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How to Choose the Best Format for Your Resume

By Susan Ireland

Chronological? Functional? Combination? What difference does it make which format you use for your resume?

It's all about timing. With the right format, you can grab an employer's interest during his or her initial eight-second scan of your resume.

During those few seconds he or she wants to see:

  1. Who the job seeker is.
  2. What the job seeker wants.
  3. Why the job seeker should get an interview.
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If the employer can't grasp that information in a quick scan, he or she is apt to set the resume aside or, even worse, discard it.

The right resume format (chronological, functional, or combination) organizes your information so that it passes an employer's eight-second test.

So which format should you use?

The best format for you to use depends on what type of career transition you're making, and one format is usually the most effective (see below).

Here are guidelines for when to use each format.

Chronological Format

The most traditional format is the chronological resume. This format highlights your dates, places of employment, and job titles, presenting them as headings under which your accomplishments are written.

The chronological format can be most effective when:

  • You wish to remain in the same field or industry.
  • Your work history shows lateral or vertical career growth or an increase in job responsibility, making your job objective the next obvious step in your career path.
  • Your current or most recent position is one you are proud of and enjoy.

The Functional Resume

The functional resume presents your work experience under skill headings, which gives you the freedom to prioritize your achievements by their relevance and impact rather than by chronology. The dates, names of employers, and job titles in your work history are listed concisely in a separate section, usually at the bottom of your resume.

This resume format is not highly regarded by most employers because it's not easy to figure out what happened where in an applicant's work history. For that reason, do not use it unless:

  • You are making a very extreme career change, so extreme that your work history has almost no value to the potential employer (for example, rattle snake charmer to diplomatic ambassador).
  • You are preparing to re-enter the job market after a long and hard-to-explain situation (such as incarceration or other circumstance that you want to de-emphasize).

Recruiters typically do not respond well to functional resumes.

The Combination Resume

This is the format most popular today. The combination resume format is a hybrid of the chronological and functional resumes.

Starting with the functional format, a small section at the top of the resume -- often called the Summary of Qualifications -- highlights the job seeker's skills apppropriate to the job they are seeking.

The rest of the resume is in the standard chronological format. Skill headings are inserted under job title and employer headings to emphasize the relevant skills used on that particular job.

Employers like the combination format because it clearly displays the job seeker's work history. Job seekers like this format because it highlights their skills.

The combination format is a great choice if:

  • You're making a career change and you need to underscore your transferable skills.
  • Your job titles do not accurately describe the level of responsibility you held.
  • You want to incorporate unpaid experience into your work history and you need to demonstrate the relevance and value of that experience.
  • You want to draw attention to an earlier job, which you can do by inserting skill headings for the earlier job and not using skill headings for more current jobs.

[Related: Why a General Purpose Resume Doesn't Work and Keyword Secrets to Get Your Resume Noticed]


About the author...

Susan Ireland is the author of four job search books including The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Perfect Resume. For more information about writing your resume, read Susan's books or visit Susan's website SusanIreland.com.


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