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You’ve just come across an offer for a job of your dreams. You’re a perfect fit. You’re excited.
But so are dozens of other job seekers looking at the very same job ad.
Some have already submitted their resume.
The race has begun.
Wait, I don’t see you in pole position.
Ouch. The dreaded cursor-on-a-blank-screen experience.
Writing your resume will be way easier if you first choose the best resume format to highlight your assets.
Choose the wrong resume layout, and the recruiter will reject your application at first glance. But don't worry - there is no one proper resume format.
This guide will show you:
Want to save time and have your perfectly formatted resume ready in 5 minutes? Try our resume builder. It’s fast and easy to use. Plus, you'll get tips and right vs. wrong examples while writing your resume. See 20+ resume templates and create your resume here.
Image: Sample resume made with our builder. See 20+ resume templates and create your resume here!
Why is a professional resume format so important?
Because it makes the hiring managers pay attention to your best assets.
Formatting a resume is like coming up with a marketing strategy.
Choose the right resume format and you’ll sell.
Choose the wrong one and hiring managers won’t even take the time to hate it.
What are the standard resume formats?
And what's the best format for a resume?
In short, the one that works for you.
Here’s a quick tip on what resume format you should choose:
1. The professional reverse chronological resume format can be used by anyone. It’s a good resume layout for experienced professionals. It highlights your job history and lets you place the peak of your career at the top of the resume. Contrary to some opinions, fresh graduates can use the reverse chronological layout to their advantage too. We’ll get to that later on.
2. The combination resume format is for people who want to show off their skills before jumping into their work experience. It’s a top resume format for career changers or high-level professionals. It’s also a good resume format for job seekers with employment gaps.
3. The functional resume format or the skills-based resume format is for those candidates who, secretly, do not want to get a job at all. It focuses on skills but does not link these to any specific achievements. We’ll explain that in detail later.
You might have also heard about a “targeted” resume format, but it’s not really a separate type of resume layout.
A targeted resume is a resume written for a specific job. It’s also called a tailored resume.
Tailoring your resume to the job description is a very effective technique! Want to learn how to do it? Read our dedicated guide: "6 Tips on How to Tailor Your Resume to a Job Description (Examples)”
Before we break down the three different types of formats for resumes, have a look at a few general resume formatting tips:
The reverse chronological resume format rules. It’s like a Swiss Army knife: it’s useful to everyone.
This is the most popular US resume format. It’s a safe choice for virtually all job seekers. It's also a simple resume format to use.
Here’s how a proper reverse chronological resume works:
You start by listing your most recent job. Below, you add your previous job. Then, the one before. You list your jobs in reverse chronological order - hence, the name of this resume format.
The reverse chronological resume format puts emphasis on your work history because that’s what’s most relevant for hiring managers.
The work experience section is right at the top of your reverse chronological resume, just below your contact information. Your education comes next.
Let’s have a look at some pros, as well as potential cons of using the standard reverse chronological resume format:
The recruiters are familiar with it. It's an easy resume format for them to read - they will automatically know where your information is and that you’ve sent a complete resume.
It will require tweaking. It’s the most common resume layout for job applications. You will need to make some extra effort to catch the recruiter’s eye and showcase your skills and achievements.
It’s guaranteed to go through an Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) resume test. The bots will be able to find the different sections of your resume and extract the most important information.
If you have large gaps in your work history, the recruiters will notice them immediately. The reverse-chronological format brings attention to your work history and experience.
The reverse chronological resume format highlights the peak of your career. And it’s your most recent employment that is most relevant for the hiring managers.
It’s not an ideal format of a resume for career changers. If you have little work experience in a position similar to the one you’re applying for, it may not be the best resume format for showing off your skills.
ProTip: If you’re applying for a job in Canada, you should do your best to make your resume as brief and concise as possible. The standard Canadian resume format is one-page.
Here’s a sample reverse chronological resume format template. We created it in our resume builder (you can make your resume here):
An example of a reverse-chronological resume template from our resume builder - create your resume here.
Want to learn exactly how to format a resume in reverse chronological order? See our guide: "Chronological Resume Template & 20+ Examples [Complete Guide]"
The combination resume format (hybrid resume) is the only different resume format you can use, other than the reverse chronological layout.
As the name suggests, it combines the aspects of the other two resume types. It focuses on skills without throwing off the work experience section.
Here’s how to format a combination resume to highlight your best assets:
You start the combination resume with a summary of your skills. You list those skills that are most relevant to a particular job opening.
Underneath each skill, you make a bulleted list of professional achievements which highlight the skill.
