Best Resume Formats for 2020 [3+ Professional Templates]

November 3
10 min read

There are 3 common resume formats you can pick from:

  • Reverse-Chronological
  • Functional
  • Combination (Also known as Hybrid)

Each of these formats has its own pros and cons, and the format you end up picking will have a significant impact on your job search.

And in this guide, we’re going to teach you how to pick the right resume format for you.

Here’s what we’re going to cover:

  • What Are The 3 Main Resume Formats
  • Resume Format Pros and Cons
  • How to Choose a Resume Format
  • 7+ Essential Resume Formatting Tips
  • 5 Free Resume Templates (You Can Steal)
  • Resumes 101 - What You Need to Know to Create a Convincing Resume
  • Resume Format FAQ

So, let’s get started!

What Are The 3 Main Resume Formats

As we mentioned before, the 3 main resume formats are:

  1. Reverse-chronological - This one’s the most common and practical resume format. A reverse-chronological resume lists your work experiences and skills in reverse-chronological order.
  2. Functional - The functional resume, also known as the skills-based resume, is the least popular resume format in 2020. What differentiates this format from the other two is that it focuses more on your skills rather than your work experience.
  3. Combination (or, hybrid) - As you probably already guessed, this one’s a combination of the other two formats. It focuses on both skills and experiences.
best resume formats

Here’s what you need to know about each of these resume formats.

Resume Format #1 - Reverse-Chronological

As we mentioned before, the reverse-chronological resume format is the most popular format in 2020.

It usually looks like this:

best resume format

And here’s what you’d include in a reverse-chronological resume:

  1. Contact Information - Your name, phone number, location, and email address. In some cases, you can include useful links, such as a GitHub profile. 
  2. Resume Summary or Objective - A brief 2-4 sentence summary of your work experience, or your objective for applying for a given position.
  3. Professional Title - Your title. This should mirror the exact position you’re applying for.
  4. Work Experience - Your work experience in reverse-chronological order. When possible, talk about achievements over responsibilities.
  5. Skills Section - Skills relevant for the position you’re applying for.
  6. Education - Your educational history. Pro tip - if you have a B.A., feel free to skip on your high school education.
  7. Optional Sections - Sections like volunteering, projects, portfolio, hobbies, etc. While they’re not a game-changer, they can help fill up some space on your resume.

Pros:

  • Recruiters and HR managers prefer this format.
  • Very easy to skim.
  • Provides an easy-to-read chronological history of your work experience.
  • The most popular resume format in 2020.

Cons:

  • Hard to fill in for a recent graduate with no work experience.
  • Makes career gaps very obvious. If you’re a career changer, you might want to try one of the other formats.

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Resume Format #2 - Functional

This resume format has also been called a skills-based resume format. Here’s what it looks like:

functional resume format

As the name suggests, a functional resume focuses more on skills rather than work experience. 

It’s mainly useful for recent graduates or career changers since your work experience is not the main focus of the resume.

What to include a functional resume:

  1. Contact Information
  2. Resume Summary or Objective
  3. Professional Title
  4. Skills Summary
  5. Additional Skills
  6. Work Experience
  7. Education

As you can see, the main difference from a reverse-chronological resume is that the focus of the functional resume is the Skill Summary (or Areas of Strengths in the example above) section.

And it looks like this:

Example of Skills Summary (Areas of Strengths):

  • Over 10 years of experience in the service industry as a bartender, waiter, and bar manager
  • Extensive knowledge of cocktails, alcoholic beverages, wines, and run-of-the-meal restaurant offerings
  • Experience managing a team of 3 bartenders
  • Ensuring that the bar is stocked at all times

The point of a skill summary is to sell your skill-set rather than your work experience. The above summary, for example, could be that of a bar manager looking to apply for the position of a restaurant manager.

While it’s clear that the person does not have experience as a restaurant manager, the skill summary shows how his skills would make him a great candidate.

