How to Choose the Right Resume Format

If you don’t choose the right format for your resume, you can easily doom your resume to the trash can. If you are changing careers, going back to work after years away from the workplace or are just starting out with very little experience, a chronological resume could be your worst enemy!

Yet, if you have a solid work history worth focusing on, then that same chronological resume could be the best way to present yourself.

Resume Formats

There are three basic resume formats, functional, chronological and combination.

  • Functional:

The functional resume draws attention to your skills instead of your past employment or work history by grouping relevant skills and accomplishments into special categories and placing them before the work history section of your resume.

  • Chronological:

The chronological resume places more emphasis on your past employment by listing your work history near the beginning of your resume.

  • Combination:

The combination resume combines the best features of the functional and chronological styles by emphasizing your abilities while including a full job history.

This format is quickly becoming the format of choice for upwardly mobile professionals due to its flexibility and ability to highlight strengths and skills while allowing the use of searchable keywords near the beginning of the resume.

How to Choose the Right Resume Format

Choosing a Resume Format – The Most Important Question to Ask

Do I have direct, in-depth experience in the career I am applying for?

If the answer is yes, then the traditional chronological resume format will serve you well. If your answer is no, the chronological format will emphasize the fact that you don’t have the direct, in-depth experience the employer is looking for. Your resume will hit the trash can.

If you do not have direct, in-depth experience, choose a functional resume format or a combination format instead. The functional resume format allows you to highlight the transferable skills you have that make you a good candidate for the job.

In this resume format, your skills can be grouped into categories that parallel the skills description for the job posting. Functional resumes typically contain elements not used chronological resumes: performance profiles, career objectives, qualifications summaries and relevant skills summaries.

In addition, other sections may be added to coincide with your knowledge and circumstances.

The functional resume does have its drawbacks, though. Some employers see this format as an instant indicator that you are hiding something.

In a way they are right. You are trying to de-emphasize your lack of experience in the specific job skills for the position. This is why you may want to consider the combination resume format.

If you do have direct, in-depth experience, a chronological resume format will emphasize your work history as directly relevant to the job you’re seeking.

If your experience demonstrates that you have grown within a single profession and without many job changes or periods of unemployment, then a chronological resume is a good choice.

It combines your achievements and job-specific duties and applies them to each position with each employer in the work history section of your resume.

The combination resume format is used for a variety of situations: those returning to the workforce after an extended absence, those who recently graduated from college, those possessing a wealth of knowledge with little true professional experience, those who have made many job changes and those who are embarking on a new career altogether.

A combination resume combines the best of both the functional and the chronological formats. It allows you an opportunity to spotlight your credentials and your skills with self-awareness.

The combination resume usually includes a professional profile or career summary to accentuate skills, traits and accomplishments. It may also include a job objective, a targeted job title or a positioning statement.

This format utilizes a detailed skills summary and incorporates an area in which to highlight previous experiences and accomplishments in categories that are relevant to both your job search and your personal history.

The combination style also utilizes a work history, detailed in reverse chronological order, with the most recent experience listed first.

Your Resume is Your Sales Pitch

Remember that your resume, combined with your cover letter, is your only opportunity to sell yourself. If you can accomplish this task in one page, do your best to do that.

At the same time, it’s often not possible to present yourself effectively in one page, especially if you have a solid work history to present.

Employers do want to see some form of work history, even if it includes volunteer and self-employment positions. Yet, someone starting out new or changing careers may have never worked in a job related to the position he or she is applying for.

This is why it is so important to study the job description.

If the employer provides very little detail, a call or an email asking for more information about the job, could be your opportunity to stand out. Mention that you want to be sure you have the right qualifications for the position.

You never know whether this indication that you are serious about being valuable to your future employer may just land you the job.

What is the best resume format to use

Rundown of Resume Formats

While many people may think that a resume is a resume, there are really several different types of choose from, each with their own unique appeal and use. While you can certainly apply for any number of jobs and use the same resume, you will get better response from using the right resume, no matter what job you are applying for. The various resumes that you might choose from include:

  • Reverse chronological
  • Functional
  • Hybrid
  • Accomplishment
  • Targeted
  • Linear
  • Professional
  • Academic Curriculum vitae

Of these, the format that is favored by job recruiters and others who would like to be able to scan your resume in a rapid, easy manner is the reverse chronological resume.

  • The Reverse Chronological Resume

Human resources staff and job recruiters like the reverse chronological resume simply because they are so easy to read, giving them a clear listing of the jobs that you have held in a reverse order.

