To create a resume that appeals to job recruiters, you need the correct resume format (if you’re looking for a CV, visit our CV examples page). Every resume will include a summary statement, followed by skills, work history and education sections, but the best format for you depends on how your skills and experience relate to the specific job to which you’re applying.
Below we’ll explain the three best resume formats — chronological, functional and combination — and when you should use each one, along with tips on how to make the most of them.
Resume Formats: Pros, Cons, Tips
Chronological Resume Format
- Most common resume format
- Focuses on work experience
- Provides details on the companies you’ve worked for and length of employment at each job, starting with your current or most recent job
Make your chronological resume stand out by featuring achievements in your work history section that relate directly to the job you’re seeking. Use action verbs and numbers to describe your accomplishments (i.e., “Instituted new process that contributed to 20 percent increase in efficiency”).
- Preferred format of recruiters and hiring managers
- Provides a concise snapshot of your work history
- Easy to see career progression
- Employment gaps more noticeable in this format
- Not the best format for first-time job seekers, or people who are changing careers
- Not suited for job candidates whose careers don’t follow a standard progression
- Job seekers with a solid work history
- Applicants who can show solid, continuous career growth
- Applicant tracking system (ATS) scans
Functional Resume Format
- Places skills center stage
- Because this format downplays work history and brings marketable abilities to the forefront, it’s great for people new to the workforce, those with gaps in their employment history, or job seekers embarking on a career change
In a functional resume, organize your skills into categories for easy scanning (i.e., “customer service” or “software”), and include qualifications that fit the specifications of each specific job. One good rule of thumb is to find (and use) keywords from the job description.
- Excellent for highlighting skills, particularly transferable skills across jobs or industries
- Less emphasis on work history suits first-time workers or job seekers changing careers
- Focuses on your most important accomplishments
- Emphasis on skills rather than work history can make you look inexperienced
- Some recruiters may be suspicious of this format if they think you’re trying to hide employment gaps
- Applicant tracking systems (ATS) can have difficulties scanning this format
- Job seekers with limited work experience
- Individuals with gaps in their work history
- Those who are changing careers
Combination Resume Format
- Combines the functional format’s focus on skills with the chronological format’s detailed work history
- Best-of-both-worlds approach works for career changers, as well as seasoned professionals who have worked similar positions
- Skills and work experience share the spotlight in this format
- Emphasizes relevant work highlights rather than your whole career
- Contextualizes your skills in your work achievements
- Not suitable for first-time job seekers, or workers without much experience
- Skills and work achievements must complement each other for format to be effective
- Accentuates gaps in work history, or job-hopping
- Those with a diverse employment history
- Those making career changes
- Job seekers with transferable skills
Best Chronological Resume Format Example
For this position, populate your qualifications list with all the software you utilize, and coding languages you know. Don’t forget soft skills, like collaboration and approachability. In your work experience section, highlight successful projects you’ve managed.
Customer Service Representative
Customer Service Representative
Include metrics to quantify your customer service experience, such as the percentage of customers you’ve retained or the number of workers you’ve trained. Detail tough problems you effectively solved or ways in which you went above and beyond your job description that resulted in a positive outcome.
A management job candidate’s work history should show a progression from entry-level to managerial roles. It’s also important to include metrics that highlight your sales skills. How much did you sell? How much did you beat your goals by?
Best Functional Resume Format Examples
Intensive Care Unit Registered Nurse
Intensive Care Unit Registered Nurse
For this position, emphasize your ability to monitor and assess patients in the ICU. Highlight practical intensive care experience. Other core skills for this job include multitasking, remaining calm under stress and empathy.
Mention database systems you know, even if the employer uses a different system. Listing other systems shows your breadth of experience and that you can quickly adapt to similar platforms. Also include top qualities such as attention to detail, motivation and typing speed.
Focus on general skills that will help you manage an office and your boss’s schedule: communication, organization, multitasking and flexibility. Tell recruiters you learn fast on the job, can maintain a good attitude under pressure and communicate effectively. List office software programs in which you’re trained.
Best Combination Resume Format Examples
First, make it clear that you’ve mastered federal, state and local food safety standards. In your work history, emphasize food preparation knowledge, attention to detail and providing feedback.
In your summary statement, name the types of yoga you are qualified to teach. Your work history section should detail the yoga classes you’ve led, including skill levels and class sizes. Don’t forget to mention soft skills such as empathy and leadership.
