What is a Resume? Definition, Structure, Purpose, Types & Meaning

What is a Resume? Definition, Structure, Purpose, Types & Meaning

You want to get a job and that’s just great! But as you start thinking about it, hundreds of questions pop up in your head.

“How do I write my resume?”, “What is a resume”, “What is a cover letter” and even more and more hanging there. Don’t worry, we are here to help you and get you good and ready to start your journey.

We are going to cover some basic topics like:

  • What is a resume
  • Resume format and layout

As well as some more advanced ones like:

  • Resume structure
  • Design and formatting tips
  • Dos and Don'ts
  • Cover letter

This article is mainly for the basics, so if you want more advanced tips and tricks, you can also learn how to Make Your Resume Stand Out.

But if you are searching for the basics only, that’s the right place!

So let’s dive in.

What is a resume?

The resume is your absolute must if you are looking for a job.

Your resume defines who you are in the eyes of your potential employer and is the most important document in your job application, followed by the cover letter.

But probably you are asking yourself: what is a resume?

In simple words: A resume is a formal document that a job applicant creates to itemize their qualifications for a position. It usually includes work experience, education, skills and any other relevant information you want to share with your future employer.

We need to note the fact that a resume is different from a curriculum vitae (CV).

The CV shows your complete work experience, education, skill set, and anything else you have done, no matter the length of the document, while the resume’s goal is to present anything relevant in a clear and easy-to-read format.

Unlike a CV, a resume should be modified for each and every job position, so that it would be as relevant as possible, and it should not exceed 1-2 pages.

The goal of your resume is to quickly and effectively show your potential employer why you are uniquely qualified for their job opening, based on your relevant experience and skills.

Preparation before writing a resume

As we said earlier, a resume should be kept short and to the point, it should only include relevant information for the job position.

The easiest way to perfect your resume writing is to get started with some preparation.

What you need to do is get a list of:

  • Accomplishments from previous jobs
  • Your skill set - soft, hard and technical skills
  • Details about your previous jobs
  • Details about your education
  • Certifications, awards and honors
  • Anything else that you might want to include in your resume at one point

Don’t worry about the writing, just focus on the relevance to the job position of everything you write down.

Once you are done, step away. Give it a few hours.

And when you are well rested again, come back to it with fresh eyes and perfect your writing.

Format and Layout

Now you have everything you might want to include in your future resumes, all in one place, and that’s great!

But there is just one more thing to do before we start filling each section with information.

And that’s a pretty important step - choosing the format and sticking to a good layout.

Don’t worry, we got you covered, and we will go through the 3 main resume formats.

Reverse chronological resume format

A reverse chronological resume format is the most popular one out there.

It has the great advantage of being suitable for pretty much every job position.

This format is mostly career-oriented - it lists your work history in order, as the most recent position would be at the top.

It is the ideal format for people with lots of work experience, relevant to the job position they are applying for.

Check out some of our great examples - Reverse Chronological Resume.

But if you don’t feel confident that your work experience is relevant enough, don’t worry, the next resume format would be perfect for you.

Functional/skills-based resume format

As opposed to the reverse chronological resume, the functional resume format is mainly focused on your skill set.

It is the perfect choice for you if you are looking for your first job or career change, or if you are trying to steer away the employer’s focus from a gap in your employment history.

The great thing about the functional resume format is that it groups your skills in categories and presents them in a great and easy-to-read format.

Check out some examples to form a better idea of what the function resume format is - Functional Resume.

You are not convinced that this is your format either? We have one last format for you and it is guaranteed to work!

Hybrid resume format

As its name shows, this resume format combines all the best features of the reverse chronological and the functional resume.

What it includes is both a reverse chronological work history section, and a highly detailed skill section.

It’s mostly used for job positions that require expertise in a variety of fields, and you want to show that you are the right person for the job.

Get a better understanding of the combination resume format with these examples - Hybrid Resume.

Layout

Great, you picked your resume format, now let’s focus on one last thing - the layout.

There are a few important points that you need to follow in order to do this part right.

First, keep it short and to the point. One page is what you need. Don’t go for 2 pages, unless you are absolutely sure that it would add some significant value.

Pick the right font and font size:

  • Your font should stand out, but not too much, so you can go for Ubuntu, Roboto and Overpass, but don’t ever try Comic Sans.
  • Keep your text between 11 and 12pt, so that it would be easy to read
  • Pick a heading type (H1, H2…) and stick with it for all sections. Use between 14 and 16pt so that titles would stand out a little more

To ensure that your resume would look good, make sure you have sufficient white space between sections and appropriate margins (at least 0.7 inches)

And last, but not least - save your resume as PDF. It’s going to keep your formatting as it is, no matter what, as opposed to alternatives like Word.

Resume Templates

We know that it might be intimidating to process all that information.

But don’t worry, we got you covered.

There are a few main templates that you can stick to, according to the type of resume you are trying to achieve.

The first, and most multifunctional format, is the Basic. You can use it on any occasion, but it is not specifically concentrated on any section, so if you want to focus on something more, keep reading, we’ve got more for you.

If you just graduated from college and don’t have much experience, you might want to focus more on your education and skills, rather than anything else, so you would want to use the College Resume Template.

We mentioned earlier the functional resume format, we have some examples for you to check out: Function Resume Template.

The other resume templates you can check out, according to your goal are:

Check them all and win the resume game.

Resume Structure

Okay, we are doing great so far!

Let’s dive into all the different sections your resume can have.

Personal Details and Contact Information

Believe it or not, this is the most critical section of your resume.

No matter how well you did everything, how skilled and experienced you are, the HR won’t ever call you in for an interview if you misspelled your phone number.

