Master These Three Resume Formats

The three main resume formats are your key to a high-quality resume. How can you choose between these three and understand them more effectively?



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Resume Formats

The resume format you select can play a huge role when it comes to presenting your resume appropriately to a hiring manager. Different resume formats will help you emphasize different aspects of your work experience, career progression and relevant skills. That means it’s up to you to determine which resume format will work best for you and continue accordingly.

The good news is that the three resume formats are easy to understand, and as long as you know and understand your career goals, you can easily choose the correct resume format and execute it flawlessly. This is the key to creating a high-quality resume — knowing how to play to your strengths.

If you’re hoping to create a resume that looks incredible and performs just as well, here’s everything you need to know about the three common resume formats.

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What Are the Three Resume Formats?

If you’re researching resume formats, you’ll see three major resume formats regularly referenced.

1. Chronological
Chronological resumes are the most common format people use for their resumes. A chronological resume is more accurately called a reverse-chronological resume. It typically centers on the work experience section, listing your most recent job first and going back through time in detailing your earlier jobs. While chronological resumes typically feature skills near the top, they keep the list fairly short, allowing your work history to shine.

2. Functional
A functional format is more about the specific skills that will help you succeed in your new job. In a standard functional resume, your employment history will typically be brief, with your summary of qualifications and applicable skills taking up most of the space. Skills are usually categorized into major categories, including soft skills, as well as any pertinent training and certifications.

3. Combination
A combination format, also called a hybrid resume, will combine the best parts of the functional and chronological resume. This resume centers on your skill set but also showcases how you’ve used those skills in your work history.

Understanding the Chronological Resume Format

If you’ve shown steady progress in a single field throughout your career, this is an extremely effective resume. A resume in this format should feature these sections: your resume summary, skills, work history and education.

  • Your resume summary is a 2-3 sentence summary of who you are and your best skills.
  • The skills section is a combination of your 5-10 best skills that suit the job you’re applying for.
  • Your work history will be the majority of this resume format and should include the most relevant experience of the last few years, with the most recent job first.
  • Your education section will feature college and post-graduate experience, with high school listed only if you have no college education.

For this type of resume, make sure your explanation of what you did at each job centers around the exact responsibilities you had, and look to feature achievements and accomplishments that match up well with your responsibilities at the job you want.

Understanding the Functional Resume Format

The functional resume format is less commonly used than the chronological resume format, but it can still be highly effective, especially for job seekers who don’t have professional experience. The functional resume format is often used by recent graduates, people choosing a new career path, and anyone who generally doesn’t have a lot of employment history beyond entry-level jobs. A resume in this format should feature these sections: your resume summary, your skills, a shortened work history, and your education.

  • Your resume objective will be a 2-3 sentence summary of who you are, indicating your strengths and career goals.
  • The skills section will be broader than in the chronological resume, often listing up to a dozen skills and how you can utilize them.
  • The work history will include the most relevant experiences of the last few years, but should truncate them, providing only basic information about your jobs.
  • The education section will include a brief overview of your education achievements, including certifications and professional training, if you have them.

Functional resumes focus largely on the skills you have, rather than your work experience. In a functional resume, you probably won’t write more than a line or two describing each place you previously worked. A resume objective is also more effective here than a resume summary, as an objective indicates what you want to do, whereas a summary indicates what you have done. The functional resume downplays your past experiences, as it’s typically intended for those with very little work history or job seekers looking for a career change, making a resume objective your best option.

Understanding the Combination Resume Format

With a combination resume, you’ll typically put your skills first and focus on your skills section, but you’ll still provide an extensive work history section. That means you’ll get these sections in a combination resume: your resume summary or objective, your skills, your work history, and your education.

  • Your resume summary or objective will play up any applicable work history you have, while focusing on the skills you’ve developed.
  • Your skills section will be more extensive than in a chronological resume, typically hovering around 10-12 skills.
  • Your work history will have more details than in a functional resume, with the focus on how you’ve used your most relevant skills.
  • Your education will still include your college experiences and potentially any other experiences that might be beneficial to your resume.

The combination resume format allows you to have robust skills and work experience, and you can top it off with either a resume objective or resume summary.

How Can You Choose the Right Resume Format for Your Needs?

What’s the best resume format for you? There’s no one answer. Typically, going for a more functional resume will work best if you don’t have a lot of existing experience in your ideal field, and going for a chronological resume will work best if you have plenty of existing work experience. If you’re somewhere between those extremes, a combination resume is a good option.

If you’re still not sure, look through our examples of the different resume formats. If you find one format that best presents your work history and/or skills, use our resume builder to create a resume.

Resume Format Examples

A great way to make sure your resume fits with others from your industry is to look at other resumes from your industry. If you’re looking to write the perfect resume, use ResumeHelp’s wide range of examples for hundreds of professions and industries. Our resume samples are the best way to start your resume journey.

FAQ: Resume Formats

Q: What is the best resume format?

It’s important to remember that there’s no such thing as a “best” resume format. There’s only the right resume format for your needs. In general, if you have more applicable work experience, you should go with a chronological resume. If you have less applicable work experience, you should consider a combination resume, and if you’re a first-time job seeker or applying for a job that emphasizes skills over experience, you should consider a functional resume.

If you’re still unsure, remember that you can always “try out” multiple resume formats using the ResumeHelp resume builder. Try writing a professional resume in a chronological format, a functional format, and a combination format, and see which one you like best. You may find that once you see it on paper, it’s much easier to decide on a specific resume format that presents your information most effectively.

Q: Can I use a resume template for any resume format?

ResumeHelp offers over a dozen different resume templates that can be adapted for any format. If you really like the way a specific resume template looks, you can customize it to work for your specific resume format. If you’re using the ResumeHelp resume builder, you can change your template at the click of a button.

Q: How do I make sure that my resume is ATS-friendly?

Applicant tracking systems (ATS) are a type of software that automatically scans incoming resumes to look for the presence of certain keywords that fit the job being applied for. If your resume doesn’t have those keywords, the applicant tracking systems could reject it outright without ever sending it to recruiters.

This is why it’s so important to consider getting your resume ATS-ready when you’re writing it. On average, employment history is an important element when you’re being scanned by ATS, which means chronological resumes typically work more effectively. If you need to submit a functional resume and want it to be ATS-ready, use a polished, readable layout based on our templates, and focus on your resume summary or objective along with your skills, making sure you address keywords in the job posting.

With ResumeHelp, you can make it easy to hit all the keywords using our builder. Our step-by-step approach and job-specific suggestions will ensure your resume helps get in great position for your career change. Utilize our resume formatting tips and advice to get the most out of your resume, no matter who’s looking at it.

Q: Do I need a cover letter for all resume formats?

You’ll need a cover letter no matter what resume format you end up choosing. The cover letter is what helps connect your resume to you as a person. Cover letters are especially important when it comes to functional resumes, as they give your resume a bit more of a human side to it, but they’re extremely important in all resume formats, no matter what the format is for your resume.

Both your resume and your cover letter need to be personalized for each job listing you apply to. Personalization will help the hiring manager get to know a little bit about you before they call you, and demonstrate you know how your skills and experiences can help fill the company’s specific needs. Additionally, hiring managers appreciate resumes and cover letters that show you put some research and thought into their creation, which can sway them to select you for an interview rather than someone else.

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