Today we're discussing some of the sections of a resume. These can be as varied as the people applying for the job, but there are many common sections to a resume that I'm going to touch on. Along the way, we'll also discuss the guidelines—remember, there are no rules—that you should consider when finalizing this aspect of your resume. So let's get to it!
Opening Paragraph / Professional Summary
Whether you use a free service like HHUSA, a template that you find online, or create your own from scratch, there’s a good chance that your first section after your header—name, email, LinkedIn, zip code, etc. (never put your full address)—will be what is often called the Professional Summary. This section is a brief overview of who you are and your experiences. This section is where folks will often talk about their time-in-service, and since you should only go back 10 years in your resume, this is where you can show that you have so much more experience to offer than what the resume may represent. Folks will often list things like the status of an existing security clearance (which may be enticing to an employer) or things like overall accomplishments, attributes, skills, and knowledge attained over the course of a career.
This is also often where we begin to throw in a little bit of “meat.” We’re going to discuss resume meat in a whole lot more detail next week in part IVd, but what I mean by meat is substantiation. Numbers like dollar amounts, statistics, percentages, time, or even something like recognition or accolades – anything that is quantifiable or qualifiable – are considered meat. Meat is critical to a resume and one of two real difference makers in getting you through to an interview, which again, we'll cover in parts IVd & IVe. However, you want to save the majority of your substantiation for your bullets, so don’t overdo it. In fact, in my talks with numerous hiring managers, this section is often read last. Hiring managers and even recruiters will often initially just quickly peruse the Professional Summary just because they know that there’s not a lot of meat. That doesn’t mean you should neglect this section, just don’t use up all of your accomplishments and accolades; save those for the actual Employment History section. Essentially, never steal meat from a bullet to put into this section.
The biggest piece of advice I would add is this: Any recruiter or hiring manager who’s been in their role more than a day knows that this section of the resume is a professional summary. I argue that it’s redundant to label it as such, which is what I often see. Instead, why not use the space to personalize the resume with some sort of title that sums up what you bring to the table, especially if it’s personalized to the job you’re applying for?
For instance, when I was applying to take over a new branch at Wells Fargo, the section above my summary said, “Financial Industry Leader and Professional Development Expert.” When I applied for an HR position (and is represented in my snapshot example above), it was titled “Human Resources Leader and Classification Professional.” In other words, the title should speak to who you are, what you are bringing to the table, and is directly relevant to the position for which you are was applying.
Quite often after the Professional Summary comes the Skills Section. Sometimes it’s labeled as such, sometimes it’s not, but like the Professional Summary, any recruiter or hiring manager who’s been in their role for a minute is usually going to know exactly what it is based on the way that it's formatted. So I argue, why waste space on your resume with a header? Just list them. The only time I've found a need for an actual Skills header is if the resume has certifications and/or education listed immediately following, as these sections sometimes have similar formatting. However, if the education, certs, etc. are listed lower in the resume, then the skills likely wouldn't need a header to be identifiable.
Now here are a few things I would encourage you to consider with your skills: First, list skills that relate to the job you’re applying for, and second, make sure that they are substantiated somewhere else on the resume. Like the Professional Summary, there’s no meat to back these skills up. However, nothing should ever be listed on your resume without some sort of substantiation in a bullet somewhere else. So if you list it as a skill, I highly encourage you to make sure something else in your resume speaks to why you consider it a skill, whether it's through education, training, or work experience. Lastly, the guideline is to list no more than 9 skills. However, a lot of recruiters and hiring managers I’ve come across have stated that 9 is a lot. They would rather see 6 solid skills that are backed up elsewhere on the resume and relevant to the job than 9 that are just out there willy-nilly. So: 9 is allowed, but 6 relevant and strong ones are better.
Employment History/Professional Experience
As I mentioned in Part IVa, I will be primarily discussing the chronological resume format. This section will be a little different if you’re employing the functional format, but again, the advice still applies to both. In my time as a hiring manager, and after years of reviewing resumes for transitioning Veterans, I have seen a lot of different things in this section. This is where we see a lot of jargon and acronym guideline violations, experiences go beyond 10 years, consistency guidelines aren't followed (i.e. some bullets end in periods, some don’t), or all kinds of irrelevant or unnecessary information gets listed.
Generally speaking, you will list your job title (the “civilian-ified” version, avoiding jargon), and maybe the location and timeframe. Then you can put in a brief description of the role, and then 3-5 bullets that show how awesome you are. Most people I’ve talked to say three is preferred, but many will not frown if your first role or two have upwards of five or six (but you likely can't list that many for all 10 years of experience without going into a third page, which is a no-no for civilian resumes). You can also use font sizing, bolding, and italics to make important elements stand out more (i.e. a job title that is a larger or different font than the company name). Next week I will discuss in much more depth the importance of bullet content/development, so for now, we’ll just leave it at that.
Education, Training, & Certifications
These sections typically follow your employment history. When these sections are more relevant than actual employment experience, I have seen them listed higher on a resume, which is totally acceptable. Again, I’ve seen all kinds of stuff listed in these areas. While this doesn’t necessarily have to be as directly related to the job that you’re applying for, I always encourage folks to only list things that are “tangible” or “measurable.”
What I mean by that, is I often see things in sections like this such as “Microsoft Office Suite” or “Word & PowerPoint,” with no real substantiation. In today’s day and age, everyone has some sort of experience with Microsoft Office, Adobe, and other PC/Mac programs. So what I encourage folks to do is find a way to make it stand out. Have you taken some sort of proficiency assessment on the various programs?
Last I knew, LinkedIn had assessments like this that you can find under the “Skills & endorsements” section of your profile page. In my case, my Associate’s Degree is in computer networking, so I had entire college classes dedicated to just Word, PowerPoint, etc. So my resume references my actual collegiate-level instruction on the programs. All that to say, just like everything else on your resume, if you can, you want to substantiate it.
As for your collegiate or military training/education/certifications, list ‘em! If they have an expiration date, make sure it’s current. If you have accolades from a school or course, such as Distinguished Honor Graduate, Commandant or Deans List, or one of those nifty Greek designations, list them. If you have a GPA that you’re proud of, throw it up there! As I’ve said before, your resume is a living, breathing extension and representation of you, so make sure it speaks to your awesomeness!
Lastly, I’ll cover some things that I’ve seen that aren’t quite as traditional. I’ve never told anyone that they need to outright take something out of their resume. Just like I’m doing in this series, I seek to merely educate you, and let you decide whether or not you want to heed my input.
Again, this is your resume, so if you want it to represent something about you that’s a little more unconventional, then you are absolutely free to do so. I’ve seen folks list their passions like Jui Jitsu or home projects/hobbies like woodworking. I’ve seen affiliations or associations listed like Lifetime VFW or American Legion Members. I've even seen a quotes section where various supervisors had provided praise of the Veteran throughout their career. I even had a hiring manager once tell me that an applicant put a giant pink unicorn in the margin of their resume!
At the end of the day, it’s your product to present, and as I tell folks, “You do you.” All I will say is just make sure it’s not preventing something more relevant from being on the resume because chances are if you implement the input on bullet content development that I'll be providing in next week’s article, you may not have a lot of room to spare for pink unicorns!
And that concludes this week’s topic for resume sections! Hopefully, you’ve found some use in this article. If you did, please feel free to share it with your fellow service members so that they can also hopefully glean some insight into the various aspects of transition. And of course, join me next week for Part IVd of the Employment chat as we talk about what I consider to be the single most important part of resume building: Bullet development!
Until next time, be safe, stay healthy, and remember that you’re not in this alone!
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