Creating a job-winning resume involves choosing the optimal format to showcase your unique skills and experience to an employer. Most hiring managers will spend less than 10 seconds scanning your resume, so the way in which you present your professional experience is crucial.
As a job seeker, you'll benefit from using one of three major resume formats: chronological, functional and combination. We'll look at each format and help you decide which one is best for you.
How to Choose a Resume Format
While there are no set rules about which format to use, you should be aware of some well-established guidelines.
- The chronological format is best when applying to roles similar to your current or most recent one.
- The functional format works well when pursuing a new type of position.
- The combination resume is a marriage of the two previous formats and is typically used by job seekers with long and diverse work histories, targeting senior or specialized roles.
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.
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.
Should I Use a Chronological Format?
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 – the brand recognition bolsters your personal brand and adds clout to your professional experience.
When Should I Avoid This Format?
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 re-entering the workforce after a long absence may also want to consider alternative formats.
Chronological Resume Example:
Make your past jobs work for you! Inside you’ll find a step-by-step guide for creating your chronological resume. You’ll also find expert advice on what recruiters are looking for, more than, over 100 downloadable resume samples, free templates, and resume building tools for creating a compelling, solid chronological resume.
Learn more about the chronological format and see our over 100 examples.
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”).
Should I Use a Functional Format?
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.
When Should I Avoid This 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.
Functional Resume Example:
Skills are what matter in the workplace, not the path you took to acquire them. Inside 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, 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 format and see our 60 examples.
This layout brings together the strengths of both the chronological and functional resumes. Equal weight is given to both previous work responsibilities and skills. It presents a candidate's previous employment in order of recency, much like a reverse-chronological layout, and does so in a way that highlights a curated set of skills and career accomplishments.
Also known as the hybrid format, 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 it is so comprehensive and detailed, it is also the most difficult of the three resumes to create.
Combination resumes are often longer than those created using the other two formats. Therefore, it’s important to keep it focused, forceful and concise. Applicants are expected to have outstanding communication skills, so a combination resume full of redundant information, irrelevant detail and meandering narrative can undermine even the strongest candidate.
Should I Use a Combination Format?
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.
When Should I Avoid This Format?
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.
Combination Resume Example:
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 Over 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 format and see over 100 examples
Resume Format Comparison Chart
- ChronologicalEmphasisEmployment HistoryDatesIncludedSkillsNot IncludedProsTypically preferred by recruitersConsDoesn’t highlight skills
- FunctionalEmphasisSkillsDatesNot IncludedSkillsIncludedProsDownplays lack of experienceConsLack of work experience may standout
- CombinationEmphasisBothDatesIncludedSkillsIncludedProsHighlights skills and work historyConsCan be lengthy and redundant
Specialized Resume Formats
Once you identify which of the three resume formats suits your personal experience and circumstance, you can adapt one of these specialized template options. Customize one of following downloadable resume templates into the format you need.
Creativity and innovation can be appropriate on a professional resume, especially in start-up culture, design firms, or youth-directed career fields. Creative resume templates help you use an artistic layout and offers job seekers a chance to reflect their style and personality.
Web and graphic design, marketing and advertising are all examples of industries that might respond well to a creative resume. 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, another layout to consider is a portfolio resume. 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 a valuable choice for artists, graphic designers, photographers, web designers and other creative professionals to showcase work samples and demonstrate their ability to adapt their visual and tonal voice to a brand's guidelines.
See this page for examples of a portfolio resume.
An engaging layout that's useful for designers and marketers, the infographic resume offers a visual layout that has gained popularity in the past couple of years. 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 such as 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 complement 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.
Choosing the Best Format For You
Now that you have reviewed the basic features of each 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. You’ll want to make sure you’re honest about your skills, but this is a great way to stand out to a potential employer.
To make your final decision, ask yourself some simple questions to help you clarify which format would be best for you.
- In what industry do you want to work?
- Will the employer appreciate a little creativity, or would they find it off-putting?
- Do you have back-to-back employment?
- Do you have skills specific to the job you’re applying for?
- Do you have frequent career changes to compensate for?
After you’ve chosen the format, start writing your resume with our step-by-step Resume Builder and apply the formatting rules you learned here.
Need more help or want to explore this topic further? Check out these resources: