from the study done by Ladders. It shows where the hiring managers focused their attention while reading a resume:
When recruiters could not immediately locate this information, they discarded the resume.
This study makes it clear that it’s incredibly important to have clearly labeled sections and organized information. It should take less than a second for a hiring manager to locate any of the above information. If the information can't be immediately located, it may as well not be there.
Now that we've established why concise resume organization is essential to success, let’s dive into the details of how you can effectively use resume headers to arrange your resume.
What Sections, Headers and Categories to Include on a Resume
First, determine which information is likely to be most important to the employer. Then, clearly label that information and format it in an easy-to-read manner. Here are the sections you should include on a resume.
Overall Resume Header
Let’s start with the first of the resume headers, the header for your entire resume. This header is going to be more robust than the others as it serves as an overall introduction to the resume and provides some basic personal information about you.
The essentials that you absolutely must include in your header are:
Sounds obvious, but don't forget it! Make sure your name stands out. Put it in bold or a larger font than the rest of your resume and place it at the top of the page. This is the single most important item on your resume, so it should take less than a second to find your name on your resume.
Chances are, this is how the employer will reach you. Make sure you use a professional email address. The same principle applies here: make sure that your email address can be located in less than a second when glancing at your resume.
The phone is the second most popular means of communication for hiring managers. As with the other two essentials, make it super obvious and easy to locate.
The following are optional but really helpful if you've spent time optimizing them:
Depending on the industry you’re going into, a personal website can give you a huge leg up on the competition. For example, an artist or graphic designer can use a personal website to demonstrate their talent and past work. Similarly, a web developer or anyone else who has a tangible portfolio of work can leverage a website to show off their work.
Most hiring managers will check your LinkedIn profile so be sure to include it in your resume. You can check out our post on how to include a LinkedIn URL on a resume.
2. The Summary
Including a professional summary will help you catch the attention of a hiring manager. You don't need to label it as long as you stick to paragraph form. See the above example for a good idea on how to format the resume summary.
3. Core Competencies
A core competencies section is very useful for both getting past an ATS and capturing the attention of a hiring manager. It allows you to list relevant skills and keyword-optimize your resume. For more information, read our post on choosing the right core competencies for your resume.
4. Work Experience
The work experience section should take up the bulk of your resume. If you want to break it down into smaller, more specific sections, you can separate an “Industry Experience” and a “Freelance Experience” section, or a "Relevant Experience" and "Additional Experience" headers.
If you have the space, you can even include unrelated experiences, as you never know what unique background an employer may be looking for.
This is another important category that is often part of the 6 second scan. A simple, one-word header like “Education” is perfect. You can also be more specific and divide it further into sections like “Certifications” and “Related Course Projects."
Having a technical skills section is optional if your industry doesn't require a lot of technical or hard skills--but we don't recommend skipping any valuable tech skills you know. Instead, include the skills in your core competencies section.
However, if you’re applying in an industry where specific “hard” skills are valued, it is helpful to further divide your skills into multiple sections. For example, you can have a “Computer Skills”, “Languages” or “Tech Skills” section to directly address the requirements for qualification mentioned in the job listing.
For more information on drafting the perfect skills section, check out our blog post that covers what skills you should put on your resume.
7. Optional Sections
These sections are not necessary unless you have something that really stands out or is highly relevant. Some of these can even be combined with existing sections. For example, you can combine certifications or affiliations with education into one section.
Here are some other possible sections to include on a resume:
How to style your resume headers
Make them stand out from the rest of the text, but don't go over the top.
Larger and/or bolder font will do the trick. You've done a good job if it’s clear at first glance where the headers are located.
Make the headers short but not too vague. For example, instead of “History” put “Work History” BUT don't put “My Work History." As long as you’re specific without more than two words, you will be fine.
Don't get too creative with these section headers, either. They're signposts to identify how you've organized your resume, not an opportunity to show how creative you are.
The following is a great example of a perfect use of resume headers by the professional writers here at ZipJob:
The headers on your resume are a guide for the hiring manager and applicant tracking systems to finding your information. Labeling and placing resume headers correctly is essential to sending the message you want to send and standing out from the crowd. With the correct layout, your resume is one step closer to landing you that ever-elusive interview.
Jeffrey is one of ZipJob's co-founders and has been a blog contributor since 2016.