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What is the Best Format for an Effective Resume?

There are three main resume formats that are considered standard and appropriate for most job seekers. These formats include: Chronological, Functional, and Combination formats. Deciding the best format for your situation can be a challenge. Below are some tips to help you decide the most appropriate resume format for your experience and career goals.

Chronological Resumes

The chronological format, according to Monster and most industry experts, is the most widely recognized and accepted format for resumes. Technically speaking, it should be called the Reverse Chronological Resume since it is strongly recommended to include your most recent work experience first and then work backwards.

You should use a Chronological Resume if:
  • Your most recent experience is relevant to the jobs for which you plan to apply
  • You have been successful in your career progression and have a consistent pattern of lateral or vertical career advancement
  • You have long (years) job tenure with most of your employers and have consistently remained employed over the past 5-10 years
  • You are a recent graduate with relevant education and at least a few years of work experience, internships, and/or academic projects to detail
You should NOT use a Chronological Resume if:
  •  You are seeking a career change into a new industry or skill set
  •  You have multiple gaps of employment over the past 10 years
  •  You have taken career steps backwards in the past few (3-5) years
  •  You change jobs frequently
  •  You are a recent college graduate with little or no relevant professional work history, volunteer engagements, or significant academic projects to detail

Functional Resumes

A functional resume can be challenging to create but has significant merit when well-crafted for the right candidate. Functional resumes focus on your abilities and skills more than your employment history. This enables hiring managers to quickly reference related skills that might get buried or hidden in a chronological resume.  While an employment section should still be included at the end of a functional resume, the details are typically minimal and are not the primary focus of the resume.

You should use a Functional Resume if:
  • Your most recent work is in an unrelated industry yet many of the skills you used are transferable to your desired industry or profession
  • You change jobs frequently OR you have been a career contractor and are looking to transition into permanent employment
  • You have significant gaps in employment over the past 5-10 years
  • You are reentering the workforce after significant time out of work and have some previous work experience to reference
  • You are a recent college graduate with relevant education but limited work history or internships to detail by date
You should NOT use a Functional Resume if:
  • You are seeking a complete career change in which very few of your past skills will be transferable into your desired field
  • Your most recent work is relevant, and your work history is stable
  • You are applying to higher-level positions in which a proven record of progressive responsibility needs to be obvious to a hiring manager

Combination Resumes

In some circumstances, using a blend of a chronological and functional format can be ideal. Combination formats typically consist of a career summary, education section, and competencies or skills section at the top of the resume, with employers, dates of employment, and brief descriptions of accomplishments and duties listed in reverse chronological order towards the end of the resume. The summary sections in combination resumes are typically shorter than in functional resumes, while the employment sections are slightly more detailed than in functional resumes.

You should use a Combination Resume Format if:
  • You have a stable work history and transferable skills, but are looking to change industries or professions
  • You have a diverse skill set and want to highlight your mastery in one aspect of your career, while still providing insight into your stable and progressive career background
  • You are a recent graduate with relevant education and some work history or internships to detail by date
You should not use a Combination Resume Format if:
  • Your education is the only relevant experience for the position(s) in which you are applying
  • You are staying in the same industry, have a stable work history, and have strong (obvious) qualifications for the positions in which you are applying
  • You have significant gaps in employment or change jobs frequently

More than one format may be appropriate for your situation. In such a case, you should select the format you feel will allow you to best represent yourself to a prospective employer. Ask yourself, “which format showcases your strongest attributes the most” and go with that format.

Selecting the format of your resume is only one facet of crafting an effective resume. Follow us on social media or our blog for more tips on writing an effective resume.

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