How do you even begin to write your resume?
Especially if it’s your first one?
Your hands are hovering over the keyboard.
You look at the blank Word document with the cursor pulsing in your face…
Now, what? What do you write?
Where do you put the information?
Wouldn’t it be great if there were road maps for resumes?
Well, there are.
Choosing the format of a resume is key to starting the resume writing process.
But it’s not as easy as it sounds.
Every time you send a resume, it gets thrown onto a pile of 250+ other resumes on average!
And they all look more or less the same.
Resume formats result in cookie-cutter resumes, but if you don’t follow the rules, your resume can end up in the trash.
So, how do you choose a resume format that will be familiar to recruiters and still put you ahead of the other 200+ job seekers?
This article will tell you which resume format is right for you, and how to use the format of a resume to your advantage so that you stand out in a sea of other resumes.
Table of Contents
- How Do I Choose a Good Resume Format?
- The Usual Choice - The Reverse-chronological Resume
- How To Improve Your Resume By Adding These 3 Sections
- How to Use the Combination Resume to Highlight Your Skills
- Why the Functional Resume Format is Dysfunctional
- Here's How to Choose a File Format - PDF Resume Vs. Word Resume
- Key Takeaway
Bonus: Check out our ultimate checklist of 54 things you need to do before you send your resume. How many have you missed? Download: “Resume 101 Checklist.”
1. How Do I Choose a Good Resume Format?
Choosing the format of a resume is like shopping for an outfit for prom.
Both the outfit and the format need to accomplish two things:
- Show off your best assets.
- Be unique and within a certain dress code at the same time.
Here is the thing:
Just like everything else with resume writing, there are no black and white rules when it comes to choosing the format of a resume.
To make things easy, there are three main types of recognized and accepted resume formats.
Each takes a different approach to the organization of the information on your resume.
And each resume format has strengths and weaknesses.
The three types of resume formats are:
- Functional or “Skills-based Resume”
How do you know which one is best for you?
- The reverse-chronological resume format is for everyone. Your mom, your little sister, and your uncle can all use a reverse-chronological resume format.
- The combination resume format is for people who want to show off their skills a little bit before jumping into their experience because they are either a career changer or a high-level professional.
- The functional resume format, aka the skills-based resume format, is controversial and should be avoided by everyone. More on that later.
Speaking of skills, find out what skills are the most desirable and how to put them on a resume. The guide has a great infographic too:
2. The Usual Choice - The Reverse-chronological Resume
The reverse-chronological resume format is the most common format and can be used by virtually anyone applying for a job. It is the bread and butter of resume formats.
Benefits of the Reverse-chronological Format
1. It’s standard. Recruiters are used to scanning this easy-to-read resume format. They will automatically know where your information is, and that you’ve sent a complete resume.
2. Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) can read it too. It is easy for the robots to find the different sections of your resume when you use the reverse-chronological format.
3. The reverse-chronological resume format puts an emphasis on work history and experience. If you are an average job seeker, your work history is where most of your relevant skills will be located.
Weaknesses of the Reverse-chronological Resume Format
1. It’s standard. Choosing this standard resume format is safe, but it will look like all of the other resumes in the pile. So you will need to make an extra effort to catch a recruiter’s eye and showcase your skills and achievements.
2. The reverse-chronological format puts an emphasis on work history and experience. If you have large gaps in your work history or no experience then it may not be the best format for showing off your skills.
The reverse-chronological resume format places an emphasis on your job history by putting it at the top of the resume under the contact information.
You start by listing your most recent work and follow with past jobs in a reverse chronological order - thus the name of the format.
Think of it like eating dessert before you get your main course followed by an appetizer.
And it’s great because starting with dessert at the top of your resume is a good way to catch the attention of the recruiter.
A sample template from our resume builder - create your resume here.
As you can see in the resume format sample, the experience section comes first followed by the education section and other additional sections.
Are you struggling with how to write a resume? Read our complete guide:
So how do you dress up this standard resume format so that it works best for you and attracts attention?
3. How To Improve Your Resume By Adding These 3 Sections
Here are three ways that you can dress up a boring, old reverse-chronological resume format:
- Add a resume summary or resume objective.
- Add achievements to your experience section.
- Add a Hobbies and Interests Section.
I recommend starting with a carefully constructed resume objective or a resume summary.
Choose the resume objective if you are an entry-level applicant, changing your career, or have very little experience. All other professionals should opt for the resume summary.
Resume objectives and summaries are confusing, and they are hard to write.
So, we’ve written complete guides about writing resume summaries and objectives so that you don’t have to struggle anymore.
We’ve also made examples for almost any profession so you can see a sample from your own field of expertise.
Adding your achievements within the experience section as bullet points is a way to get your top accomplishments at the top of your resume.
Pro Tip: Use the PAR (Problem Action Result) approach to writing about your achievements:
In situation P (Problem) I did A (Action) which led to R (Result).
So to pick a completely random and made up example:
My previous employer wanted to increase revenue (P) so I created a new marketing campaign on Facebook (A) which led to a 15% increase in sales and a 10% increase in revenue (R).