The pros and cons of a functional resume are as follows:

Functional Resume Format Pros:

  • Good for highlighting specific skills.
  • Useful if you’re switching careers since you can explain how your skills transfer to the new job.
  • Also useful if you’re a recent graduate with practical skills, but not much work experience.

Functional Resume Format Cons:

  • The functional resume format is not very popular in 2020, and most recruiters and hiring managers aren’t familiar with it.
  • Applicant tracking systems (ATS) have difficulties reading functional resumes.

Resume Format #3 - Combination (Or, Hybrid)

The combination resume format, also known as the “hybrid,” is a mixture between the functional and reverse-chronological formats.

It also comes with a skill summary section, but there’s a greater focus on the work experience.

combination resume format

The typical sections you’d find on a combination resume are the same as that of a functional resume, the main difference being the focus on work experience.

What to include in a combination resume:

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

A functional resume can have zero or minimal work history, while a combination resume puts equal emphasis on both.

Usually, the combination resume is for candidates with extensive work experience, who need a way to emphasize more work experience and skills with less space.

Combination Resume Format Pros:

  • Allows you to show off more of your experience and skills using less space.
  • Useful for very senior professionals or executives who need to highlight more than just their work experience.

Combination Resume Format Cons:

  • As with the functional resume format, applicant tracking systems have difficulties reading combination resumes.
  • If you’re a recent graduate or don’t have much work experience, this resume format is not for you.

How to Choose the Best Resume Format

Now that we’ve covered all 3 of the common resume formats, you’re probably wondering which one’s the right for you.

Here’s what we recommend:

In 99% of the cases, we’d recommend going with a reverse-chronological resume format.

In 2020, it’s the most common and useful format:

  • Applicant tracking systems can read it without any problems.
  • All recruiters and hiring managers are familiar with this format.
  • Whether you’re a recent graduate or a senior professional, it’s the easiest format to work with.

The only case we’d recommend going with a functional or combination resume is if you’re a career changer, and even then, it’s still quite risky.

True, a combination or hybrid resume will help you emphasize your skills over work experience. However, both of these resume formats are not really that popular in 2020.

There’s a good chance that the applicant tracking system won’t be able to read your resume and automatically discard it - after all the time you put into creating the resume!

At the same time, recruiters might just not be familiar with these resume formats, or think that you’re just trying to hide the fact that you’re not experienced, and disqualify you based on that.

So, rule of thumb - when in doubt, go for the reverse-chronological resume.

7+ Essential Resume Formatting Tips

  1. Want to avoid all the hassles of formatting your resume? Just use an online resume builder. The software will help structure your resume, and all you have to worry about are the contents!
  2. Don’t go over one page. The resume should be a summary of your work experience, not your entire life story.
  3. Use standard section headers. E.g.: your work experience should be called just that - “Work Experience,” and not “work history.” The reason for this is that applicant tracking systems look for these headings to pull information from.
  4. Pick a resume font that’s going to help you stand out. We recommend Ubuntu, Roboto, or Overpass.
  5. Structure your work experience section as follows: Company Name, Location, Job Title, Start and End Dates, Responsibilities and Achievements.
  6. Speaking of responsibilities and achievements, list those in bullets. Prioritize achievements over responsibilities, and don’t go over 6-8 bullets per position.
  7. Save your resume as a PDF or a Docx. Both formats can be read by applicant tracking systems. Whatever you do, don’t submit a JPEG of your resume!

5 Free Resume Templates (You Can Use Right Away)

Picked your resume format? Awesome!

Now, the next thing you need is an easy-to-read, professional resume template.

Here are some of our best templates (you can steal!):

#1. Simple Resume Template

simple resume format

Looking for something Simple, yet professional? 

Try out our Simple resume template - it’s well-designed, skimmable, and an all-time recruiter favorite.

#2. College Resume Template

College is the perfect resume format for a recent graduate.

It has a bit more emphasis on skills than work experience, but it doesn’t overdo it, like the functional resume format.

#3. Professional Resume Template

The Professional is one of our all-time favorite resume templates - we created this one in collaboration with several recruiters.

It’s easy to read and skim, and recruiters can find whatever information they’re looking for in a snap!