A practical example:
Let’s suppose that you’re looking for an IT job.
But not just some IT job. You want to become a senior IT manager with a company that specializes in mobile apps.
What does this mean for you?
That you need to showcase your software proficiency, as well as leadership, and business management skills. And a professional IT combination resume can help you do it.
In the summary of skills at the top of your resume, you should enter three key abilities that will make you perform well in the job. In this hypothetical case, these would be:
Underneath each of these subheadings, you add bullet points to link your skills with previous work experience.
Then, you spice up the descriptions of your skills by listing your relevant certifications and awards that validate your skills.
Pro Tip: Grouping your bullet points under skills-related subheadings is also good for providing ATS with keywords.
If you’re writing a combination resume, there are two crucial things you have to remember:
1. Tailor the mix of your awards and benchmarks to a position you want to land and be specific: You got promoted? Why? Saved your company’s money? How much? Led a high-stakes project and pulled off a spectacular success? How?
2. Choose the combination resume format only if you can link your skills to your actual, relevant achievements. If you don’t have much work experience, don’t go for the hybrid resume.
Not quite sure if the combination format is right for you? Read our dedicated guide on how to make the best use of the combination resume format here: "Combination Resume Template & 5+ Examples [Complete Guide]"
Some job seekers see the functional resume as the cool resume format that makes your application more entertaining and unique.
The functional resume format allows you to take the pressure off of your work history and focus only on your skills and abilities. That’s why it’s also called the skills-based resume format.
In theory, that sounds great, right?
But, hey, Zombie Apocalypse also seems pretty awesome in theory: crazy adventures, life on the road.
In practice? You’re dead on the first day.
And what about your functional resume in practice?
It gets rejected in the first stage of the recruitment process.
And you’re not getting any job interviews.
Because, in practice, the functional format of a resume just throws your job history out the window.
Your work experience section becomes reduced to a tiny list of your past employers at the bottom of the resume. The skills section becomes the main part of your resume.
True, your abilities are what the employers ultimately look for, but you can’t just randomly file your skills in whatever order you see fit.
You need to give the recruiters some tangible proof and the functional resume format won’t help you do it.
The fact that there is no specific evidence that you learned your skills in any sort of job setting is what makes the functional resume the least successful resume format.
It makes you look suspicious and sneaky - like you’re hiding something or simply lying.
Some experts say the skills based resume is good for a student resume format or a resume for fresh graduates, but, in fact, it’s not.
Even if you don’t have much work experience, you should still link your skills with either your academic achievements or part-time jobs and volunteer experience. A functional resume format can’t make that happen.
Finally, the functional resume format is very likely to fail the ATS resume test. The robots won’t be able to scan your resume for dates or specific sections and they won’t extract your relevant information.
So, long story short: we strongly advise against using the functional resume format for job applications. It’s not a creative resume format as some people apparently think. It’s simply unreliable and useless.
Still entertaining the idea of writing a functional, skills based resume? Read our comprehensive guide to this type of resume: “Functional Resume Template & Examples [Complete Guide]"
As we explained, there are basically just two formats of resumes you can choose from.
Does that mean that all resumes have to be boring and look pretty much the same?
Of course not!
There’s an easy way to make your application stand out.
Whether you choose the reverse chronological resume format or the combination one, you can dress up your resume in three following ways:
The best place to start buffing up your resume is at its very top.
What do we mean by this?
Start your resume with a resume summary or a resume objective - a brief, concise paragraph at the top of your resume.
A resume summary highlights your career progress and achievements.
A resume objective, in turn, shows what skills you’ve mastered and how you’d fit in.
Put it right below your contact information and try to make it no longer than four lines of text.
Why is it so important?
Because, as research shows, recruiters usually focus on the top third of your resume.
The point of both your resume summary and objective is to highlight what you don’t want a potential employer to miss.
Our resume builder (you can create your resume here) will give you tips and examples on how to write your resume summary or any other section. You can easily copy them straight into your resume - it will save you a ton of time.
Inside Uptowork resume making tool you will find tips and examples for your resume.
Resume objectives and summaries are crucial for a successful resume. And, for most candidates, they seem quite hard to write.
That’s why we’ve written complete, step-by-step guides to writing effective resume summaries and objectives: The Only Way to Use Resume Objectives [20+ Examples] AND 7 Resume Summary Tips That Will Get You the Job [INFOGRAPHIC]
(We’ve also made examples for almost any profession so you can see a sample from your own field of expertise. Check them out!)
The second strategy for improving your resume comes down to highlighting your achievements in the work experience section.
The best way to do it is by using the Problem Action Result (PAR) formula.
