Get your resume to the top of the YES pile with these 5 must-haves

Are you on the lookout for your next job? Whether you're looking for your first role out of college, stepping up the career ladder, or transitioning to a new sector, you'll need to be prepared with a winning resume – but do you know what things to include in a resume to make that progress happen? 

In this article, we'll explore some good things to put on a resume about yourself and also point out some pitfalls to avoid when you're putting together this most important job search document. There's also a checklist at the end so you can have confidence that your resume hits the mark. 

What are the top things to include in a resume?

Before we go any further, let's just clarify the point of your resume. When it comes down to the long and the short of it, your resume simply needs to convince a hiring manager to progress your application to the interview stage. That means you need to present the information they need clearly and concisely, in a way that makes your candidature a prospect too difficult to ignore. Whew, that's a tall order! 

Luckily, we have some insider tips on the most important things to include in a resume based on years of experience writing compelling resumes and, maybe more importantly, improving resumes that just don't hit the mark. 

Our top five things to include are:

  1. Best practice section headings 

  2. Quantifiable achievements

  3. Keywords

  4. Dynamic verbs

  5. Bonus information 

Read on to find out how to incorporate these key elements…

1. Best practice section headings 

What does a perfect resume consist of? There is certain information that recruiters and hiring managers expect to see on a perfect resume. You can make their job easier for them (and earn yourself a gold star) by clearly signposting where they can find this information. Do this by creating clear, stand-out headings for each section. 

To write a best-practice resume, you'll need the following headings:

Header and contact details

We're going back to basics here, but with so much detail to fit onto a resume, it's often the basics that get overlooked. Head your document with your name, followed by either your professional title or a headline. This immediately shows your reader, at a glance, where you want to go next in your career. Follow that with your contact details – your location, cell phone number, and email address at a minimum. You can also consider adding your LinkedIn URL and a link to your online portfolio if you have one. 

Profile or Summary

Immediately under your header and contact details, a recruiter or hiring manager will expect a summary of what you can offer. This is so much more than just a dry chronology of your career! You need to explain, in a few short paragraphs, what you do, what you specialize in, and how you can contribute to their company. This is possibly the hardest part of the resume to write, as you only have four or five lines at most to make an impact, make yourself memorable, and convince your reader to digest the rest of your resume. 

Key Skills 

Next up, you'll need to include a Key Skills or Core Competencies header. A common mistake here is to write long, narrative sentences explaining where your skills lie. A far better technique is to simply list 10-12 keywords that show your suitability for the role. More on keywords later!

For now, let's concentrate on what sort of skills to include here. Usually, this section will focus on job-specific hard skills – examples include programming, business development, auditing, and event management. Soft skills, such as communication, teamwork, and time management, can be included here in moderation, but unless you're looking for entry-level roles, the focus should be on hard skills, as they are key to your ability to do the role. 

Expert tip: Think of this section as an at-a-glance summary that will enable a hiring manager to quickly check that you meet the main requirements and expectations of the role. 

Professional Experience

For most people, the Professional Experience section will form the bulk of the resume. For every role you've held in the last 10 years or so, you'll need to include the job title, employer name, location, and dates of employment in a subheading. Following this, you'll need to briefly summarize the remit of the role and add a bulleted list of achievements. 

Remember that there's no need to include every detail of every role. The key to writing a persuasive and engaging Professional Experience section is to be selective with the information you include. A quick look at some pertinent job adverts will ensure you can cover the key points without drifting into irrelevant and excessive detail. 

Education and Professional Development

The final must-have section of your resume is the Education section. List your qualifications in reverse chronological order, giving the level, subject, awarding institution, and date of completion. If you've completed any certificates, courses, or training since leaving formal education, you can either include them in the Education section or create a separate Professional Development section. 

The level of detail you include in this section will depend on how much professional experience you have behind you. Seasoned executives will only include a brief summary, whereas recent graduates will include more detail – such as grades, honors, modules, and projects to show what they're capable of. 

2. Quantifiable achievements

Above, we mentioned that every role in your Professional Experience section should include a bulleted list of achievements. Achievements prove the impact you can have on a business and set your document apart from every other resume. No one else will have the same list of achievements as you, even if you have identical roles, which is why achievements are one of the most important things to include in a resume. 

