The 3 resume formats
There are three standard resume formats used by most job seekers and recognized by all hiring managers and recruiters. They are chronological, functional and combination. All three formats contain the following elements:
While you can include additional sections, such as key accomplishments, the five above elements will comprise the core of every resume. They will be emphasized differently depending on the format you choose.
Each of the three formats has a distinct function:
How to choose a resume format that’s right for you
The resume format you choose will depend on how much work experience you have, the skills you possess relevant to the job, the industry you are in, and the type of job you want. Each format supports a different strategy and requires different organization.
Chronological resume format [+ examples]
The chronological resume format is easily the most popular. Hiring managers like that it prominently features work history, making it easy to see a candidate’s career progression. The most recent experience is listed first, which is why it is sometimes referred to as the reverse-chronological resume format.
Anatomy of a chronological resume
Putting together a chronological resume is easy. Here’s how you should structure it:
Include your name, phone number and email, as well as any relevant social media profiles you’d like to share.
Professional summary or career objective.
In only a few sentences, state your career goals, and highlight one or two of your most important achievements and skills.
Work experience (in reverse-chronological order).
Begin with your most recent job and work backward. Each job should have several bullet points
Hard skills, soft skills and technical skills most relevant to the job.
Read through the job description to identify the skills sought by the employer.
This should cover the school(s) you’ve attended, areas of concentration and degrees earned.
Other important information.
Always reserve a little space at the bottom of your resume to add volunteer experience, professional associations, awards, or licenses or certifications you picked up along the way.
Who should use a chronological resume?
Choose the chronological resume format if:
- You have a steady work history and stable employment.
- You want to show your career progression.
- You have had more than one job.
- Your skills closely match the job description.
- You have been employed for at least one year.
Do not choose the chronological format if:
- You are applying for your first job.
- You have gaps in your job history.
- You are changing industries or roles.
- You have hopped around to different jobs.
Chronological resume examples
Chronological resumes could potentially work for any job or industry. Use these resume format examples to inspire you when you create your own chronological resume.
Functional resume format [+ examples]
The functional resume de-emphasizes employment history in favor of an applicant’s relevant skills and achievements. This format is frequently referred to as “skills-based” because it integrates work history and accomplishments into your list of qualifications and skills.
Anatomy of a functional resume
Since functional resumes are less common, organizing them clearly and concisely is extra important. Here’s how your document should flow:
Always include your name, phone number and email address.
Brief professional summary or career objective.
Tell the employer why you’re interested in the job and how it fits into your career goals.
Summary of qualifications.
This section is your first opportunity to highlight your skills by creating a bulleted sentence list of your skill highlights that most qualify you for the job.
The second (of three) skills sections, highlight the hard, soft and technical skills you didn’t touch upon in your summary of qualifications section as single skills rather than sentences.
Another skills section (broken into categories).
Often referred to as a “professional skills” section, this is the meat of a functional resume. Divide your skills into subsections with category headers like organization or analytical/problem-solving, each one followed by sentences showcasing this skill set..
Work experience (if you have any).
While the functional resume downplays work experience, you should still include a work history section if your jobs were recent and/or relevant.
List the degrees you’ve earned and schools you’ve attended.
Save the bottom of your resume for other categories that may impress or intrigue an employer, such as awards, professional associations, training programs, certifications, languages or volunteer experiences.
Who should use a functional resume?
Choose the functional resume format if:
- You are just entering the workforce.
- You have had only one job.
- You have held several short-term positions.
- You have gaps in your work history.
You are applying outside of your field.
Do not choose the functional format if:
- You want to highlight job advancement.
- Your experience closely matches the job description.
- You have a history of steady employment with more than one job.
Functional resume examples
A functional resume is appropriate for any job or industry. When you begin to build your resume, use these resume format examples to generate ideas.
Combination resume format [+ examples]
The combination resume is the middle ground between chronological and functional. Also known as hybrid, it gives equal weight to your work experience and your skills, helping an employer see how the two are linked.
Anatomy of a combination resume
Combination resumes are easy to put together as long as you use the following structure
All three formats start the same: list your name, phone number and email address.
Brief professional summary or career objective.
Write two to three sentences that summarize your career achievements and goals.
From “relevant skills” to “summary of qualifications,” there are many ways to label this section. Just make sure the skills are aligned with the job description.
