A resume format provides the layout for a resume, framing a job applicant’s unique professional story in a way that showcases their work history, skills and accomplishments perfectly. When paired with a professionally crafted resume template, the right format can help cinch the job.
There are three standard resume formats with distinct functions:
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 offer relevant to the job, the industry you are in and the type of job you want.
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.
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.
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.
Nontraditional resume formats
You may be tempted to do something “unique” with your resume to grab employers’ attention. Maybe you want to format it in a visually striking way by 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 and title: Not only is this section difficult for human eyes to read, but ATS programs won’t register it.
Profile: This section’s title could confuse 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.
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3 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. 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 you are applying for, 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 the format you choose. 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.
What is a functional resume format?A functional resume format typically starts with a skills section, accompanied by a bullet point 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?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. 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 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.
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