written on 12/08/2019

The General Structure of a Resume

Resumes consist of different sections. These sections can include different topics but the most common are Personal Information, Education, Experience and Projects, Volunteering, Skills, and Interests. In most of the cases, Skills and Interests are put together in the same category. Listing interests is quite a controversial topic and I would not recommend to include the interests when the company does not seem too interested in them.

These sections are normally listed horizontally below each other. Each section has some kind of heading and then the content. The content can be structured quite differently but as I have stated in previous article of this series the content is the important bit of these sections. Some designs also propose vertically split resumes but I have found these resumes harder to read because the human is used to read from top to bottom. This also makes it harder for recruiters and hiring managers to read the resume, so please avoid the vertically split layout in resumes.

Make your resume one page

As you will learn in the next blog article of this series "The 10 Second Rule for resumes", resumes should be short. The single reason for this is that hiring managers and recruiters look around 10 seconds on your resume and you need to catch their eyes. Having multiple pages does not work towards this rule. It could be the case, that your biggest achievements are listed on the second or third page of your resume but the recruiter or hiring manager will never look at this since they just look at the first page and decide to reject or go forward with another candidate.

Another reason for a one-page resume is that you will be forced to write good content. The content should be short and concise but attract people. It forces you basically to write good content. The specific content will be discussed in the next chapters but it is better to keep yourself short when you have a lot of content anyway. If you do not have a lot of content, you can still try to formulate your sentences shortly. It will be good for you because for most of your statements about work or personal projects you should use the STAR methodology. It consists of the steps Situation, task, action, result and should be applied throughout most of your resume. Also making these short statements will showcase your ability to communicate well and efficient. It is an important skill as a software engineer. Software engineers who can communicate well with product owners, stakeholders, and other software engineers are more successful in their careers. They can communicate targets more clear and are better at creating plans for possible outcomes. A skill which is important as problem-solver what software engineers are.

The one-page resume will also enforce that you will have a clear and condense design. In most of the cases, the designs of resumes are quite cluttered. You will not use a lot of whitespaces if you have a lot of content and that's good since you will be still on one page. It will make your resume also a lot more organized.

The order of your resume sections is important

People tend to read from top to bottom and getting the hiring manager or the recruiter interested in your resume is the hardest part of writing it. The order of your sections will matter actually. If you have work experience, I always recommend using the following structure.

  1. The header with personal information
  2. Work Experience
  3. Projects
  4. Education
  5. Technical Skills

The work experience is what most hiring managers and recruiters are looking for. The rest of the sections can be structured as you like. Normally it should show your strengths first. If you have a well-known project on GitHub or contributed extensively to Open Source you could put projects above education like in the list before. But if you studied at a well-known university it might be also good to put the education in front of the work experience.

If you have no work experience and no internships structuring your resume will be a lot harder. You should instead first work on bringing up quality projects with good READMEs on GitHub and solving real problems. These projects are the most worthful. For example, I created a case converter online tool which you can find here. It solves a problem and does not look too bad. But again, do not feel pressured with your projects, it will just give you an advantage to other applicants. I would prefer the following order if you do not have relevant work experience.

  1. The header with personal information
  2. Projects
  3. Education
  4. Technical Skills

If your education is really good, you could also swap the Projects section with the Education section. By having a good education I mean that you participated in some key research or went to a prestigious university.

Technical skills I would always list as the last skill and do not put a lot of emphasis on it. Most often the skills section is just getting parsed by an ATS (Application tracking system) and that is it. To have a parsable resume, the most important fact is that the text content of your resume is copyable. To check this, you can open the final resume in Google Chrome and see if you can mark the text in the PDF and copy it into some text editor. If this is possible, it is likely your resume can be parsed by the Application tracking systems.

