While there are no set rules about which format to use, you should be aware of some well-established guidelines.
Job seekers must decide for themselves which format is best for their particular situation. We’ll talk about the pros and cons of each design, along with general best-writing practices. Once you decide on a format, you can build your own resume using our custom builder.
The chronological, or reverse-chronological, resume is the most common format and the default layout that people use when writing resume advice, including our writing guide. As the name suggests, it presents your work history in chronological order. Your current or most recent position is listed first, followed by the role immediately prior, and so forth. Each entry clearly shows both the position you held and the length of time.
One thing to keep in mind with using the chronological format is determining how far back your work history should go. We recommend including your relevant employment history from either the past 10 years or at least covering the number of years of experience required in the job description. What constitutes a relevant history may vary significantly by industry and employer, particularly for highly competitive roles.
Most job seekers using this format tend to provide the most detail on their three most recent positions, while including only career-defining accomplishments and brief summaries for previous jobs.
You should use this format if you have consistent employment — one that reflects a clear upward career progression, increasing responsibilities and demonstrable skills development. The chronological resume is an especially strong format if your work history includes highly-recognized companies — brand recognition adds clout to your professional experience.
The chronological resume is not recommended for entry-level job seekers, students or new entrants to the workforce because it draws attention to the lack of recent experience. Similarly, those reentering the workforce after a long absence may also want to consider alternative formats.
Make your past jobs work for you! Our designated chronological resume format guide offers multiple resume templates and step-by-step advice for creating your chronological resume. You’ll also find expert advice on what recruiters look for on a resume, free templates and resume-building tools for creating a compelling chronological resume.
Learn more about the chronological format
The functional resume focuses directly on relevant skills and career achievements, regardless of when they were gained. This format usually begins with an overview of the job seekers’ skills and most relevant work experiences, while listing the work history at the end of the resume and only mentions job titles and employers.
Unlike the other two resume formats, a functional resume captures your achievements, responsibilities, and time spent at each job through the view of your skills. This is why it’s often also called a “skills-based resume.” List skills in order of priority according to how valuable they are likely to be for the role or to the target employer.
Because the functional resume focuses directly on skills relevant to the job, this format is handy on recruiters and hiring managers if you need to emphasize your technical skills and practical experience or if your have a very short or non-existent work history. But it is also less common than the chronological resume and should be used with caution. Recruiters may review this format with the assumption that you're trying to exclude potentially unfavorable details of an applicant’s employment history (e.g., job hopping, termination, being a “late bloomer”).
This layout is best for job seekers who have experienced frequent job changes or have substantial gaps in their employment. It’s also an excellent choice for new entrants to the workforce, along with employees with limited professional experience. Seasoned professionals who are changing careers, and others with transferable skills but whose job history may not apply to the new role will benefit from the functional format.
It’s best not to use the functional resume format if you are applying to roles in conservative industries or firms, such as banking, finance, or law. These entities often have standard recruitment procedures that prefer the chronological template — candidates are usually expected to include specific information on their resumes. It’s also better to use another type of layout if it is critical to demonstrate career growth (i.e. if you’re trying to get promoted or get a managerial role) or increased responsibilities.
Skills are what matter in the workplace, not the path you took to acquire them. Here, you’ll find a comprehensive step-by-step guide to creating a functional resume that showcases your skills. You’ll also find 60 downloadable samples, our free templates and resume-building tools that will put your skills at the center of the conversation with your next employer.
Learn more about the functional resume format.
This layout brings together the strengths of both the chronological and functional resumes. Also called the hybrid format, equal weight is given to both previous work responsibilities and skills. It presents a candidate’s prior employment in order of recency, much like a chronological layout, and does so in a way that highlights a curated set of skills and career accomplishments.
The combination resume is best for job seekers targeting senior-level roles and who have a seasoned career history, extensive skills and achievements that tell a distinguished career story. Because this format is so comprehensive and detailed, it’s also the most difficult of the three resumes to write.
