Resume Formats Guide: How to Pick the Best in 2018

May 16
6 min read

How to Choose a Resume Format – 2018 Guide

In a nutshell, the purpose of your resume is to tell a (short) story about who you are, what you’ve done and what you can do.

And your personal story better impress recruiters, otherwise, no job for you.

Part of developing an effective resume is choosing the right format to tell your personal story. But very few people consider how to format a resume in a way that showcases their specific skills and experiences.

Don’t assume that one resume format fits all.

In this guide, we’ll give you some simple resume format tips that you can use to update and improve your resume. Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • Three main resume formats: reverse chronological, functional and combination
  • How to choose the best resume format
  • Pros and cons of each format for resumes
  • Best resume format for students

The Three Main Resume Formats

resume formats

No, a resume is not a CV. And that means that there is greater flexibility in choosing a format that best highlights your qualifications. Here are the three most common resume formats that recruiters expect to see.

Option 1: Reverse chronological resume format

This is the bread and butter choice for most job seekers. It’s also the most simple resume format and the one recruiters see the most, which can make a reverse chronological resume seem ‘ordinary’. 

With this resume format the work experience section receives the most emphasis, with items listed in order of most recent to oldest. The resume layout places the work experience section before skills and education.

What to include in the chronological resume format:

  1. Contact Information
  2. Resume Summary
  3. Professional Title
  4. Work Experience (bulk of content)
  5. Skills
  6. Education
  7. Additional sections
chronological resume format

Option 2: Functional Resume Format

This resume format has also been called a skills-based resume format. It is the least popular format for a resume being used today. And a lot of recruiters aren’t familiar with this format because the emphasis does not fall on work experience. Instead, the layout devotes more space to skills that are relevant to the role being pursued.

What to include in the functional resume format:

  1. Contact Information
  2. Resume Summary
  3. Professional Title
  4. Skills Summary (bulk of content)
  5. Additional Skills
  6. Work Experience
  7. Education

Option 3: Combination Resume Format

You guessed it, this resume format combines the reverse chronological and functional resume formats. Call it the best of both worlds, or a happy medium, this format places equal emphasis on skills and work experience.

Because you want to give plenty of attention to both, you may not have much room left for other sections, such as a resume summary, volunteer work, interests, etc.

Resume Best-Practice Reminder

  • Most recruiters want your entire resume to fit on one page, but a maximum of two pages is acceptable for those with an extensive work history

What to include in the combination resume format:

  1. Contact Information
  2. Skills Summary*
  3. Additional Skills*
  4. Work Experience*
  5. Education

*The layout for this type of resume is flexible, so you can choose the order of the skills and work experience section. But “Additional Skills” should always follow “Skills Summary.”

How to Choose the Best Resume Format

Now that we’ve covered the different types of resume formats, it’s time to help you pick the right one for your circumstances.

As already mentioned, you want to choose a resume format that is suited to your personal profile. Here’s a small matrix for choosing a resume format based on your level of work experience:

Keep in mind that work experience isn’t the only factor to consider when selecting a format. You should also consider the position, company and industry that you are pursuing.

Formatting is just one way that you tailor your resume to a specific job or company, and an eye-catching resume layout can your job application to stand out amidst hundreds of others. So, if you are applying for a job in a more creative industry, like marketing or design, then you probably don’t want to use a traditional resume format.

A reverse chronological resume format is good for:

  • People with all levels of work experience
  • People looking for a job in a field similar to their work experience
  • People without large gaps in their work history
  • People applying for a job in a more traditional industry (accounting, finance, engineering, etc.)

A functional resume format is good for:

  • People with high levels of work experience
  • People making a career change to a field unrelated to their work experience
  • People with unusually large gaps in their work history
  • People applying to more creative or skills-based roles (design, computer programming, etc.)

A combination resume format is good for:

  • People making a career change with skills or work experience that apply across industries
  • People with some employment gaps
  • People with a diverse range of skills and experiences
  • People applying to either creative or traditional roles

You’ll notice some overlap in the above descriptions for choosing a resume. The fact is that it’s hard to place an individual into one definitive category. To help you choose what’s right for you, let’s look at the pros and cons of each resume format.

Pros and Cons of Different Resume Formats

1) Reverse Chronological Resume Format

Pros

  • Shows a clear career progression and highlights relevant experiences
  • Familiar format to recruiters, making it easy for them to read
  • Suited to applicant tracking software (ATS) that automatically extracts employment history

Cons

  • Accentuates any employment gaps you might have
  • Less creative
  • Requires a sufficient level of relevant work experience

Conclusion: The reverse chronological resume format is a classic. It is the ‘vanilla’ of resumes, so people choosing this format should think hard about how to make their resume stand out using different layout elements. Still, this format is great if you’ve got plenty of work experience that you want to showcase.

2) Functional Resume Format

Pros

  • Hides gaps in employment history
  • Hides a lack of relevant work experience for career changers
  • Highlights a diverse range of technical and soft skills

Cons

  • Can make you look ‘inexperienced’ in terms of formal work experience
  • Not a familiar style for more traditional recruiters 
  • Automated systems (E.g. ATS) have hard time extracting key resume sections

Conclusion: A functional or skills-based resume format is not advised. Even for people in very creative industries, companies want to know who’ve you worked for in the past and what your contributions were. Furthermore, these creative jobs often require a portfolio, which is how you will provide tangible proof of your skills. For those who lack work experience or want to make a career change, the combination format is a better choice.

3) Combination Resume Format

Pros

  • A more exciting format compared to reverse chronological
  • Flexible to differing levels of experience and skills 
  • Helps hide employment gaps

Cons

  • Leaves little room for educational experience
  • Requires a sufficient level of skills and experience in order to look complete
  • Demands careful planning to avoid overlap or repeating information across the work experience and skills sections

Conclusion: The combination resume format is great if you have plenty of skills and experience you can draw from when creating your resume. It will allow you to highlight a mix of both, but you will need to be strategic about where and how to list information. Also, if you are switching careers, this format will let you play up skills you have that are relevant in the industry where you wish to work.

Sample Resume Format for Students

As you’ve probably guessed from the above descriptions, the reverse chronological resume is the best choice for students. Don’t worry about a lack of work experience. Recruiters expect this. 

The reverse chronological format provides sufficient space for students to list educational experiences and extra-curricular activities, such as involvement in student clubs or community organizations.

For students or new graduates who have managed to work while studying, and have gained relevant skills through these experiences, the combination format can be a good choice.

Students should resist the urge to develop a skills-based, functional resume since this format is not only less recognized by recruiters, it also requires an advanced skill set, which can only be gained over time.

You can get inspiration from the following sample resume example for a student:

sample resume format

Other Resume Sample Format Considerations

Regardless of the resume format you choose, keep in mind that the layout of your resume should be such that it makes it easy for recruiters to extract key information about you.

A proper layout with well-defined sections will make your resume more readable and help you get your message across. 

Using a resume builder gives you the advantage of customizing your resume to your own profile and the position you are hoping to get.

It will give you a flexible resume template to work with, while guiding you through the process of creating, altering or moving resume sections. So, whether your resume follows a reverse chronological, functional or combination format, it is bound to look great.

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