Resume Formats: Which One Should You Choose?

Resume Formats

There are three main resume formats: the reverse chronological resume, the functional resume, and the hybrid resume. The first consideration when writing a resume is to decide what resume format to use.

Choosing the Right Resume Format

The resume format that you choose should be based on your work experience and the optimal strategy to make that experience relevant to the job that you are applying to. When choosing what resume format to use, keep the following considerations in mind:

  • What resume format will shed light on your strengths and draw attention away from your weaknesses?

  • What "statement" do you want to make and what resume format will allow you to best make that statement?

  • The typical resume format that most people use is the chronological resume format. Is there a good reason to depart from this format?

Overview of the Main Resume Formats

Reverse Chronological Resume Format

Reverse chronological resumes list the candidate's work experience starting from the most recent one based on the premise that it is also the most relevant to the job. That is often true for career-oriented people looking for another job in the same field. A reverse chronological resume has the advantage of showing a natural progression. Some employers like to see where you come from and how you evolved to become the person that you are.

This type of resume is best when you want to show your career progression, especially if you are hoping to move upwards into the next higher position. It also works great when there are few, if any, major gaps in your resume. The reverse chronological resume is the most commonly used resume format.

Functional Resume Format

A functional resume is also known as a skills-based resume. You format the resume into “skills” collections showcasing your experience without addressing specific jobs or dates. For example, you may have a section on direct sales and another on inbound call center sales management. Under each section, you would provide examples of your experience, even if it means mixing together experience from different positions. In a true skills-based resume, no job history is provided.

This type of resume is best when your job history is not consistent or successive (prolonged period of absence from the workforce for example), but you have the skills relevant to the position. It can also be used if you worked as a consultant or contractor with many short-term positions that are too numerous to name one by one. Another reason to use the skills-based resume is when you’re changing career path. The focus is therefore no longer on "career progression," but instead on "transferable skills."

Hybrid (Mixed) Resume Format

The biggest question then becomes – which format to use? The fact is that most people use a combination of both types of resume formats. For example, if you are applying for a position as a sales manager, you may wish to start your resume with a section that summarizes your most relevant sales qualifications. You could draw on your biggest sales accomplishments from your entire career and address the job requirements all in one section. In this top section, you would also use keywords gleaned from the job posting itself. This would be followed by a reverse chronological job history.

A hybrid (mixed) format usually works well because when reading a resume the hiring manager will focus his attention on the top of the page. If he doesn’t see something relevant in the top third of the page, he may not read further. With the above, since you catch his interest upfront by showing that you meet the job requirements, you can entice him to continue reading (and pay more attention).

Studies have shown that HR and hiring managers like to see job titles, positions and dates. By placing a chronological summary underneath the skills summary, you are also making sure that you are documenting your work experience with real companies for a real period of time. This helps make your resume more credible.

Curriculum Vitae ("CV") Format

The long-standing rule is that a resume should never be more than 1 or 2 pages. A curriculum vitae is designed to be a much more in-depth document and may span 4 to 5 pages. This is because your experience is described in detail, including your publications, education and experience. This type of resume is used only in certain professions, such as medicine or higher education. A job applicant should not use a curriculum vitae unless specified in the job posting.

To know more about the differences between a resume and a CV, see: What Is the Difference Between a CV and a Resume?, by Leslie Toth.

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