Here’s a sample work experience section entry on a marketing resume, written according to the PAR approach:
Set up and implemented a new Facebook marketing strategy which increased monthly sales via social media channels by 28%.
See how it works?
There was a Problem: Facebook marketing was not effective.
The candidate took Action: set up and implemented a new Facebook marketing strategy.
Which produced the following Result: monthly sales via social media grew by 28%.
Want to learn more? Read our dedicated guide on how to add achievements on a resume: “Achievements to Put on a Resume - Complete Guide (+30 Examples)”
Finally, the third tip for having the most effective resume format:
Add a separate section listing your certifications and awards.
Why is it a good idea?
In a word, because recruiters are well aware that candidates lie on their resumes.
And things like your certifications, industry awards, or articles you’ve published are your unquestionable triumphs that you need to show off in a separate section.
But what if you’re a fresh graduate and don’t yet have any of the above?
Add a hobbies and interests section. It will give the recruiters a fuller picture of you as a person.
Think it’s too cheesy?
Nowadays, a lot of businesses look for candidates who will fit into their office culture.
Your personal interests can make you more attractive and memorable to a recruiter, and signal that you would be an ideal 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, read our article: "The Only Way To Put Hobbies & Interests on a Resume [5 Tips]"!
Writing an entry-level resume is tough, right?
You feel like you’re not experienced enough and have too few achievements to write a typical resume in a reverse chronological format.
Some entry-level candidates feel an urge to be creative. That’s why they assume a functional resume is the right resume format for freshers.
And that’s why they struggle to land their first job.
The last thing recruiters want is a vague, unspecific skills list typical for a skills-based resume format.
Your best pick is still the reverse chronological resume layout. If you have no experience relevant to the job opening, you can begin your resume with your education section.
List your most relevant coursework, your academic interests, and favorite fields of study.
Have some extra academic achievements? Ran a discussion club or sat on the student board? Be sure to mention it on your resume!
ProTip: Adding your GPA is optional, even on entry-level resumes. To make sure it doesn’t make you more harm than good, mention your GPA only if it’s above 3.5.
What comes next on a resume format for freshers?
That’s right, work experience.
If you’re not yet experienced in your field, list your volunteer experience and part-time gigs.
Even if your job history is not related to the position you’re trying to land, your work experience has helped you acquire soft, transferable skills such as teamwork or customer service.
And the recruiters value soft skills just as much as job-related skills.
We know that it’s a grueling task to write a first job resume.
That’s why we’ve made a dedicated guide on how to write a resume with no experience. Read our article How to Write a Resume with No Work Experience [A Complete Guide] for expert tips, actionable examples, and sample fresher resume entries.
Once you’ve chosen the perfect resume format and wrote your killer professional resume, you’re still facing a formatting dilemma.
Which resume file format is best for saving your resume?
Should you send a resume in PDF or in Word?
The benefit of creating a PDF resume is that your formatting of a resume will not get messed up when it gets opened by a recruiter.
At the same time remember that nowadays, most resumes are scanned by ATS bots before they even make it to the hiring manager’s desk. And some ATS software may have trouble reading a PDF resume.
What format should a resume be in?
Above all, read the job description carefully and see if your potential employer accepts resumes in PDF format. Some job postings explicitly state that they want your resume in MS Word.
In any situation, having both formats on hand is best practice.
Want to learn more about how to properly choose your resume file format? Read our complete guide: “Word vs. PDF Resume: What is the Best Resume Format?”
There are not many correct resume formats to choose from. And not a single recommended official one. Choosing the best resume format for the job application is critical.
Picking a proper format of a resume really comes down to what you want to focus on: either your skills or your career progression.
Either way, what you have to do is overcome the run-of-the-mill nature of typical resume formats without coloring too far outside the lines.
Also, make sure that your resume format won’t make the recruiters think that you’re trying to hide something. Support your skills and achievements with valid evidence.
The best way to boost a classic resume format is to enhance each standard resume section and to place your most important achievements and skills on the top third of your resume.
Open with either a great resume summary or resume objective. Add your measurable achievements in the work experience section using the PAR formula. Write a strong skills section and boast any certifications or awards you’ve received.
All check? Then you can make any traditional resume format work for you.
Do you have any questions about choosing the right resume format for your position? Is there anything else about formatting a resume that you’d like to know? Give us a shout in the comments and we’ll answer your questions!
Michael is a writer and a resume expert at Uptowork. When he's not busy passing on career advice, he's probably somewhere out there swinging a tennis racket, reading Russian poetry, or enjoying his triple espresso.