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Picking the right resume format s important. It allows you to position yourself in the best way possible, according to the job and industry you're applying for. Choosing the right format will also help you conquer the applicant tracking system, making sure the recruiter actually reads your profile.
We'll guide you through the three main resume formats to help you understand which one works best for you and how to perfect it.
The 3 Resume Formats
There are 3 key resume formats - reverse-chronological, functional, and combination. Let's have a look at when to use which.
A reverse-chronological resume is the most popular format you'll see. In fact, there’s a good chance that this is what you’ve been using all along without realizing it.
The key goal of a reverse-chronological resume is to put a great emphasis on work experience. You start off the section with your most recent job and responsibilities, and go back from there, hence the name "reverse-chronological."
This is what a reverse-chronological resume looks like:
The functional resume format is not very common today. Instead of focusing on your work experience, a functional resume talks specifically about your skills and accomplishments.
The tricky thing with functional resumes is that skills are easy to talk about but hard to prove. If you go for a functional resume, you have to make sure to back up your skills with detailed descriptions. In fact, adding a "core competencies" section would make your resume look much more polished and strengthen your profile.
Feel free to use a functional resume:
- If you’ve been out of the workforce for a long time and don’t want to stress on that with your resume
- If you don’t have a lot of work experience
This is what a functional resume looks like:
The functional resume may raise a red flag to the recruiter, since it's always better to demonstrate actual work experience as opposed to talk about skills.
It’s best to stick to either a reverse-chronological or combination resume. Use the functional resume only in the two cases listed above.
A combination resume is the mix of the two previous formats we looked at. It focuses on both your work experience and skills, taking best of both.
This format is useful if:
- You’re a very high-level professional
- You're transferring to a new industry
This is what a combination format looks like:
Use a reverse-chronological format if you don’t have a particular reason to use another format (meaning you don't have a particular set of skills to focus on or lack experience). This is the format you'll see in most successful resume templates.
Use the functional format if:
- You have a large gap in your work history
- Don’t have a lot of work experience
Use a combination format if:
- You’re a high-level professional
- Are changing industries and want to stress on transferable skills
Regardless of the format you choose, you'll still have to insert some core sections. Have a look at the following key pieces of a successful resume.
This section is essential if you really want to get a call back. Make sure to list:
- First Name / Last Name
- State / City / Zip code
- Phone number
Depending on your profession, you could also add:
- Behance profile link - this applies if you’re a designer and would like to showcase your portfolio
- Github link - similar to Behance, but for a programming portfolio
- LinkedIn - if you have an up-to-date profile and would like to engage with the company and recruiter via social media
Make sure to double, triple, quadruple check your contact information. You don’t want to realize the reason no one’s called you back in 2 months is because of a typo in the phone number.
There's more to your resume contact information than just formatting. Learn how to include contact information in your resume & get a call-back every time with our guide!
Summary or Objective (Optional)
The resume summary is where you sum up most of your professional experience, allowing the recruiter to figure out how relevant your resume is from the get-go.
Search Engine Optimization expert with 6+ years of experience looking for new opportunities. Streak record of success, having executed 10+ SEO campaigns for small-to-medium businesses, resulting in monthly traffic ranging from 10,000 to 100,000.
An objective, on the other hand, is the goal you’re trying to achieve with your resume. This could be gaining some sort of specific experience with the company, helping solve a business problem, etc.
Suave ex-telemarketer aiming to breach into B2B sales. People-person with boundless energy, never failing to hit and rise above the monthly KPI of $5,000.
Both summary and objective act as an “attention-getter.” If the recruiter likes what they see, they’re bound to go through the rest of your resume in detail.
There's a lot more to a killer resume summary or resume objective other than getting the formatting right. Learn more about either with our guides!
As we’ve mentioned, a reverse-chronological resume starts with your newest work experience and go back in the past.
Your work experience history will start with your latest endeavor and end with your last.
The rule of thumb with work experience is to mention your last 3-5 jobs, not your entire career history.
The formatting for work experience is as follows:
Company Name & Work Duration
Company Description (Optional)
Accomplishments & Responsibilities
Again, as with the work experience, you list out your education history.
The formatting is as follows…
Type of Degree + Field of Study
University Name + Duration
GPA (Optional. Only if it sets you apart. Think, 3.5/4.0+)
Honors or Distinctions
It would look like this:
B.A. in Communications
Yale University, 2012 - 2016
3.67 / 4.0 GPA
- Awarded honors in the field of communications
When it comes to listing education, however, remember that in 99% of the cases, you only want to mention your most recent educational endeavors.
If you have an MBA, for example, the recruiter really doesn't care about where you went for high-school.
If, however, you have degrees in different fields, then you might want to mention that in order to showcase your wide area of knowledge.
Want to learn more about listing your education? We've got you covered! Learn everything there is to know about education on a resume with our complete guide!
The skills section is a very easy way of filtering through candidates. If the recruiter is looking for someone who’s skilled at Google Analytics, for example, they’ll just look at the section and discard anyone who doesn’t have it mentioned.
You might also want to mention your level of knowledge with each skill, setting you apart from everyone who’s below your level.
Typically, the skill levels are:
Beginner - entry-level, with an understanding of the basic concepts.
Intermediate - between 1-5 years of experience with a tool or skill
Expert - 3+ years of experience.
It's important to be able to back up your skill-level with experience and / or projects you've done.
Remember to NEVER lie about your skill level. If you get hired and asked to do something that you can't, it's going to be a waste of time for everyone involved, not to mention very awkward.
Not sure which skills to include on your resume? Maybe some of these 50+ essential skills would work!
The functional resume, rather than focusing on work history, focuses on skills and competencies instead.
The formatting of a functional resume, as with the other two, starts with contact information & summary or objective. Unlike the reverse-chronological format, however, after those two sections, you focus directly on the skills as opposed to work experience.
The idea is to create an overview of how you’re going to fit in your new job, which is why you want to mention the appropriate skills.
As we’ve mentioned before, a combination resume is the mix of the other two formats. For the average job-seeker, this might be too much. If you have less than 5 years of work experience, then you probably don't have all that much to mention.
If you're a professional with 10+ years of experience, however, then the combination resume might just be perfect.
The skills section here allows you to talk about your overall experience, without having to list all of your work experience and going over one page.
The combination resume starts off with the “Skills or Qualifications” and moves on to “Work Experience.”
So, we'll go through each separately.
Skills & Work Experience
As with a functional resume, you can divide your skills into separate themes. That is, a general area you specialize in.
In a combination format, on the other hand, your skills should be a bonus added to your experience.
Now that you know how resume formatting works, it's time to take care of the content. A good resume is what takes you from a dreadfully boring, mediocre job to the job of your dreams.
So, you might want to check out our all-in-one guide on creating a resume, where we take you from a complete newbie to a master.
Already know everything there is to know about making a resume? Then head over to our resume builder and jump-start your job-search!