What Is a Resume?

A resume is a one- or two-page formal document that job hopefuls submit to hiring managers and employment recruiters as a means of itemizing their work experience, educational background, and special skills. Successful resumes entice potential employers to invite applicants to interview for the position. Resumes are traditionally accompanied by cover letters, in which applicants champion their relevant skills and tout their specific qualifications for a given position.

1:19

How Long Should My Resume Be?

Understanding Resumes

Typically required for applying to white-collar positions, resumes enable recruiters to screen out applicants who lack the skills needed to effectively occupy roles. Successful resumes highlight specific accomplishments applicants have achieved in former positions, such as cutting costs, transcending sales goals, increasing profits, and building out teams. 

Requirements of Resumes

Resume structures traditionally begin with one or two lines that detail an applicant’s career goals and highlight the industry in which he or she seeks employment. This is generally followed by a candidate’s job history, beginning with his or her current or most recent position, followed by a chronological list of previously held positions, with the older jobs placed toward the bottom of the page.

[Important: Because employers reading your resume may have a short attention span or may have stacks of resumes to read through, it's vital to make sure the first third of the page is as clean and attention-grabbing as possible.]

Recruiters examine job histories for significant employment gaps or patterns of briefly-held positions that might flag an applicant's inability to sustain employment over the long haul. Some human resources professionals recommend eliminating the oldest positions, to make room to highlight newer positions that emphasize more relevant skills. This is particularly true for a high-tech company seeking to assemble cutting edge, technology-forward teams. In fact, less relevant legacy skills may even detract from a resume, by subconsciously implying a candidate’s obsolescence. In other words, the most powerful resumes underline how an applicant can thrive in a specific role.

Finally, the rise of electronic resume submissions has dramatically changed the dynamics of resumes. While documents of the past were strictly text-based, digital submissions often include charts, graphs or other illustrative elements that visually pronounce an individual’s relevant strengths and unique skill sets.