How to choose a resume format?

How to Choose The Correct Resume Format in 2021 (With Examples)

Choosing the best resume format will be the first step you'll need to get right in order to lay the groundwork for your entire resume.

Ed Moss
Written by Ed Moss • Last updated on Mar 01, 2021

You may have been taught one standard resume format, but in reality, there are several formatting options for resumes that each come with their own strengths and weaknesses.

In this guide, we will delve into the main resume formats and help you decide which one best fits your needs. 

  1. What are the Main Resume Formats?
  2. What are the Pros and Cons of Each Resume Format?
  3. How to Choose a Resume Format
  4. Tips on Resume Formatting
  5. What Sections to Include on a Resume?
  6. How to Optimize a Resume for ATS?

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What are the Main Resume Formats?

It is well known that a resume can make or break a job applicant’s chance at landing an interview for the position they are seeking.

However, resumes are not all made the same, and different formatting styles come with different strengths and purposes. 

Understanding how resume formats can differ is crucially important when creating the perfect resume for the position you are applying to.

There are three main resume formats that should be considered when deciding which best fits your needs: reverse-chronological, functional, and combination/hybrid.

1) Reverse-Chronological Resumes

Reverse-chronological resumes are typically the most commonly used format of resume.

When using this format, the focus of the resume is placed on the most relevant work experience a job applicant has in relation to a specific job. 

The term “reverse-chronological” is used to describe how your relevant work experience should be listed on the resume.

A chronological format would require jobs to be listed out starting with the very first job an applicant held.

Instead, a reverse-chronological format has applicants place their most recent jobs first, followed by the next most recent, etc.

This type of formatting allows for job applicants to show that they have recent relevant experience, as well as showing a history of working within a particular field or industry. 

Tip: When in doubt, it's the safest and most common choice to use.

2) Functional Resumes

While reverse-chronological resumes focus on relevant work experience, a functional resume comparatively focuses on a job applicant’s specific skillsets and areas of expertise.

Functional resumes will generally list skills along with a bulleted list of the applicant’s experience applying those skills in a professional manner. 

Work experience is, in fact, listed much lower on the resume when using this format, and for each job minimal details are given.

By using this type of format, a job applicant can emphasize skills and qualifications that they have to offer and shift the focus away from work experience that may not be entirely relevant or recent. 

3) Combination/Hybrid Resumes

True to its name, the combination resume (sometimes referred to as a hybrid resume) combines different aspects of both the reverse-chronological and the functional formats in order to best fit the needs of specific individuals.

This type of formatting will take advantage of the ways in which a functional resume emphasizes and details different skills and qualifications.

Combination resume's also provide more detailed work experience descriptions that would typically be seen in a reverse-chronological resume. 

When using a hybrid format for a resume, the layout may differ according to each individual person’s needs — but generally the section detailing skills and areas of expertise will come before the work experience section.

Additionally, the skills section may be slightly shorter in a hybrid resume in order to provide more room for a more detailed work experience section. 

Again, if you're not sure which format to use, choose reverse-chronological.

Take a look at this reverse-chronological resume example to get a better idea.

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What are the Pros & Cons of Each Resume Format?

When it comes to these three main types of resume formats, they each come with their own strengths and weaknesses.

Understanding these is essential when selecting which format is best for your own personal purposes or intentions.

Here is a quick breakdown of the pros and cons of each resume format we have described above:

Reverse-Chronological Resume Format Pros & Cons

Pros of a Reverse-Chronological resume:

  • Information about the job applicant is written in a very straight-forward manner, making this format the easiest to read and skim through by employers. 
  • For applicants who have consistent job experience or held specific previous positions for a long period of time, this format provides a great opportunity to showcase the applicant’s longevity in a work environment. 
  • Reverse-chronological resumes are the easiest to update when new work experiences are acquired and generally do not require too much altercation for each individual job being applied to. 