What do we mean by achievements, though? You may feel really proud of learning to use a new IT system that was introduced – but that doesn't count. Sure, it may be an achievement for you personally, but we're actually talking about achievements that have resulted in a tangible benefit for the company. 

As you can see, this section is headed “Quantifiable Achievements” – the word “quantifiable” is critical here. If you can quantify the impact you've had on a company, you're not just claiming that you have a certain skill – you're proving it beyond a doubt. 

For example, it's easy enough for a teacher to say that they improved exam results, but it's far more persuasive and believable if they can say they've increased pass rates from 50% to 75%. Aim to quantify wherever possible to take your resume to the next level. 

3. Keywords

Nowadays, keywords are one of the most vital things to include in a resume. What exactly do we mean by keywords, though? 

Imagine you're a recruiter with 100 resumes in your database. Will you read through each resume every time a new vacancy arises, or will you conduct a search of your database to retrieve the ones most relevant to the role in hand? While many recruiters will read every resume submitted for a particular position, there are many more who will find suitable candidates by running keyword searches on their existing database. 

Your job, then, is to make it easy for them to find your resume. The easiest way to do this is to make sure your resume is optimized with the keywords they're likely to be looking for. If you're a Project Manager, for example, you'll probably want to include keywords such as “Project Management,” “Project Planning,” and “Risk Mitigation” on your resume. 

Luckily, you're not on your own with this task. There are several ways that you can identify relevant keywords. The best way is to gather some job descriptions for roles you're interested in and pick out keywords from the “Responsibilities” and “Required Skills / Qualifications” sections. If you're feeling flash, you could even create a word cloud to easily spot which skills are most in-demand – otherwise, a simple visual analysis with a highlighter pen will do the job.

Another easy way to find keywords is to use LinkedIn. Try to identify some people who have the type of job you're aiming for. Is their profile compelling? Does it convey their competency? If so, make notes on the kind of skills and experience that they include. You can use this information to boost your own profile and resume – but never copy directly. Use their profiles as inspiration when you're looking at your own career and see whether you can identify opportunities to weave in some additional skills. 

Expert tip: Your ultimate aim with keywords is to incorporate them naturally throughout the resume, rather than crowbarring them in, to the detriment of sense and readability. 

4. Dynamic verbs

When writing your Profile and Professional Experience sections, you can make a huge impact with your choice of vocabulary. For that reason, it's recommended that you start each sentence and bullet point with a different, dynamic verb

We use the word “dynamic” here because some verbs are overused or just not strong enough to make the impact you need – verbs such as “worked,” “assisted,” or “helped,” for example. 

By choosing the right words to start your sentences, you'll be able to position yourself as someone who adds value and gets things done. Try these verbs for starters: 

  • Delivered

  • Won

  • Increased

  • Improved

  • Reduced

  • Influenced

  • Spearheaded

  • Steered

  • Drove

  • Saved

The most engaging and readable resumes use a variety of vocabulary. It's pretty tedious for a recruiter to wade through a resume where every other sentence starts with “managed…” or “organized…” Therefore, try not to repeat words – mix it up and show your mastery of the English language. Grab a thesaurus or use the Synonym function on Word to find alternatives if you get really stuck. 

5. Bonus information 

By following the tips above, you'll have already created a well-structured, engaging resume that shows how you can contribute to a new company. But everyone loves a bonus, right? 

Let's look at how you can differentiate yourself from someone with similar skills and experience to yourself by thinking of some unique things to put on a resume. What can you offer that they may not? 

This part of your resume isn't considered obligatory, but it provides a chance for you to go beyond offering the basics and level up your application to offer even more. It can also give the recruiter or hiring manager an insight into your personality, which can be tricky to convey elsewhere on the document. Here are a few suggestions to consider, but don't be afraid of adding your own if you think it will boost your application. 


Showing a commitment to the community and helping others not only gives the impression that you're a jolly good person, it also provides you with an opportunity to showcase some skills that may not come across elsewhere on your resume. You won't need to dedicate a lot of space to this, unless you're light on paid work experience, but it's certainly worth considering what your voluntary work could add to your application. 


When you're looking for things to include in a resume, language skills can often be overlooked if they're not a specific requirement of the role. Don't forget, though, that we live and work in a globally interconnected world. Any language skills are a bonus – and how many times have you seen a job posting requiring “good communication skills?” Language skills are one way of checking that box. 