Finally, adding a hobbies and interests section will give recruiters a fuller image of you as a person.
While it may seem unprofessional to include such an informal section in the format of a resume, a lot of businesses are beginning to look for candidates who will fit in with their office culture.
Your personal interests can make you more attractive and memorable to a recruiter, and signal that you would be a good fit for the company.
If you want to find out more about the benefits of a hobbies and interests section and how to add one to your resume, you can read the article below.
4. How to Use a Combination Resume Format to Boost Skills
A combination resume format is the only real alternative to the reverse-chronological resume format.
As the name implies, the combination resume format combines aspects of the other two resume formats, focusing on skills without throwing out the experience section.
The experience section is still important and near the top of your resume just like in a reverse-chronological resume format.
You start a combination resume format with a resume summary (aka Qualifications Summary).
Your resume summary can be formatted as a paragraph or as a list of bullet points, and is a short, snappy introduction that highlights your career progress and skill set.
Your experience section comes next.
Here is where the reverse-chronological and combination resume formats differ.
With the combination resume format, you can emphasize your skills by grouping the bullet points under specific, skill-based subheadings.
As you list your roles and responsibilities under each job, you can organize the bullet points like this:
Cinderella Bootcamp (2009-01 - present)
Her Royal Highness, Princess Event Organizer
- Spearhead team building activities for groups of up to 10 housekeeping princesses.
- Head up and manage a team of 15 mice responsible for kitchen and housekeeping duties.
- Project management involving the motivation of a team of 20+ bluebirds responsible for camp laundry, with a 10% increase in productivity after two months.
- Conduct webinars on how to wash dishes in glass heels.
- Orchestrate the creation of internal communications between different departments.
- Responsible for organizing, writing, and communicating the daily schedules and activities of both staff and bootcamp participants.
Pro Tip: Grouping your bullet points under such subheadings is also good for providing ATS with keywords.
A sample template from our resume builder - create your resume here.
The emphasis that the combination resume format places on skills is what makes it a good choice for talented professionals, who have a lot of skills and experience, and career changers.
Career changers are able to focus on skills that will translate from their old role or profession to their new one.
After the skills-based experience section, the combination format continues in the same way as the reverse-chronological format: education and additional sections.
5. Why the Functional Resume Format is Dysfunctional
A functional resume format takes the pressure off of your job history and refocuses on your skills and abilities.
Sounds great right?
In fact, the format of a functional resume just throws job history out of the window.
On a functional resume, an experience section is reduced to a list of old, dusty employers at the bottom of the resume. You can eliminate dates and your roles and responsibilities.
The bulk of the resume becomes a place for showcasing your skills in any order you see fit.
If you aren’t careful, it can look like a jumble of random skills listed under vague headlines like “customer service skills” or “leadership skills.”
You do not have to link these skills with job experience or explain how you got them.
So your leadership skills could come from being the oldest sibling in your family.
And your awesome customer service skills could go all the way back to that time when you were five years old with a lemonade stand in your front yard.
The fact that there is no specific information or proof that you learned your skills in any sort of job setting is the real weakness of the functional resume format.
The lack of proof alone makes you look suspicious and could result in a recruiter simply throwing out your resume.
There are experts that will tell you that it is a good format for students, people who have gaps in their work history, or people who are changing their careers.
But it just makes you look sneaky - like you’re hiding something.
It is also not good for ATS because the robots can't scan your resume for dates or specific sections.
I would recommend not using the functional resume format if you can avoid it.
6. Here's How to Choose a File Format - PDF Resume Vs. Word Resume
While we are on the topic of formats, you may be wondering what file format is best for saving your resume.
Should you save you create a PDF resume or a Word resume?
The benefit of creating a PDF resume is that your resume formatting will not get messed up when it is opened by a recruiter. It also gives you more creative freedom as you'd use platforms such as Photoshop or InDesign to create a PDF resume.
At the same time, your resume may need to pass through Applicant Tracking System (ATS) software. And some ATS software may have trouble reading a PDF resume. ATS does not like graphs or tables and requires plain text.
In that case, a Word resume is probably a better choice. In any situation, having both formats on hand is best practice.
7. Key Takeaway
While there are not many resume formats to choose from, the choice is important. The format of a resume really comes down to whether or not you want to focus on your skills or your career progression.
Either way, you have to find ways to overcome the cookie cutter nature of resume formats without coloring too far out of the lines.
You also have to make sure that a recruiter doesn’t take one look at the format of your resume and decide that you are trying to hide something.
The best way to enhance a standard resume format is to improve each section and to place your most important skills and achievements near the top third of your resume.
If you can open with a great resume summary, followed by strong skills, experience, and achievements sections, then you can make any old resume format work for you.
Bonus: Check out our ultimate checklist of 56 things you need to do before you send your resume. How many have you missed? Download: “Resume 101 Checklist.”
Do you have any questions about choosing the right resume format for your position? Is there anything else that should be included in the article? Leave a comment.