From bobs to balayage, tell employers about specific hair styling techniques you’ve mastered. Also focus on your ability to style men, women or children. In your skills and work history sections, emphasize your ability to promote the business, provide customer service and stay current on styling trends.
Top 7 Resume Format Writing Tips
Follow these proven tips to create your own world-class resume.
1Length is crucial
A general rule of thumb with resume length is one page for every decade of experience. Don’t squeeze 20 years of work history into a single page or you miss detailing critical information about your experience. Recent grads and those applying for entry-level roles should always keep it to one page.
2Sell yourself fast
Make the hiring manager sit up and take notice instantly with a concise, engaging summary. Think of it as your 30-second elevator pitch. Provide a succinct overview of your experience, two or three valuable skill sets, and some key soft skills. Your summary alone should provide enough information to encourage a recruiter to read on.
3Include your most relevant qualifications
Provide six to eight of your most relevant qualifications in your skills section. Check out the job description and see what the employer needs. For example, if the job calls for “communication skills” and Photoshop knowledge, include these proficiencies if you have them. Here’s a secret: The role’s most important skills are usually listed at the top of the job ad, while less important ones are at the bottom.
4Note your areas of expertise
Include phrases throughout your resume that tie to the particular job you’re after, as well as the industry in which you’re looking to work. You stand a better chance of getting your resume past an applicant tracking system (ATS) and into the hands of a human if you zero in on the keywords that are most relevant to the job at hand. Customize this list according to the requirements listed in the job posting.
5Make your experience pack a punch
Your experience section needs to be concise, yet comprehensive. Master that balancing act by using five to eight bullet points for your top job tasks and outstanding contributions in each position. Include specific metrics on successful projects and actions that resulted in positive outcomes, and include data wherever possible.
6Use action verbs
Remember, your goal is to capture the attention of a hiring manager or recruiter. Start every bullet point of your work history section with an action verb, just like this job seeker did. You’ll sound very non-action-oriented if you start off every bullet point with something robotic like “responsible for” or “accountable for.”
7Go back to school
In your education section, start with your most recent degree, and then go in reverse. Unless you graduated recently, you don’t have to include graduation dates. If you’re still in school, note your anticipated graduation date. Recent graduates may also list relevant classes and activities, as well as academic honors. Don’t include a GPA, unless it was excellent and you are a recent graduate. Finally, only list high school/GED if it’s your only education. View our templates to see how to properly format this section.
Resume Format FAQ
1. Which resume format do employers prefer?
Bottom line: companies prefer an organized resume that best presents your qualifications. Whichever format you pick — chronological, functional or combination/hybrid — make sure it does the best job of highlighting your achievements and skills. Use our Resume Builder to ensure a high-quality resume in the right format.
2. What is the best resume format for a college student?
The functional resume is a good choice for students and recent graduates, who usually have little to no relevant work experience. However, you may have had a part-time job, a volunteer position, an internship or taken a relevant class that relates to the job you want. Be sure to include any of these experiences in your resume, in your work history or education sections.
3. What is the best resume format for an experienced job seeker?
The chronological resume format is best for experienced job seekers. This format focuses on your work history, so you can use the bulk of the page discussing your past duties and accomplishments. You can also mention specific professional milestones you’ve achieved over the years. Hiring managers like seeing your entire job history at a glance. Create the perfect chronological resume with our useful builder.
4. What is the best resume format for someone who has had the same job for over 20 years?
A hybrid resume format is best in this situation. You can emphasize the skill range you’ve acquired and cover your job history. You also want to let employers know how you developed professionally over this timespan, even if you kept the same job title. Our builder provides phrasing suggestions and other tools to polish your resume to perfection.
Choose the Right Format, Build the Right Resume
To sum up, picking the right resume format should be based on these factors:
- The job you’re applying for
- How your experience and skills fit the job
- Your specific job situation (i.e., continuing on a steady career track, changing careers, coming back to the workforce after an absence, etc.)
Once you’ve determined the right format for your resume, we can help you with the next step. Create your resume from the ground up, using our free Resume Builder. Draw on our collection of professionally-designed resume templates, with our expert tips and pre-written, job-specific suggestions helping you write every section. And once you’re finished with your resume, put together a complementary cover letter using our cover letter templates.