How To Choose a Resume Structure: Top Sections and Formats
Resume structure and order matter more than you think. The order of a resume dictates which sections recruiters see and digest first, which makes it crucial to get right. Depending on the role you’re applying for and your experience, the ideal structure varies – students need to prioritize education, while specialists may need to place skills first. This blog post tackles the best structure for your resume and how to lay it all out.
What is a resume structure?
A resume structure can refer to two different, but equally important things:
- How the sections on a resume are ordered, such as putting work experience before education
- How the details in the elements are ordered, such as listing your work experience chronologically
Both of these structures are important in a resume. The right structure ensures recruiters see the most relevant, crucial information first. This saves their time and increases your chances of securing an interview.
We’ll be covering both of these points in this article. First, we’ll cover which sections on a resume to include, then go into how to structure them and in which order to place them.
For more tips and best practices, browse our selection of resume articles.
The elements of a resume
Most resumes contain a standard set of elements, including a professional summary, work experience, education, and skills. This ensures you include all your necessary qualifications without bogging recruiters down with irrelevant details. If you add unique elements, you also risk confusing your potential employer.
To see examples of the main elements of a resume in action, check out our resume templates.
Let’s discuss the five main resume sections. Here’s a quick list:
- Contact details
- Professional summary or objective
- Work experience
No matter which role you’re applying for, it’s essential to have your contact details at the very top of your resume. This helps the hiring manager quickly contact you if they’re interested in your resume.
This section should contain your full name, phone number, email address, and LinkedIn profile.
Professional summary or objective
A resume objective is a two to three-sentence summary of where you are in your career and where you hope to go. It’s a quick way for a hiring manager to assess your qualifications and if you’d be a good fit for the company.
We recommend you tailor this section specifically for each role you apply for. This not only enables you to specify certain skills and achievements, but it also gives you a chance to address the organization directly (e.g. I’m excited to contribute to the team at Greener Grass).
This is the most important section for most professionals. Work experience and history are the main qualifications that recruiters look for, even above education. This means this section is essential and requires special attention to list all your most powerful achievements.
This section is second-most important to work experience, as many recruiters are looking for professionals with specific education and certifications.
It’s also important to remember that this section is the most important for students and recent graduates. These professionals may not have an extensive work history, so it’s best to showcase your degrees and classwork.
This element is a quick overview of your strongest skills, both hard and soft. On most resumes, it’s a simple list, but on a functional resume, skills are described in great detail.
For both types of resumes, we recommend you review the job description of the role you’re applying for and align your skills with the ones mentioned in the job ad.
“The right structure ensures recruiters see the most relevant, crucial information first. This saves their time and increases your chances of securing an interview.”
Does the order of resume sections matter? How to choose the order of a resume
The order of a resume dictates what the hiring manager sees first. Recruiters don’t have much time to spend on each candidate, so they need to be quick as they scan resumes. It may seem simple, but this means the structure determines your first impression.
For example, if your most recent, impressive work experience is towards the top of your resume, it can more easily catch the recruiter’s eye before they pass on to the next candidate.
But the highest priority elements of a resume change from professional to professional. Students searching for a job will want to put their education front and center, while people switching to a new industry will need to put their skills before their work history, as they won’t have any relevant experience yet.
Let’s take a look at the top three resume structures used today.
Chronological and reverse chronological structure
The most common resume structure is the chronological resume. In this layout, you arrange your work experience and education in reverse chronological order, meaning you list your most recent achievements first and then work backward.
Reverse chronological resumes enable the hiring manager to see your most relevant job roles and education first, which are the most valuable. For example, a project manager wants her potential employer to see her current senior role before they review her past work, which is a junior position with fewer responsibilities.
This also applies to education. You wouldn’t want your high school education to be more prominent than your Bachelor’s degree.
Generally, chronological resumes are always more beneficial to job seekers. However, there are a few exceptions. For instance, if your most recent role isn’t relevant to the job you’re applying for, it’s best to lead with the most relevant position in your history.
A functional resume structure prioritizes skills over work experience and education. It places all your professional achievements in skills or categories of skills. This order helps hiring managers focus on your technical and soft skills, which is highly beneficial for certain job seekers.
Here are the main people who benefit from using a functional resume structure:
- People who have specialized skills in a niche field
- People who have large work gaps in their history
- People who are switching careers from one industry to another
Let’s use the last point as an example. A professional moving from a sales role to a marketing role would want to showcase their communication, strategy, and problem-solving skills.
Essentially, any time you feel like your skills display your professional achievements better than job titles, it’s a good idea to consider a functional resume.
Functional resumes still follow the same best practices as a standard resume. For example, it’s a good idea to list quantifiable achievements under your skills, such as:
- Surpassed monthly sales quota by 20% consistently.
- Expanded client base by 15% through effective lead generation and networking.
Hybrid resume structure
Do you feel like you fall between these two common resume structures? The hybrid resume, also called the combination resume, may be for you.
In a hybrid resume, you begin by listing your skills and then put your chronological work history or education resume sections after them.
The hybrid order of a resume is particularly useful for professionals with niche skills who want to lead with their specific skills, but still provide their work experience. For example, a blockchain technology specialist may want hiring managers to see their modern blockchain expertise before anything else.
If you aren’t sure which structure is best for you, try looking at the resumes of other professionals in your field. Glancing through a selection of other resumes helps you get an idea of what to highlight and prioritize to best grab the recruiter’s attention.
Help Your Achievements Stand Out With the Right Resume Structure
Every job seeker wants the recruiter to see their top qualifications, so considering the order of a resume is essential. It’s important to fill out the sections on a resume, but it’s almost more important to ensure they’re in the ideal order.
Seasoned professionals should always start with work experience, but students searching for an internship should lead with their degrees and coursework. And if you’re one of the many people looking to jump into a new industry, you should consider a functional resume to highlight your transferable skills.
Ready to get started? Jump over to CVwizard’s Resume Builder to create a professional resume in minutes – in whichever format is best for you.