A second (optional) skills section.
Some combination resumes include a second skills section simply titled “Skills.” This is also a bulleted list, and can cover any of the important skills you didn’t list in the first section.
Work experience (in reverse-chronological order).
On a combination resume, your work experience section will either lead the way or follow the skills section. List your positions starting with the most recent and include a bulleted list of your chief responsibilities.
Every resume should have an education section that lists the name of the institution, degree type, area of study and year of completion.
Other important information.
Volunteer experiences, special training/certifications, awards and relevant professional associations all belong near the bottom of your resume, so save some space.
Who should use a combination resume?
Choose the combination resume format if:
- You have at least one year of relevant work experience.
- You have a consistent job history but want to emphasize specific skills such as leadership.
- You are coming back to work after a brief pause.
Do not choose the combination resume format if:
- You have substantial gaps in your employment history.
- Your experience includes some job-hopping.
- You lack the relevant experience for the position.
- You do not have the required skills to perform the job.
Combination resume examples
You can use a combination resume format for a job in any industry. Here are a few well-put-together combination resume format examples to help you start building your own resume.
3 tips for choosing a resume format
Consider your experience. Although the chronological resume format is the most widely used, it’s not always a good choice. If you do not have directly relevant experience in the position and industry to which you’re applying, then the chronological format will make you appear unqualified and your resume will likely get trashed. However, you can highlight your best qualifications with a functional or a combination resume format.
Consider how long you’ve been working. If you’re applying for your first job, then a functional resume can help you shine because your skills will have the limelight. And if you have been working for at least one year but want to step into a leadership position, then the combination format is a good bet because it will allow you to point out your leadership skills in conjunction with your relevant work history and career progression.
Consider creating two different formats and keeping them handy for other jobs. Customizing your resume for different positions includes choosing the right format. For example, suppose you’re a mid-level worker with a consistent job history. In that case, you should have a chronological resume handy for most jobs. If you see a managerial position that catches your eye, try a combination resume to emphasize both your leadership skills and career progression.
9 resume formatting tips
Once you’ve chosen a format, you need to know how to format a resume properly. Elements such as font size and style, margins, color choices, when to use bullet points and more are just as essential as the overall organization of your resume.
Start with a good resume example.Resume Now has hundreds of resume examples. Use one as a reference format for your resume and to grab some ideas for writing your resume, learn how to organize your resume sections correctly, and pick up tips for proper formatting.
Stick within the accepted margins.Generally speaking, you want one-inch margins on all sides. While you can adjust them a little, be cautious because unusual margins can hamper the effectiveness of your resume.
Choose basic, common font types.An applicant tracking system (ATS), the HR software that weeds out applications, may not be able to read intricate fonts. Therefore, it is best to choose a common font, like Arial, Calibri, Garamond, Times New Roman or Helvetica, when styling your resume.
Font point-size needs to be readable.Your font must be large enough to be readable, but not so large it's off-putting. The rule of thumb is a font point-size of 10-12 in the body and 14-16 in headers.
Use bullet points in your skills and work experience sections.Bulleted lists make your resume better organized and easier to read, guiding the eye to the key points.
Be consistent with all formatting.Once you make a formatting choice, stick with it, whether it’s the font type or style of bullets. If your experience dates are written as month/year, then all dates should be month/year. If you use a 16-point font in one header, use 16-point in all headers. Understand your formatting hierarchy, particularly when it comes to use of bullets and numbers.
Make sure your resume is the right length.Your resume should be either one or two pages. Early in your career, one page may be suitable. As you gain more experience, you will need a second page. A good rule of thumb is one page per 10 years’ experience.
Don’t choose extreme colors.If you are a graphic designer or marketing guru, you can experiment with your color palette, but most other job seekers should stick with neutral colors. You never know who will be reviewing your resume, and your color preferences may differ from theirs.
Avoid unusual formatting.For most job seekers, you are going to want a traditional resume format that is either chronological, functional or combination. But for some job seekers — those with careers in the creative industries mainly — a nontraditional resume format would work. Only use a nontraditional format if you are sending your resume directly to the hiring manager. Otherwise, the unusual formatting of a nontraditional resume format will likely get rejected as unreadable by the ATS software. Employers use ATS software to parse, rank, and filter resumes based on keyword relevance. The software isn’t yet sophisticated enough to “read” a graphic or video-based resume for keywords.