Combination resumes are often longer than functional or chronological resumes. Therefore, it’s important to keep it focused, forceful and concise. A combination resume full of redundant information, irrelevant detail and meandering narrative can undermine even the strongest candidate.
The combination resume works best for job seekers with significant work experience and powerful skills and accomplishments. It can benefit mid- to senior-level candidates seeking a higher position or a role characterized by highly specialized skills, or those making a career change.
Don't use the combination resume format if your career history could be seen as incomplete or lacking by your senior-level peers, or you have substantial gaps between jobs. Career changes, job hopping and absences from the workforce come across as glaring in the work history section of a combination resume.
You are at the top of your career game — your resume needs to shine as you do. Here you’ll find a complete, comprehensive guide to crafting a highly refined combination resume. More than 100 downloadable samples and templates, a powerful Resume Builder, and tips from the pros are available to help you create a resume of distinction.
Learn more about the combination resume format.
This chart demonstrates how to utilize resume formats to your advantage, and the pros and cons of each. With a format in mind, you’re ready to create your resume. Use our builder to make it fast and painless.
Otherwise, we have a few more tips for you below.
Once you identify which of the three resume formats suits your circumstance, you can customize one of these specialized template options with your information.
Creativity and innovation are sometimes appropriate on a professional resume, especially in start-up culture, design firms or youth-directed career fields. Creative resume templates offer an artistic layout, and provide job seekers a chance to reflect some style and personality.
Web and graphic design, marketing and advertising are industries that might respond well to creative resumes. It’ll be up to you to make the judgment call.
This format may not be ideal in many circumstances, but used wisely it can be a powerful way to showcase your skills.
View creative sample resumes.
If you’re in a creative or technical field, the portfolio resume is another layout to consider. This type of page setup allows you to highlight your work and accomplishments visually.
The design of your portfolio will depend upon your industry, but a portfolio is an important choice for artists, graphic designers, photographers, web designers and other creative professionals to showcase work samples, and demonstrate the ability to adapt their visual and tonal voice to a brand’s guidelines.
Check out portfolio resume examples.
The infographic resume offers a visual layout that has gained popularity in the past couple of years, and is particularly useful for designers and marketers. It is a stylish way to showcase your hard and soft skills, technical knowledge and previous accomplishments using easy-to-read bullet points and images like charts, graphs, icons and timelines.
Like other creative resumes, this format won’t appeal to all employers, so you may want to have a traditionally formatted resume on hand to accompany it.
Here are some infographic samples to check out.
It’s important to note that a lot of companies are now using applicant tracking systems (ATS) to screen online applications. If your resume doesn’t fit the mold of what the employer is seeking, it’ll get tossed before a person ever sees it.
ATS cannot decipher information in tables, tablets or images. Even something as simple as putting your name in the wrong place can get your resume rejected. Using an ATS-friendly resume format ensures your resume will get past the first hurdle, and is of particular importance if you’re applying for a nonprofit, government or corporate job.
See this page for ATS-Friendly examples.
The CV, or curriculum vitae, is a different type of resume altogether. A CV is longer than a resume and is designed to be an in-depth exploration of your career path. The CV is the standard resume format in academia, and is more common in Europe than the United States.
See this page for CV examples.
Having reviewed the features of each resume format, you can decide which one is right for the job you’re pursuing, and best highlights your professional skills and achievements.
Referring to specific qualifications in the job listing is a great way to tailor your resume to the job you’re seeking. Make sure that you’re honest about your skills — this is a great way to stand out to a potential employer.
Ask yourself a few simple questions to help you clarify which format would be best for you.
Now that you have a handle on the nuances of resume formats, start writing your resume with our step-by-step Resume Builder and apply the formatting tips you learned here.
Using a builder streamlines the whole process so that you can write your resume even faster — you’re able to choose a pre-formatted template in the format best for you. Then, it guides you through the process step-by-step so it’s like the whole process is automated for your convenience. So easy!