CHOOSING THE BEST RESUME FORMAT
Resume formatting isn’t simply about aesthetics; you should choose a resume format logically and strategically. There are three main types to choose from when writing a resume, all of which are explained below. Depending on your unique career background, experience, and job goals, there’s a specific resume format that best presents your career information. You can use the use the Table of Contents below to navigate this page quickly.
Table Of Contents (Use This To Navigate Page)
1. REVERSE-CHRONOLOGICAL RESUME FORMAT
Choose a chronological resume format if:
- You worked your way up the career ladder via promotion
- you’ve worked within the same profession for over 5-10 years
- You want to highlight steady career progression
Reverse-chronological resume formatting (or a “chronological resume”) is the most common resume format and is one of the easiest to write. If you have a strong work history climbing the employment ladder with lots of experience in one industry, or you’re a loyal employee who’s remained in each job for a relatively long period of time, then this format is the best way to showcase your qualities.
The chronological format also helps highlight the range in duties and responsibilities you’ve held, showcasing your experience.
A chronological resume lists your work history down the resume page, beginning with your most recent job, and working backwards through your work history, with older jobs further down the page. Under each job you need to list out key responsibilities, duties, and achievements, best done in bullet point form to improve readability. It’s important to think about your unique selling points when writing your resume, to ensure they successfully stand out to the reader.
A chronological resume format is ideal for anyone with work history continuity. If you’ve remained within the same industry throughout your recent career (5-10 years) then a chronological resume will help showcase your commitment to your profession. Equally, if you’ve worked your way up from an entry-level position into more senior standing, this resume format helps highlight the knowledge and experience you hold at all levels within your industry. Being a committed employee and having gained experience at multiple levels within your industry are highly marketable qualities – using a chronological resume style will help demonstrate this fact.
A chronological resume format is generally favored by anyone in their early career looking to take the next step up the career ladder, or mid-career professionals that are well established and need to highlight their upward mobility.
Resume Sections for a Chronological Resume
You can choose from a number of different opening sections, such as a Career Objective or a Profile. Since most people using a chronological format will be hoping to move up the career ladder, a Career Objective section may work best at targeting the next step. A Profile or Professional Summary section may be better if there’s a lot of competition for the job you’re applying to (more on career objective vs. professional summary sections).
The most important section within a reverse-chronologically formatted resume is the central exposition of your professional history – namely the Professional Experience section. Here are some top tips to follow when writing your work history section:
- Your work history should resemble a funnel, with more detail beneath your most recent jobs, and less detail below older jobs from your past.
- Under each job use the first bullet point to provide an overview of the place you worked. This helps the reader understand the scope of your responsibility, e.g. product/service rendered, average daily/monthly customer turnover, size of the company, etc.
- Avoid listing day-to-day responsibilities. Instead, focus on what you achieved and what made you good at your job.
Below we have provided some section headings you can use on your chronological resume, to help separate your career information. Compartmentalization of your resume really helps guide the reader through the story you want to tell, and keeps that person engaged. It is also effective in helping hiring managers that are looking for specific qualities.
|Executive Summary||Professional Experience||Additional Skills|
|Career Profile||Key Skills||Awards & Publication|
|Career Objective||Education||Certifications & Licenses|
|Personal Profile||Key Accomplishments|
2. Functional resume format
Choose a functional resume format if:
- Work history gaps
- Long-term unemployed
- Job hopping background
- Limited experience
Functional resume formatting is a specific resume style used to take the focus away from your work history time-line. The content of your resume is structured to focus on your key skills and highlight your career achievements, accomplishments, along with the range of responsibilities and duties you’ve held.
Lengthier, wordy sections are used to fill the body of the resume expounding your skills and accomplishments, while your actual work history timeline is only listed in minor detail as a footnote at the end of the resume. The idea is to take the emphasis off your work history time-line and instead showcase the range in your professional experience and skill set.
The functional resume format is highly adaptable, though the writing process can be more complex since there are a lot of different section you can choose to use, based on what best presents your individual career history.
A functional format is great if you have worked in many different industries. It’s also good for anyone considered a “job hopper”, having held lots of job in a relatively short period of time. Also, if you’ve been long-term unemployed or have a work history gap then a functional resume should be used.
Ultimately, a functional format resume presents the reader with many reasons why you should have an interview (your skills, relevant experience, achievements, education & qualifications, etc.), and hides any reasons why you shouldn’t get an interview (your potentially problematic work history).
Resume Sections for a Functional Resume
You should begin your resume with a high-impact career profile that is similar to your 30-second elevator pitch. You want the reader to instantly think you’re worth giving an interview. Try to summarize in 3-5 short sentences, what experience, skills and achievements you have that are relevant to the job you’re applying for (this is key to why a functional formatted resume needs to be individually crafted for each job application you make).
Consider a Summary of Qualifications section which bullet points 3-5 reasons why you’re qualified for the job. For example: you may have relevant educational or industry qualifications, licenses, specific work experience like having worked the same job before, you may have worked at a leading company/corporation, you may have impressive professional affiliations or awards, etc.