Nontraditional resume formats
The nontraditional resume format is the shiny new toy in the employment world. These formats, ranging from videos to infographics, are well-suited for job seekers in creative roles, such as a fine artist, musician or television personality. If done well, a nontraditional format will help you grab an employer’s attention.
On the other hand, for those tempted to try something “unique” with their resume and who work in a more conservative industry like finance or medicine, we recommend sticking with the standard resume formats.
In any case, a nontraditional format will include the same sections that appear on a traditional resume — contact info, professional summary, work experience, skills and education — but they will be organized and presented a little differently. Here’s an example.
Anatomy of a nontraditional resume
Evan Langlois chose to create his resume in a nontraditional format because of his lengthy background in the arts. For him, this was a sensible choice, but he made a few mistakes. Here’s what he got right, and what he got wrong:
Name and title: Evan included a photo alongside his name and title, which is a nice touch. But the title running vertically alongside his image makes it a little hard to read. Moving the title underneath his name would have been a better choice. Nonstandard formatting should always be clear and legible so employers can easily scan it.
Profile: While the term “Profile” is not standard, the meaning is clear. Evan writes it just as you would a “Career Objective” or “Professional Summary,” including key achievements and skills.
Skills: Evan clearly knows the business and touches on several important skills. That said, this section is a tad short, and would be better served with more skills covering the three primary categories: soft, hard and technical skills.
Education: This section has a nice visual impact, but it’s too prominent and takes up too much real estate. When designing a nontraditional resume, do not let visual flash overtake the basic hierarchy and prioritization. This section should be downsized and tucked beneath work experience.
Work Experience: The timeline structure makes sense for work history. But if you want hiring managers to take you seriously, you’ve got to tell them what you did, how you did it, and the measurable results of your actions. This section could easily be improved by adding vital details beneath each role.
Contact: This is one of Evan’s biggest errors. Contact details belong at the top of a resume (next to the headshot), not the bottom (or anywhere else, for that matter). You never want to make a hiring manager struggle for this information.
Languages: A bar graph is a clever way to highlight your language proficiency, especially if this is one of your main selling points. But Evan should consider adding a traditional descriptor as well, such as “fluent,” “expert” or “proficient.”
Social: For this role, it makes sense to include social media links. However, they should be alongside the contact info, near the top of the page, and only professionally relevant accounts should be included.
Check out our job-winning free downloadable resume templates that are appropriate for all 3 formats
If formatting your own resume seems like a hassle, we have free downloadable resume templates with a proven track record of landing jobs. You can drag-and-drop sections into your preferred order to match one of three main formats, and the formatting basics, like font size, margins and color selection, are taken care of for you. It’s just an easy way to start applying for jobs faster.
Resume formats: Key takeaways
Chronological resumes could potentially work for any job or industry. Use these resume examples to inspire you when you create your own chronological resume.
There are three main resume formats: Chronological, functional and combination. No matter what your level of experience, skill set or career trajectory, one of these formats will serve your purposes.
Nontraditional resume formats are problematic — for some job seekers. While they look nice, nontraditional resume formats can get you blocked by an employer’s ATS. It’s simply not worth the risk unless you are in the creative field and sending your resume directly to a hiring manager.
Basic formatting is (usually) better. From font size to header styling, your formatting should be consistent, common and easy to digest. Otherwise, your resume may get blocked by an ATS before it even has a chance to reach a hiring manager.
More resume resources
That’s not all! Check out our extensive article library as you create a resume that’ll help you land your next job.
Don’t forget to write a cover letter as well! Luckily, we have a lot of guidance to help you get started.
Cover letter articles:
What is a functional resume format?
A functional resume format typically starts with a skills section, accompanied by a bulleted list of accomplishments to back up each skill. If you have work experience to report, list it at the bottom in reverse-chronological order.
What is a chronological resume format?A chronological resume format is written 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?The reverse chronological resume 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 is the best format for a resume?The best format for a resume depends on your goals and where you are in your career. Many people choose the chronological format, but if you’re changing careers, lack experience, or have large gaps in your experience, then you may want to consider a functional or hybrid format.
Which resume format is most versatile?The combination resume or sometimes called a 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 the functional resume format for an entry-level position if you do not have experience because a functional resume will allow you to display your relevant soft skills front and center.