One of the most critical choices you can make when creating a resume is which format to use. The correct resume format will perfectly illustrate your work history, skills and accomplishments, while an improperly formatted resume will all but guarantee you won’t make the cut.
“Resume format” in this context means the way you organize and showcase your work history, skills and achievements. It does not mean the style you choose. There are three standard resume formats with distinct functions:
How to choose a resume format that’s right for you
Choosing a resume format depends on your work experience, skills, industry and the type of job you want.
Choose the chronological resume format if you have a strong work history coupled with a stable employment track and skills that closely match the job description. It works well for Amy Wong, who developed her administrative skills in school and steadily rose to a secretary position. Her varied skills all closely match the job, indicating she is highly qualified for it.
Consider the functional resume format if you are just entering the workforce, have had only one job, or have held several short-term positions. It’s also a good option if you have gaps in your work history or are applying outside of your field. As you can see, it’s the perfect choice for student and teacher’s aide Travis Barnard because it emphasizes his impressive skill set over his short work history.
Use the combination resume format if you have a consistent job history but want to emphasize specific qualifications such as leadership, if you have a job history spanning ten years or more, or are coming back to work after a pause. In this example, nurse Silvia Jordan used the combination format to showcase her relevant skills and certifications alongside her extensive work experience.
Nontraditional resume formats
You may be tempted to do something “different” with your resume to grab recruiters’ attention. Maybe you want to format it in a visually striking way, such as using an infographic format or making a video resume. But unless you are in a creative role such as a fine artist, a musician, or a television personality, we recommend sticking to the standards.
There are four crucial reasons why:
Resume scanning software can’t read it. Applicant tracking systems (ATS), which companies use to parse, rank and filter resumes based on keyword relevance, are not yet sophisticated enough to “read” a graphic or video-based resume.
It’s difficult to tailor an infographic resume to a job. Because you must adapt your resume to each position you apply to, you’ll need to change some of the content to match different job requirements.
Infographic resumes are distracting. Hiring managers want to know your qualifications more than anything else. They will lose interest and send your resume flying if they have to look for them.
They’re difficult to create. Unless you’re an artist or a graphic designer, infographic resumes are challenging to build. While your resume’s design is essential, focusing on its content will likely lead to more hiring managers noticing you.
Anatomy of a nontraditional resume
Evan Langolis might have chosen to create his resume using a nontraditional format because of his lengthy background in the Arts. Doing so, however, could cost him a chance at an interview. Here’s why:
Name, title and photograph: Not only is this section difficult to read, but ATS programs won’t understand it because they aren’t sophisticated enough to scan images. Moreover, photos on resumes invite unconscious bias and discrimination — something hiring managers and recruiters want to avoid.
Profile: This section’s title could be confusing to recruiters and hiring managers looking for standard Objective or Professional Summary statements. Confused hiring managers and recruiters often move on to the next candidate quickly.
Skills: This section is impossible for an ATS to scan because of the graphical bars. Also, it won’t make sense to hiring managers because it doesn’t tell them anything specific. You have to explain your skills in terms of how you’ve used them and what you’ve accomplished by using them to impress hiring managers.
Education: What’s wrong with this picture? Everything. The only time it might be acceptable for a job seeker to put their education above their work experience is when applying for their first job, which is not the case for Evan. Worse, the timeline is hard to read and can quickly put off a harried recruiter or hiring manager. Finally, like so many other sections of this resume, it will not be picked up by ATS programs.
Work History: Like a bad date, this section is cute but lacking substance. Hiring managers want to know more than your title. If you want hiring managers to take you seriously, then you’ve got to tell them what you did, how you did it, and the measurable results of your actions. Details are vital here!
Contact: Ah, here it is! Just what the hiring manager was looking when they opened your resume. Contact details belong at the top of a resume, not the bottom (or anywhere else, for that matter).
Languages: Like the chart Evan used in his skills section, this graph does not tell hiring managers anything of value. Instead, it would be more effective to write something like, “English: Fluent”; “French: Expert”; Spanish: “Proficient.” And remember: ATS programs won’t recognize the bars.
Social: Hiring managers expect to see this information in the contact section of a resume, not at the very bottom corner, and they expect only professionally relevant accounts. Think about it this way: When listed on a resume, social media links should provide actual value and insights into your professional background through real examples. So give only the accounts that can help you get the job (such as LinkedIn) and highlight them at the top, along with your contact information, so they’re easy to find.
See What People are Saying About Us
Tips for choosing a resume format
A few last considerations to keep in mind when choosing the best resume format for you:
Consider your experience. Have you changed industries or job titles? Do you have gaps in your work history? Maybe you are applying for a managerial job. If so, consider bringing your skills to the forefront with a functional resume or aligning them with your work history in a combination resume. If you want to show your climb from intern to supervisor, organize your resume in the chronological format.
Consider how long you’ve been working. If you’re applying for your first job, then the chronological resume format isn’t the best choice because you have no experience to show. However, a functional resume can help you shine because your skills will have the limelight. But if you have a lot of steady work experience, a chronological resume is a good bet. And, if you’re at the top of your field, a combination resume will showcase your qualifications the best.
Consider creating two different formats and keeping them handy for other jobs. Customizing your resume for different positions includes the format you choose. For example, suppose you’re a mid-level worker with consistent job history. In that case, you should have a chronological resume handy for most jobs unless you see a managerial position that catches your eye. In that case, you might decide to use a combination resume.
What is a functional resume format?To create this type of resume, you typically start with a skills section, then follow each entry with a bullet point list of accomplishments to back it up. If you have work experience to report, list it at the bottom in reverse-chronological order.
What is a chronological resume format?You format a chronological resume in reverse-chronological order, meaning you begin with your most recent position and work backward. This way, your prospective employer can see what you’ve done lately before digging into the jobs you had when you were less experienced.
What is the standard resume format?Chronological style is usually considered the standard resume format. Recruiters are used to reviewing chronological resumes, so using this format may increase the likelihood that the hiring manager will read your document instead of passing it over.
What kind of resume format should I use?The type of resume format you choose depends on your goals and where you are in your career. You usually can’t go wrong with a classic, chronological resume, but if you’re changing careers, you may want to consider a functional or hybrid format.
Which resume format is most versatile?The hybrid resume is the most versatile. You may want to use it if you are changing careers or don’t have much experience in the field yet. The advantage of the hybrid format is that it highlights your relevant skills while preserving the familiar chronological layout.
What resume is best for an entry-level position?It’s best to use a chronological resume for an entry-level position if you have experience, perhaps as an intern or a part-time job. You can also include volunteer work and other unpaid experience in your employment history section.
Build a professional resume in minutes!
Choose from more than a dozen eye-catching professional design templates that will help you create a unique resume employers will notice.
Find the right words
Writing your resume is a snap — just use our pre-written text bullet points to showcase your skills and accomplishments.
Get step-by-step advice
We’re there for you, every step of the way. Our professional resume tips and guidance will save you time and help your resume stand out from the competition!
Format your finished resume
Our simple editing tools make it easy to get exactly the resume you want. Download in your choice of formats, then print and send as many copies as you need.