This section should be on the top of your resume and must include your name, email and phone number. The mailing address is mandatory.

Your name should be highly visible with bolder or larger font than the rest of the document.

As you want to look professional in the eyes of your potential employer, make sure your email address sounds professional. Consider creating a new email account if you currently use an outdated email service.

You can also include a portfolio if you are applying for creative positions, or a LinkedIn profile, but make sure you make it a strong one.

If you feel like more tips on the topic would be of use, check out Contact Information on Resume.

And last, as we stated in the beginning of this section - make sure your contact information is correct. You should double-check it, and even triple-check it and make sure everything is correct and up-to-date.

Resume Introduction

This is a very small part of your overall resume, but it is an extremely important one.

As it is one of the first things a hiring manager would see when looking at your resume, you need to perfect it.

What it actually is, is a short statement in two or three sentences. It’s a description of who you are as a candidate.

A well-written introduction can grab the hiring manager’s attention and multiply your chances of getting the job you applied for.

It’s not a deal-breaker if you skip this section and decide you don’t need it, but that short statement on top of your resume can really be key for getting called for an interview.

Work Experience and Achievements

The work experience is the heart of your resume.

The first thing the hiring manager would look for are the job titles and the companies you have worked for. Make sure this information is easy to find.

The basics of this section should include:

  • Job position
  • Company
  • Location of the Company
  • Dates of employment

But no matter how impressive your work experience, compressed in these 4 points, it might not be good enough for the employer.

Employers don’t want only basic information, they are much more interested in the impact you had on the companies you previously worked for.

Results matter and numbers are important.

No matter what were your previous positions, there is always some metric that can show your potential employer you had a significant impact.

Perfect this section by checking out - Work Experience Section.

Education Section

Having a clear education section is essential for your resume, especially if your work experience is limited, or you have just graduated.

If you don’t have much work experience, but your track record in school is good, consider making your education section highly-detailed and include all your education-related accomplishments.

On the contrary, if you have a few years of work experience, your education section should shrink down to the basics.

In most cases, listing the school name, the attendance years and your degree would be enough.

If you want to go deeper in this section’s topic, check out - Education Section.

Skills

Before starting this section, we need to define the difference between the two main types of skills - soft and hard.

Hard Skills

Using simple words, a hard skill is one that can be learned, taught, or measured and is not dependent on your industry.

Examples of such skills are any language or computer skills, or ability to operate heavy machinery.

Soft Skills

A soft skill is a personality trait that is hard to measure but that makes you great at your job.

Examples of such skills are being a team player, being driven to succeed, or having a great attitude.

Now that we have defined both types of skills, it’s pretty much up to you to decide which ones to include on your resume.

The important thing is to list them clearly, so it would be easy for the hiring manager to see them and note them.

If they see right away the skills that they seek, they are much more likely to take your resume under consideration.

As this section is very important, but somewhat complex, we recommend you look into it a little more - Skills Section.

Additional Sections

If you have gone this far, you know all the basics you need for your resume.

There are a few more sections that you can add to your resume, if you think they would contribute in some way, or if you consider your resume still incomplete.

Certifications, Awards, & Honors

This section can potentially be very important, but you really need to show something impressive, if you decide to go for it.

If your potential employer needs to see some specific certifications, make sure you know which ones to include in your resume before you send it, because leaving some out could potentially ruin your application by making you seem unqualified.

In any other case, if you feel like some certification, award or honor would be relevant in your resume, feel free to include it.

If you would like to read a little more on the topic - Certifications on Resume.

And feel free to add any other section that you feel would help your hiring process.

Here are a few sections that you can consider:

Tailor Your Information to the Job Ad

So far, so good.

Now we need to remember once again that the resume’s purpose is to be fitted for a specific job position.

So don’t forget to make it so, don’t send out the same resume for a variety of different positions, because it just won’t work.

The most important thing to do here is to adjust the keywords, especially in your skills section.

Show the employer that the skill set you have is perfectly fitted to the company’s needs.

You should also consider modifying your work experience and education sections, depending on the job requirements.

But all in all - focus on the keywords for each and every job position you are applying for.

Cover Letter

Okay, you seem to be all done with your resume.

So you might be asking yourself - I have a great resume, do I need a cover letter?

The answer is always - yes, if you have the option.

Cover letters may be crucial in the hiring process because they let you provide context for your resume.

Furthermore, they let you show off your personality and your enthusiasm for the job you are applying for.

A well-written cover letter can really boost your application and be the game-changer in your hiring project, so don’t hesitate to learn How to Tell a Story in a Cover Letter.

Proofread

We reached the end of our topic, but don’t relax just yet, because this is an important one.

Typos and grammatical errors are the most common mistakes found in resumes.

And quite often they are a dealbreaker for the employer.

So don’t skip out on proofreading and do it right.

Here are some tips to be sure your resume would be mistake-free:

  • Try reading your resume backwards (it can help you identify errors by presenting the words in a new order)
  • Ask trusted friends, colleagues, professors and family members if they can review your resume (third-party opinions can help reveal new information you might have overlooked)
  • Try reading the resume a few times, but at different times of the day (it would clear up your mind and help you identify mistakes, you didn’t see before)

And, of course, don’t forget the layout recommendations we gave you before - check your font and font sizes.

One final thing - if your resume is more than one page, review it once again and try to shorten it to one page.

Takeaways: What is a resume?

We are all done.

Now you know the difference between a Resume and a CV.

You also learned the basics of writing your Resume and modifying it according to the job position.

You have in your knowledge the most important dos and don'ts for writing a Resume, and you’ve got a great variety of links to deepen your knowledge for every step of the writing process.