Resume Formats

There are 3 traditional resume formats: the chronological, functional or combined. Depending on your situation, you may decide to use one over another...

In a perfect world, the chronological resume is the preferred format choice of most people.

However, the are many folks for which this format is not appropriate and can actually hurt their chances of getting an interview.

If you have gaps in your employment history or if you are changing careers, the functional resume format may be the one to use.

“For most people whose career has progressed in a linear, progressive manner, the Chronological resume format is best. However, if there are gaps in your employment history, you’ll need to shift the focus by using a Functional format.”

Resume format outlines

Here is a brief outline of each format. As you can see, some sections are ranked higher in certain formats than others. Basically the idea is to match your strengths to the format that best highlights them. On the other hand, if you have certain weaknesses (for example gaps in employment), you would choose a format that does not stress that area as much.

Chronological resume outline

  1. Employment Objective;
  2. Summary Profile;
  3. Employment History;
  4. Education;
  5. References.

Functional resume outline

  1. Employment Objective;
  2. Accomplishments;
  3. Capabilities;
  4. Employment History;
  5. Education;
  6. References.

Combined resume outline

  1. Employment Objective;
  2. Summary Profile;
  3. Accomplishments;
  4. Employment History;
  5. Education;
  6. References.

Chronological Resume Format

The chronological resume format is the standard that most everybody is used to seeing. For job seekers with a steady, consistent employment history that is your best bet.

Because your resume is a marketing document, you need to lead with your strengths.

You really must analyze your work experience as well as your skill and make an assessment of what is your strength.

It may be that you are a “steady Eddie” and have worked consistently for 15 years on a linear career path.

If this is you, a chronological resume format will suit you well as your solid work history is your strength.

Unless you have some exceptional relevant skills that need to be set apart and highlighted, stick with this format.

On the other hand you may have taken a few years off to start your own business, gaining some valuable experience that will now benefit an employer as you re-enter the workforce. Especially if there is a gap in employment, a functional resume format may better suit your needs.

From an employers perspective

As somebody who has seen, scanned and read thousands of resumes, I can give you my opinion and tell you what I look for when reading a candidate’s resume. However, many employers vary in how they “receive” information. Some may prefer one format over another. This is a factor that you cannot control.

You are always better of choosing a format based on what makes you feel most comfortable and confident in your presentation. From there get your story together and run with it!

When I scan a resume I am always looking for a personality. If I don’t “see it” in their resume quickly I move on.

I need employees who can make something happen, not just punch a clock. I am searching for dynamic people who can do the following:

  1. Sell me;
  2. Get the job done;
  3. Inspire others (co-workers, subordinates, customers, etc.);
  4. Look to the future.

Many employers may (and do) disagree with me, however, I am not over concerned about some gaps in employment, a little bit of job-hopping and the like. As a manager of others I always assume that I can make (the right) somebody successful where others have failed.

The key is finding that “star quality” – that spark that a good manager/employer can kindle and build into a fire! That star quality must come through in the resume. That is what I am looking for. I really don’t care what format I get. However, traditional chronological resume formats can sometimes suppress key relevant skills (the ones I am looking for) by hiding or burying them within an expansive employment history.

The moral here is no matter what format you choose; sell yourself! Let your personality and strength shine through. The format and presentation that best does that is the right resume format for you.

Functional Resume Format

The functional resume format is a more flexible format best used when you may have not had a steady work history. The functional format focuses more emphasis on your skills, capabilities and accomplishments rather than on your chronological work history.

This is of course done in order to feature your strengths instead of your weaknesses. Your weakness in this case being a non-linear employment record.

No matter what the format, it is important that you always lead with your best attributes.

You must quickly attract the reader to your strengths, so any format that allows you to do that more naturally is the best format for you.

Whereas a chronological resume format is the traditional choice for most resumes, the functional format seeks to diminish the employment history (as it may have a hole or two) and focus on key strengths.

Let’s face it. If you selling your car and it had a few scratches on the exterior, wouldn’t you be quick to point out the beautiful leather interior?

The key here is lead with your strengths, not your weaknesses. They’ll eventually find the scratches, but they will have already “smelled the leather” at that point and be thinking of how comfortable it is. Once they have they will be far more willing to overlook the scratches.

Combined Resume Format

The combined resume format is a flexible format that gives you the “best of both worlds”. That is, it combines a chronological and functional style. The functional format focuses more emphasis on your skills, capabilities and accomplishments rather than on your chronological work history.

However, the combined resume format keeps these relevant accomplishments from getting buried in the chronological work history.

The challenge of any resume is always putting your best foot forward – but what if you have 2 great feet? The combined resume format is best used when both your work history and your skill set are particularly strong.

The combined format is much like the chronological format with the exception of adding an “Accomplishments” section just before the “Experience” section. This gives you the opportunity to highlight your significant accomplishments early in the document.

Given today’s demanding task of catching the eye of a busy hiring manager, I tend to like the formatting flexibility of the combined resume. As we have discussed previously, the name of the game is to grab attention within the first 5 seconds a reader lays eyes on your resume.

What an employer is looking for upon this very brief initial scan, is an indicator that you have what he is looking for. This usually takes the form of a particular skill set or an area of accomplishment.

On a chronologically formatted resume, these items many times are buried later in the document. The combined format tends to lead with them (as does the functional – usually in an effort to overcome work history deficiencies). I tend to prefer the combined format – even if the work history is solid – as it is really a solid “marketing document”.

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