It is a good resume format to show steady work history, that you are moving in a set pattern in your education and career paths and that you are a traditional type of employee.

It is suggested by experts that this format is best for use when applying for solid and traditional based industries including banking or finance, education, accounting and similar career choices.

The reverse chronological resume format can be a problem for those who have had many brief or temporary jobs or those who have lengthy gaps between jobs.

It may also show other negatives such as sticking in a job for too long even after the career reached its peak and may pigeonhole you into one industry.

Who Should Use this Format?

People who should use the reverse chronological resume format include:

Those who have either a steady school or education record without gaps or without making any notably backward moves

Those who have worked for a respected member of the industry that you would like to enter or have had a steppingstone position to that industry.

Who Should Not Use this Format?

The reverse chronological resume format might not be a good idea for certain people. People who should not use this format include:

Those who are new to the employment world, including recent high school or college level grads or those who are returning to the working world after a long absence.

Those who have less than positive work histories including those who have had demotions or other problems in their past.

Those who are looking to get out of their current line of work completely.

  • Functional Resume Format

Another format to consider for your resume is the functional resume. Instead of focusing on when you worked and where, this format highlights what skills you learned or refined along the way.

There are several reasons that the functional resume may be a good choice for the employee, but not favored by the employer.

The basic functional resume does not include the dates and other information that most employers like to see.

Who Should Use this Format?

The functional resume might be best for:

Those who are looking to completely change their career path after many years working in one industry.

Those who are new graduates or former military personnel.

Why Bosses/Resume Readers May Not Like It

The main goal of the resume is to get a job, which starts with catching the eye of human resources, the boss or whoever is holding it at that moment. Some resume styles are favored by these people over other formats because they are easier to read or more clearly highlight what they are looking for.

The functional resume might be less than desirable because:

It is not always as clear as the other styles
It may appear to the resume reader that you are trying to hide or downplay employment gaps or other problems
Because it does not include dates in its true form, may leave the reader wondering if this experience was ten days ago or ten years ago.

  • The Hybrid Resume Format

As the name implies, the hybrid resume format is a combination of both the reverse chronological resume and the functional format.

It takes all of the strengths of the two resume types and combines them into one resume. However, it may become more wordy or longer than the typical resume reader would actually read.

  • The Accomplishment Format

For those job seekers who have plenty to actually brag about, the accomplishment resume format might be the better choice.

It is the resume that is used in certain industries, particularly in the executive levels. It is also a good choice in those industries that are traditionally considered to be mobile such as advertising, communications and publishing.

This is a good format not only for those who are new to the employment world after finishing their education but to those who have been working in the industry in the self-employed sector for a number of years.

  • Targeted Format

When you know exactly what job you want, or what job title you are going for, the targeted resume format is the best to use.

It is used basically to highlight your skills point- by-point to the skills listed by the company, whether those skills were posted in the newspaper advertisement or a recruiting letter.

The problem with this format is simple: if you are applying for a job with a company that has several open positions, you may not be considered for the others because you were so clearly set on one job.

  • Linear Format

A linear resume goes line by line to discuss what you are ready to offer to an employer. Because it includes a lot of white space and is typically easier to read, it can stand out from the crowd, a huge benefit especially in a very tight job market.

It does not pack in a lot of information which can also be considered a plus, however some employers may consider it a method of trying to hide things.

It is often a resume that will get a second or third look though, so it is a good choice for many occupations and types of job seekers.

  • Professional Format

While experts suggest that a resume be kept to a maximum of two pages with one page being optimal, the professional resume format is often much longer and can be as many as three to five pages long and is best used by those who are seeking upper tier type jobs or in certain professions that would certainly need the additional experience and education.

For instance, doctors, scientists and lawyers as well as those seeking positions that are above general manager should use the professional format resume.

  • Academic Curriculum Vitae (CV)

Like the professional formatted resume, this is a lengthier document, typically six to eight pages for someone who has been in the industry for many years, about half as long for a new professional.

Again, resume readers have to go through piles of resumes and other documents, so the benefit here would be to use an executive summary page which is a very brief overview of experience, skills and other qualifications.

If your job title or correct means of address includes the word “doctor,” this is the resume type for you.

If you can shave or condense information into another format, it might be beneficial to the reader; however, make sure that you are not missing any good information in so doing.

It can be very confusing to find the right format for you and your occupation. Coming in our next post we’ll define and discuss what kind of resume is best for different occupations.

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