Resume Format: Choosing the Right Structure for Your Resume

Resume Format

The goal of any resume should be to frame your skills, qualifications, education, and experience in such a way that the information on the page highlights your fit for the exact job you are applying for.

When writing your resume, choosing a format comes first. After you have the basic information organized into the right sections that you want to include, you can start playing with the way the text is laid out on the page.

Choosing the Right Resume Format

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 help you achieve your goal?
  • The typical resume format that most people use is the reverse chronological resume format. Is there a good reason to depart from this format?

Overview of the Main Resume Formats

There are three main resume formats to choose from when writing your resume: Reverse chronological, functional, and hybrid. The following will give you a sense for how each of these formats works, along with tips on how to decide which format is right for you.

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. If your past work history leads naturally to the job you are applying for today, then this is generally the ideal format to use as it will make the case that you are an experienced and qualified candidate who is ready to hit the ground running.

The work history section should be broken down into the different roles you have held with your job title, name of the company, and dates employed being placed in the heading, usually in bolded text.

Beneath each job heading you will incorporate a bullet list that includes details of the accomplishments and responsibilities you held in that role. When it comes to customizing your resume, this is one of the places where you can do that. Make sure to list those responsibilities that are most relevant to the required and preferred qualifications in the job ad.

It is important to use action verbs that either mirror the job ad itself, if applicable, or use industry specific terminology to show you have expertise in the field. This is important to impress the hiring manager, but also so that your resume will make it past automated Applicant Tracking Systems. These systems search for keywords throughout your document, and often filter the resumes prior to human review.

The reverse chronological resume format is the preferred format for career-oriented professionals 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 there are few, if any, major gaps in your resume. The reverse chronological resume is the most commonly used resume format.

Following are some examples of resumes that use the reverse chronological format:

Reverse chronological resumes are quite typical. If you go to the resume samples section, most resumes you will find are of that format.

Functional Resume Format

A functional resume places emphasis on your unique set of skills and qualifications. Using section headings such as “Summary of Skills” and “Technical Proficiencies” you can make sure that the hiring manager quickly knows that you are qualified for the job at hand.

The sections you can include are wide ranging. The point of choosing different sections is to highlight skillsets relevant to the job you are applying for, listing the required qualifications for the job near the top of each applicable heading so they will be quickly noticed.

Functional resumes often list qualifications in short lists, grouped into themes. These themed groups are highly adaptable to different types of jobs.

For example, a computer programmer might include a section to showcase their proficiency in several areas: coding languages, web building tools, database management apps, and soft skills (such as strong communication, problem solving, and collaborative spirit). Depending on the exact job they are applying for, they may choose to change the way they group their skills to highlight the fit for the position at hand.

Generally, you will still need to include a work history on this type of resume. However, it will come after your various skill sections, and it will include only a brief description of your last few jobs.

Because this format takes the emphasis off of your work history, it is the ideal format for people who have a large gap in their work history, or held jobs in a completely different field and are in the midst of a career change. 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. The focus is therefore no longer on "career progression," but instead on "transferable skills."

By putting your skills, qualifications, certifications, and personal qualities front and center, you can showcase the fact that you are still a strong fit for the job, even if your work history doesn’t show it.

Following are some examples of resumes using the functional format:

Hybrid (Mixed) Resume Format

In practice, most resumes often use elements of both reverse chronological and functional formats. The hybrid format allows you to showcase both your work history and the specific skills you possess that are central to the position you are applying for. Modern resume templates tend to make use of this adaptable resume format.

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.

Following are some examples of resumes that use the hybrid format:

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.

Here's an example of a curriculum vitae:

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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