Consistency in structure

An important factor in your resume is consistency in structure. Consistency should be seen throughout your resume. It is important for fonts, font-sizes colors, indentation, and many more factors. The human likes to see the same thing over and over again. When it comes to resumes the first impression normally counts. When this first impression is good the hiring manager or recruiter will look for similar trends in other topics of the same quality. If the quality will be less the person will have a worse image of you which will affect you negatively. So you should thrive for the same high quality throughout the complete resume.

Consistency begins in design first. What helped me as a non-designer with creating resumes in the first place is to design the resume without colors first. Just different types of grey. You should create a simple color palette of the maximum of three different grey tones first. The same goes for fonts. The first important part about font headings is that you should have two different fonts in general. Usually, fonts are designed for a specific use case. Just some are designed for legibility. In general, the rule is that fonts designed for headlines have a shorter height of lowercase letters and fonts for legibility have a bigger height. For font pairings, I can recommend the sites listed in the font chapters later. One important part here is to choose the right font for the company you apply to. Fonts can trigger different emotions in people. Modern playful fonts might attract startups more but established old companies might be looking for a classical font. This will be elaborated in detail in the chapter WIP - Target your resume to the role. The different sizes of fonts are also important. In general, I recommend choosing three sizes for fonts. All of them are defined in px and should not change a lot. Keep it consistent. This is also true for fonts, lists and other small parts like indentation of lists and descriptions. Another small design tip is to start early with the least whitespace as possible between elements. Whitespace can always be increased later but at a later stage of the resume creation process, it is harder to remove whitespace than adding more whitespace.

One thing to remember is that your resume's content is more important than the design of the resume in the first place as long as you stay below one site.

Another part that should stay consistent is the tone of your achievements. Do not change sentence structures a lot and try to keep the sentences short but precise. As mentioned earlier, a resume should follow the STAR methodology to achieve the highest success rates. But once you are applying the STAR methodology, the resume should continue with it.

Different parts of the resume should also look similar because design and content should be structured the same way. The work experience and project section are mostly the same. As a work experience you might have:

  • Title of position
  • Tenure length
  • Company
  • A list of achievements during this job

In the project section, you will also have a list of projects. They are similar to the Work Experience section and should be similar in the form of design and content. The content could consist of:

  • Title of project
  • Time spent on the project as a timeline or similar
  • The subtitle of short sub-headline describing the project
  • Technical details of the project as a list

As we see, the project items and work experience items have more or less the same structure and could use the same design as the same kind of tone during the list descriptions.

Fonts: colorsandfonts

Probably the best web page to discover good font pairings. You can find it here. It provides also a lot of other design resources like color schemas, color gradients and a lot of other resources. Their font pairings are really good though.

Fonts: fontpairings.bypeople

This tool also provides a lot of resources for good font pairings. You can find the tool here. It is more extensive when it comes to font pairing offers but in general, it seems less impressive.

Vertically splitting resumes

In my career, I saw a lot of resumes where the layout is split vertically. Most of these resumes have two columns. Normally these resumes are structured in a way that there are two columns, one main column where the content like work experience, projects and so on go and one smaller column where meta information like your name and skills are listed. This is in particular bad if a hiring manager is interested in your work experience. Most hiring managers or recruiters will look at your work experience and want to know if you have worked at a big company. If so, make it apparent and clear that you worked at some bigger company but taking space with another column might be not ideal because space will be wasted for not wanted information. The hiring manager or recruiter will first look at your work experience rather than your skills or personal information because they want to know if you have experience and can contribute to reaching the company's goals. These goals are mostly focused on revenue or profit and personal information or skills listed in a skill section do not show how you can contribute to this. They are an indicator but no convincing argument.

No photo

A lot of resumes have a photo attached. Especially in Europe, it is common to attach photos to the resume. In most cases, this is unnecessary and is a disadvantage. Discrimination of applicants is officially illegal but rejecting someone because of a bad feeling caused by looks can happen without being seen publically. A resume should not include a picture because of this reason in most cases.

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