A Key Skills section is usually recommended to summarize 6-12 key skills you have. This may be a problem if you have absolutely no relevant experience, however you can think about transferable skills.
Try to incorporate two to three sections within the body of the resume that explain your work history experience relevant to the job you want. This is a bit like taking the best bullet points from a chronological resume, and putting them together away from the context of each job’s specifics (i.e. when, where you worked, job title, etc.)
Listing job duty bullet points away from the context of a job may sound strange, but if done correctly they can show how unrelated (or old) experience can be used to target different jobs. The following bullet point is taken from someone who worked in retail, but it can be used for someone targeting a sales job or even a team leader/management position:
- Successfully managed and lead a sales team of 30 people generating $20,000 furniture sales in 1 month
Finish off your resume with a short summary of your professional experience timeline. This just needs to list your most recent jobs from the last 5-20 years, showing the name of the employing company, job title, dates worked. If the resume is written correctly, the reader will already believe in your professional abilities, and will offer you an interview before he reads this final section!
|Career Profile||Qualifications Summary||Professional Affiliations|
|Career Summary||Key Skills||Professional Experience|
|Executive Summary||Career Highlights|
|Career Objective||Core Competencies|
|Education & Certifications|
|Awards & Achievements|
TIP To help persuade the reader of your potential as an employee, why not include a quote from a previous employer’s reference, or from a LinkedIn “recommendation” (LinkedIn recommendations explained here).
3. Combination Resume format
Most professional resume writers would agree that the best resume format is the combination format, since it combines the benefits of both a functional and reverse-chronological resume, although it does require more time and skill to write. A combination resume utilizes the first 1/3rd of the document to engage the reader by showcasing your main selling points (similar to a functional resume), then uses the lower part of the resume to present a high-impact summary of your professional experience (just like a reverse-chronological resume). Multiple sections can be used to keep the reader engaged, purposely crafted to highlighting your skills, experience and accomplishments. Once combined, you will have a truly effective marketing tool – more than a boring list of your work history. This is the resume format favored by most professional resume writers.
Why use a combination resume format
If you’ve got the time and patience to write your resume yourself, you don’t mind researching writing tips and sectioning options, and your writing skills are above average, then use this format. If you’ve got work history problems (work history gaps or you’re a job hopper, for example) or you’re concerned about your lack of experience in the industry you’re applying for, then choose this format. If you’ve got a strong career background with plenty of success, then choose this format.
To answer this question, you need to assess your individual work history, and more importantly, what your marketable qualities are. Ask yourself a few questions, like:
- Do you have a broad range of skills?
- Do you have a strong educational background?
- What are you considered a specialist in?
- Does your work history demonstrate constant career progression?
- Are you always loyal to the places you work?
- If you were an employer, why would you give yourself a job?
- Do you have something unique that separates you from other applicants? (awards, talent/skill, exceptional education or job background, highly respected publication)
In general, we all have something we consider our forté, or something that makes us good within our professional life. Is it your work ethic, your ability to achieve goals, your ability to lead, your proven record of completing all tasks given to you quicker than your colleagues? The point of this is to establish your marketable qualities. These become your selling points – the more, the better.
Based on your unique abilities and professional qualities, you should select sections that present them to the reader. Here’s some examples of why certain sections should be chosen:
Summary of Skills = lots of key skills
Highlighted Success = lots of success (sometimes good for executives, see an example executive resume)
Education = impressive academic achievements, or you’ve recently qualified and this is a key requirement of the job
Licenses and Certifications = again, where there is a specific requirement for the job
Qualifications Summary = if you have a range of transferable skills, acquired in different industries but can be used in the job you’re applying for
Career Highlights = lots of jobs working in senior positions where company/corporate goals were achieved over a longer period of time
Key Accomplishments = e.g. applying for a sales job and you want to demonstrate your success in the past meeting sales goals
Begin the resume with a statement style section, such as a Career Summary or an Executive Profile, and ensure this is well constructed in 3-5 sections, summarizing your professional persona and mentions your main selling points. This is your 30-second elevator pitch in 10-15 seconds.
The next section should be your trump card (as explain above). Piece together the main body of the resume, so that the document is top heavy with 2-3 sections that highlight your key professional qualities. These 2-3 high-impact sections should be followed by your work history, within which you want to highlight why you were good in each job. Consider:
- What your key duties and responsibilities were that best demonstrate your skill as a professional
- What was commendable about your performance
- What tangible, quantifiable information can you include to support this
Your work history section should be concise, and use bullet points to expound the answers to above questions. By doing this, you will speak direct to the hiring manager, who’s asking, “why should I give this person a shot?”
Finally, conclude your resume with the remaining sections relevant to the job/industry you’re targeting. This can be an additional skills section detailing any computer software you’re familiar with, any language skills you have, etc.
Final Advice and Tips
- Ensure your resume resembles a funnel, introducing the most important information at the top of the document
- Use bullet points to summarize your key “selling point”, and quantify achievements where possible. Fiscal data is eye-catching and numbers quickly stand out on a resume
- Be ruthless with content selection – any experience that might be considered slightly irrelevant, leave it off. Your goal is to create a compelling, impactful document. Anything that isn’t directly relevant will only detract from
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