Expert tip: Don't forget to include your level of fluency in each language. 

IT Skills

Not just for IT professionals, IT skills are worth considering on resumes for a wide range of professionals. Many industries have their own commonplace applications – for example sales or HR software – so if you can use them, why not shout about it? One word of caution, though – don't add bespoke in-house IT systems, as they won't transfer to another workplace. 


If you've published any work, either in the course of your postgraduate studies or while working, it's worth including a list on your resume – as long as the publications are relevant to your target role. Cite them as you would in an academic bibliography. If your list is extensive, you can just add “full list available on request” or include only the most prestigious or role-specific ones. 


Awards are an amazing thing to include in a resume because they show that you're respected by other professionals in the industry. Whether you won outright, won as part of a team, or won a runner-up prize, be sure to mention these accolades on your resume. Add the name of the award, the awarding body, and the year you received it.


Have you completed any personal or professional projects worth mentioning? If you feel that a separate Projects section would add valuable skills or achievements to your resume, add the project title alongside the client, budget, and timeframe – if that's relevant. You can also give a brief outline and list the positive outcomes of the initiative. The space you dedicate to this section will depend on how much career experience you have and how much weight the projects add to your resume. 

Hobbies and Interests

This one can be quite controversial, but depending on how much professional experience you have and what skills you need to showcase, hobbies and interests may be one of the most helpful things to include in a resume. A line or two here will add skills, personality, and interest – as long as you don't just put “socializing and watching sport.” When you're considering what to put on a resume with no experience, this section can be worth its weight in gold.

What should I leave off my resume?

You know what things to include in a resume now, but what should you leave off? A best-practice resume will never include the following: 


When we say images, we mean graphics, logos, icons, photos, graphs, and charts. Sure, they may look pretty, but there are so many reasons not to include them: 

  • They can't be read by an ATS

  • Photos could lead to discrimination

  • Corporate logos make the company, rather than you, the focus of the resume 

  • Graphs, charts, and skills bars are meaningless without a point of comparison

  • Icons generally don't look very professional

  • Content is king on a resume – images and graphic elements can detract from your core message

Ancient history

In resume terms, ancient history is generally considered anything over 10-15 years old. Your resume should focus on your most recent, most relevant, and most high-level work. That's not to say that what you did previously is completely irrelevant, but there is no need for extensive detail this far back. 

Expert tip: Summarize your earliest jobs, including only job title and employer name, to ensure you're presenting a concise document. 

Too many pages

How long should a resume be? It's a question as old as time. Two pages is generally considered the optimum length these days – one page if you have minimal work experience and three pages if you're a senior executive or contractor. If your resume is running at more than three pages, it's time to edit, slash, and delete. Make sure that every word on your resume is earning its place and is relevant to your current career aspirations. You're not writing a life history here; you're writing a snappy sales pitch about yourself. 

Personal details 

Your ability to do your job does not depend on your marital status, nationality, passport number, shoe size, or any other personal details. Therefore, there is no place for them on the document. At best, they'll be ignored, and at worst, they'll lead to discrimination. Use your space more wisely to sell yourself into the role. 


Don't alienate your reader with jargon and acronyms. Just because a term is widely understood in your team, company, or industry, don't assume that it will make sense to a reader outside the company or in an HR role. If your entire resume is accessible to whoever picks it up, you're already a step ahead. This is where a second opinion, whether from a friend, colleague, or pro, can be helpful.

Resume checklist

Before you consider your resume complete, use this checklist to ensure you've done everything possible to attract the attention of the hiring manager:

  • Clear, well-defined section headings
  • Quantifiable achievements for each role 
  • Keywords aligned with the job adverts
  • Wide range of dynamic verbs
  • Extra sections to differentiate you from other applicants
  • No images
  • No outdated information from more than 10-15 years ago
  • No more than 3 pages - maximum
  • No personal details
  • No jargon

You've considered all the things to include in a resume, developed a knock-out document, and avoided the big no-nos. Ready to release it to the world? Why not get an expert pair of eyes on it first? Feedback from our free resume review will ensure that you're presenting a professional, persuasive document that propels your application to the top of the pile. 

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