Cons of a Reverse-Chronological resume:

  • Reverse-chronological format typically is the most effective when applicants have a strong working history. For applicants with less work experience, or gaps in their working history, this can prove detrimental. 
  • This format is the most commonly used, and as such it can be a difficult task to make your resume stand out from others. 
  • For applicants who are changing career paths or entering into a new field or industry from which they were previously employed in, the reverse-chronological format is not ideal as the work experience the candidate has may not be directly applicable to the job they are currently applying for. 

Functional Resume Format Pros & Cons

Pros of a Functional resume:

  • Job applicants with large gaps in their work experience, or those who lack relevant job experience, can take advantage of the functional format to emphasize their relevant skills or qualifications instead.
  • For applicants looking to make a career path change, this format allows them to highlight the skillsets they have developed in their previous jobs or career that are transferrable to the new career they are seeking.
  • Functional formatting provides a greater flexibility when it comes to designing and organizing a resume, compared to reverse-chronological formats that require applicants to list information in a specific order. 

Cons of a Functional resume:

  • Due to the majority of resumes following the standard reverse-chronological format, a functional resume has the potential to be confusing or off putting to employers or recruiters. 
  • Functional resumes tend to take more of the applicant’s time to craft and structure, as poorly-made functional resumes can come off as deceptive to employers due to the lack of work experience being presented.
  • This format can very easily lack context, such as specific dates or job functions performed, which can signal to an employer that the skills listed may not have the backing of real experience and thus injure the applicant’s chances of making it to the interview stage. 

Combination/Hybrid Resume Format Pros & Cons

Pros of a Hybrid resume:

  • For applicants without large gaps in their employment history, a combination resume is a good format to use to emphasize relevant skills they have honed in previous jobs that are not inherently relevant to the position being applied for. 
  • Many applicants may have robust experience in non-paid positions, such as internships or volunteer positions. The combination resume allows for these experiences to be emphasized more thoroughly as part of a work history. 
  • Combination formats utilize the chronological ordering of information that is familiar to employers, while also differentiating the format enough to potentially stand out among competition. 

Cons of a Hybrid resume:

  • Due to combination resumes placing emphasis on both work experience and skills, it can be hard to keep the wording concise and the resume a proper length. 
  • Without proper structuring, a combination resume can easily become cluttered or unorganized due to too much information being shared. 
  • Like with functional resumes, an improperly designed combination resume has the potential to come off as deceptive to employers if they cannot clearly and easily connect the dots between the skills and work experience listed. 
Paralegal

How to Choose a Resume Format

When choosing which resume format is best for you, there are a few crucially important considerations to keep in mind:

  • Do you have enough relevant work experience to fully flesh-out a reverse-chronological format?
  • If your work experience is not entirely relevant, are there relevant skills you can pull from previous jobs or other experiences – such as from internships or volunteer work - and emphasize as transferrable skills?
  • Are you applying to a position within your current career path, or are you switching to a new field or industry?

These questions are highly important to ask yourself, as they will point you in the right direction when it comes to choosing the best resume format to fit your needs.

Reverse-chronological resumes are likely to continue to be the standard that employers and recruiters are looking for from job candidates.

However, they are not ideal for candidates who are switching career paths or are dealing with significant gaps in employment history. 

Comparatively, functional resumes allow for candidates to de-emphasize their work experience, giving those with less relevant work histories or gaps in their employment the opportunity to showcase their other skills and talents that may not be readily apparent from a chronological listing of previous jobs alone. 

Despite this, functional resumes are not typically preferred by recruiters and can harm an applicant’s chances of making it to the interview stage if there is too little information given regarding work history.

Thus, the combination/hybrid resume gives applicants the opportunity to make the best of both world by showcasing both experience and skills, with greater emphasis being able to be placed on whichever category carries the majority of the candidate’s strengths. 

Tips on Resume Formatting

When it comes to formatting your resume, there are many important tips to keep in mind that can be applied to all formats to help make your resume more appealing to potential employers. 

Provide Both Detailed and Concise Information

While it is considered best to keep your information about your work experience or skills concise, there should still be enough detail for the employer to gain meaningful insight into your history and experience.