#4. Modern Resume Template

Want your resume design to stand out? Then Modern is the way to go.

It comes with a traditional structure and formatting of a traditional resume, with some creativity sprinkled on top.

#5. Creative Resume Template

Applying for jobs in the creative industry?

Then our Creative resume template is the perfect choice for you.

This template is perfect for careers in marketing, advertising, design, and other creative fields.

Resumes 101 - What You Need to Know to Create a Convincing Resume

Picking the right resume format is just the first step in creating a convincing resume.

Want to learn how to make a resume that lands you the job?

Check out some of our best career resources:

  • The Jobseeker’s Odyssey - This one’s our flagship e-book. It covers literally everything you need to know about job-search: how to make a resume, how to write a cover letter, how to apply for jobs effectively, what are the most common job interview questions, and a LOT more. The book is jam-packed with value, and illustrated, making it an extremely easy read.
  • How to Make a Resume - Our comprehensive guide on how to make a resume, from A to Z.
  • Interview Questions And Answers - Having a hard time with job interviews? This guide features ALL the most common job interview questions out there.
  • How to Write a Cover Letter - Our ultimate guide on writing a cover letter (free templates included!)
  • 50+ Resume Examples - Need some inspiration with your resume? Check out our resume examples for 50+ different positions and fields.
  • 43+ Resume Tips - A complete list of all our resume tips, ordered by importance.
  • 26+ Interview Mistakes - Whatever you do, avoid making these common interview mistakes.

And of course, for more industry-leading job-search advice, make sure to follow our career blog!

Resume Format FAQ

Do you still have some questions about resume formatting? We’ll get them answered here!

#1. What’s the best resume format?

The best resume format is, hands-down, the reverse-chronological format.

Here’s why:

  1. It’s very easy to read and skim.
  2. Recruiters and hiring managers are familiar with this format, as most people use it.
  3. It’s the most popular resume format in 2020.
  4. Applicant tracking systems can read a reverse-chronological resume with ease.

#2. Which resume format is best for students?

Again, the answer is reverse-chronological.

While a functional resume can help you emphasize your skills more than work experience, it comes with 2 serious problems:

  1. Recruiters aren’t familiar with it, and they might think you’re trying to hide the fact that you don’t have work experience.
  2. Applicant tracking systems have trouble reading this resume format.

Pro Tip

Worried about the fact that you don’t have any work experience?

Here’s the thing - for most entry-level positions or internships, you’re NOT required to have any work experience.

The whole “you need work experience to get work experience” saying is a lie. No recruiter expects an entry-level candidate to have any experience!

#3. What’s the easiest way to build my resume?

The easiest, most efficient way to create a resume is through a resume builder:

See, if you use text editor, you could spend hours trying to format your resume, but the moment you make a tiny design change, the whole resume layout gets completely messed up!

Using a resume builder, on the other hand, comes with a ton of benefits:

  • Recruiter-friendly layout. All of our resume templates are created with recruiters in mind - they’re extremely easy to read and skim.
  • Easy to build. Our resume builder is extremely easy to use. All YOU have to do is fill in the content - we take care of all the resume formatting.
  • ATS-friendly. Applicant tracking systems can read our resumes perfectly fine, ensuring that you don’t get automatically disqualified when applying for positions.
  • Free (with premium features). Our base builder is completely free without any hidden paywalls! If you’re looking to upgrade the resume design, though, or get access to several awesome features, you can always upgrade to Premium.

Want to give it a go?

Key Takeaways

Now, let’s do a quick recap:

  • There are 3 common resume formats - reverse-chronological, functional, and combination (or, hybrid).
  • The reverse-chronological format is the most popular one in 2020, and we always recommend you to go with that one.
  • A functional resume focuses more on skills rather than work experience and is usually used by career changers or students.
  • A combination resume is a mix of functional and reverse-chronological formats and puts equal emphasis on work experience and skill-set.
  • Both functional and combination resumes are not too popular, and applicant tracking systems have trouble reading them.

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