Incorrect: “Responsible for staff scheduling.”
Correct: “Optimized staff schedule to improve staff efficiency during shift and lower labor costs.” 

Clearly Connect Skills to Experience

Simply listing a skill without any sort of explanation may not cut it for employers, especially in functional or hybrid resumes. Employers reading through your resume want to know not just your skills, but how you came to hone and improve said skills. 

Incorrect: Listing a skill without a proper explanation, such as “Inventory Management
Correct: Describing how you have applied and developed the skills of inventory management through sales analyses or organizational systems you created. 

Include Your Soft Skills

While hard skills include industry- or career-specific traits that have been gained through official trainings or education, soft skills can include your inherent abilities and can be useful regardless of the industry or position. 

Incorrect: Only listing hard skills or listing soft skills with little to no description or explanation.
Correct: Listing soft skills, such as Teamwork or Communication, and following with a brief yet descriptive sentence that shows your merit in these skills. 

Use Easy to Follow Organization

An employer shouldn’t have to hunt through your resume to find the most meaningful or relevant information. Clear organization and writing is essential for impressing potential employers. 

Incorrect: Don’t use long paragraphs or complex sentences.
Correct: Utilize bullet points and singular, simple sentences. 

Regardless of the type of format you end up choosing, it is key to always tailor your resume to fit specific jobs. This will show employers that you are attentive to detail and picked up on keywords hidden throughout a job posting. 

What Sections to Include on a Resume?

When it comes to writing the perfect resume, there are several sections that should be included.

On any given resume, there are some generally expected sections that employers will look for that provide insight into you, as the applicant.

The organization of these sections will vary depending on the format you have chosen, but generally will follow the following flow of information:

  • Your name as the heading
  • Contact information, preferably a professional email and/or link to a professional website
  • A short personal objective or professional summary statement
  • A brief overview of your educational credentials. Note: in resumes being used to apply for academic positions, the education section may be longer and more detailed.
  • Your work experience and history 
  • Your skills, including both your hard and soft skills, as well as brief descriptions of how these skills are transferable in not readily apparent. 

Additional sections, such as volunteering or awards, can be included to help round out a resume that may be lacking sufficient work experience.

These extra sections are also a good opportunity to highlight transferable skills the employer may not have seen coming from work experience alone.

How to Optimize a Resume for ATS?

Applicant Tracking Systems, or ATS, are used by employers to automatically scan and organize information provided within a resume to help separate the stronger candidates from the weaker ones – and are used by roughly 40 percent of employers.

As such, it is crucial to optimize your resume for ATS regardless of what format you are using.

Simple formatting and using easy-to-read, non-serif fonts are two major components for optimizing your resume.

Additionally, dates play a huge role in the readability of a resume by ATS, so functional resumes that lack dates may not perform as well. 

Using keywords when writing descriptions and summaries, as well as using common names when titling your sections, are two practices to get in the habit of following when crafting your resumes. 

Customer Service Representative

Final Thoughts

Although reverse-chronological resumes are the most commonly used and may be generally expected by employers, the functional and combination formats can provide great advantages to specific job applicants who may not have the necessary relevant work experience to fill a reverse-chronological resume. 

It is important to always provide concise yet detailed information, whether it be about work experience or skills, as this will prevent your resume from coming across as deceptive to employers.

The key to choosing which format best fits your needs is to assess where your most relevant assets lie and structuring your resume around those strengths.

If you don't have a resume yet, try our online resume builder for free and get your resume ready in minutes, or check out our modern and professionally designed resume templates, and start making your ideal resume today!

Ed Moss is an author for Easy Resume
Ed Moss
Ed is a co-founder of Easy Resume. His background in scaling teams at tech startups over the last decade has given him extensive experience and knowledge around how to hire top talent and build successful teams. He enjoys mentoring, coaching, and helping others reach their career goals. When he's not writing about career-related advice, he's playing with his dog, Lilo, or going on long hikes in upstate New York.
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