The 3 Resume Formats
There are three main professional resume formats: the chronological resume, the functional resume and the combination resume. While every resume has a summary statement, skills, work history and education sections, each resume format places them on different parts of the page. The right format for you will depend on your years of experience, skill level, and how the format matches up with the job you want.
The best resume format for:
- Candidates with multiple years of experience in the same field seeking a job in the same industry
- Job seekers with no employment gaps
- Jobs that place heavy importance on experience
The best resume format for:
- First-time job seekers or candidates with no work experience
- Candidates changing careers
- Jobs that place more importance on skills
- Candidates with employment gaps
The Chronological Resume Format
The chronological resume format (also known as the reverse chronological resume format) is considered by most to be the best resume format for most job seekers. The chronological resume emphasizes your work history section, where you list information about current and past jobs, with the most recent job first.
As you’ll see in the sample resume format below, the key to making the most of this format is focusing on unique, detailed work accomplishments that show you’ve made steady, significant progress in your career. You should also highlight key skills that fit what the job is looking for.
How to format a chronological resume:
- Summary Statement: In a few sentences, give an overview of your top qualifications for the job, with an emphasis on your career highlights.
- Work history: Don’t list standard, mundane tasks — instead, present accomplishments that make you stand out, using specifics when possible (e.g., “Managed benefits for office team of 55 employees”).
- Skills: Feature skills you have that are most relevant to the specific job you’re applying to, including hard skills (such as specific software or technical knowledge) and soft skills (such as communication abilities or attention to detail).
- Education: Present your highest academic credential (e.g., college degree), along with the name of the institution where you got the credential. You can also include specific certifications or courses you’ve taken that apply to the job you’re interested in.
The Functional Resume Format
When you think of “function,” you think of skills and abilities one employs to complete work duties. The functional resume format thus concentrates on all the skills and training you possess, rather than work history experience. This resume format is better suited for recent graduates, first-time job seekers, and career-changers because work history is not the main focus of the resume.
In a functional resume, your skills are broken into important subcategories (e.g., “Technical Skills” or “Soft Skills”). Be sure to tailor your skills sections to fit the skills that are called for in the job description of the job you are applying for. Your education section should also feature any specialized classes or training that pertain to the job you want.
How to format a functional resume:
- Summary Statement: As with a chronological resume, describe your best attributes as an employee, emphasizing your skills that match what the employer is looking for.
- Skills: As you may have noticed in the sample resume format above, a functional resume has several skills sections:
- The “Summary of Qualifications” is used to describe up to three of your best skills acquired through internships, projects or extracurricular activities that are relevant to the new job.
- Use a “Professional Skills” or “Relevant Skills” section to further explain your most-used hard skills. A hard skill is an ability acquired through practice, education and repetition that is job-specific (like data management, editing, translation, or budgeting).
- Make sure to also include a good mixture of “soft” skills: intangible traits that are not tied to one specific job, like collaboration, organizational skills, or problem-solving.
- Work history: Keep this section to the point, listing any previous positions or professional experiences, names of the companies you’ve worked for, and dates of employment. If you don’t have formal work experience, relevant internships, volunteer work or extracurricular activities can be used.
- Education: In addition to your academic credentials, supply details on relevant training or certifications (e.g., certification in Adobe Creative Suite for graphic design work).
The Combination Resume Format
The combination (or hybrid) resume format, as the name suggests, combines elements of both the chronological and functional resume formats, wedding a robust skills section with details on work achievements.
Combination resumes can work for a variety of circumstances. If you have a few years of experience in a particular field and are applying for a higher-level job, this resume format can feature career progression and key skills. It’s also the best resume format option if you’re switching careers by featuring “transferable” achievements and skills from previous jobs.
How to write a combination resume:
- Summary Statement: Provide a two- to three-sentence summation of your best skills and work experiences. If you’re coming from a different job field this is also your opportunity to explain how your skills and experiences from previous positions fit your new career path.
- Skills: A combination resume may split your skills into two sections: a summary of skills and a key skills section. In your skills summary, describe your prime abilities, referencing how you’ve used them in previous jobs. Your key skills section will focus on specific abilities that address requirements from the specific job you’re applying to.
- Work history: As with the chronological format, focus on unique achievements from previous jobs, quantifying your results whenever possible (e.g., “Improved on accounting processes, gaining $4 million for company in last fiscal year”). Zero in on accomplishments that can be applied to your new job or career (e.g., highlight your mathematics skills and attention to detail from an accountant job if you’re applying for a statistician position).
- Education: Present your top academic achievements (e.g., high school diploma or graduate degree) and additional training that has a bearing on the job you want (e.g., first aid and CPR training for a medical assistant job).
Combination Resume Format Pros and Cons
- 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 the best resume format for first-time job seekers, or workers who lack experience
- Skills and work achievements must complement each other for this resume format to be effective
- This resume format can be difficult for applicant tracking systems (ATS) to scan
For more combination resume format examples and tips, visit our combination resume format page.
See Why My Perfect Resume is a 5-Star Resume Builder
How to Format a Resume
1. Make sure your resume is formatted for ATS.
Employers often use applicant tracking systems (ATS) to scan incoming resumes, and give them a thumbs-up or down depending on whether they fit the criteria employers are looking for, such as having the right keywords. Above all, your resume format should make it easy for an ATS to read — that means no unusual layouts, fonts or graphics. Keep your resume format straightforward, and you’ll be in better shape to pass an ATS. Our resume templates are a great place to see a sample resume format that works with your style.
2. Keep your resume the right length.
One of the basic rules when learning how to format a resume is to keep it short. By the same token, don’t try to squeeze 20 years of work history into a single page — focus on detailed information about your experiences and accomplishments. Recent grads and those applying for entry-level roles should always keep their resume to one page. For more details, read our resume length article
3. Keep your section headings straightforward.
Use our resume examples as a guide for how to title each section of your resume. This is especially important for passing ATS scans, which will be looking for standardized titles such as “Summary” or “Work History.” Now is not the time to get creative with headings, and come up with unusual titles such as “Great Stuff from Past Jobs.” The best resume format for ATS friendliness is the chronological resume format.
4. Sell yourself from the start.
Make the hiring manager sit up and take notice instantly with a concise, engaging summary statement. Think of it as your 30-second elevator pitch, in which the product you’re pitching is yourself. Provide a succinct overview of your experience or background, two or three valuable skill sets, and some key soft skills. Your summary statement (which should be part of every resume format in 2021) should provide enough information to encourage a recruiter to read on.
5. Include your most relevant qualifications and expertise.
Check out the job description and see what skills the employer is looking for. For example, if the job calls for “communication skills” and knowledge of Photoshop, include these proficiencies if you have them. Here’s a tip: The most important skills a role requires are usually listed closer the top of the job ad, while less important ones are at the bottom. Regardless of the resume format being used, skills will play a prominent part in an optimized resume.
6. Make your experience pack a punch.
Your work history section should be concise and focused. If you’re using the chronological or combination resume format, come up with 3-5 bullet points for each previous job, noting outstanding contributions and achievements in each position. Use specific metrics and data to describe projects and actions that resulted in positive outcomes (e.g., “Instituted new inventory process that saved company $75,000 over previous year”). If you’ve decided to go with the functional resume format, you will include only your position, the name of the company, it’s location and the dates you worked there.
7. Use action verbs.
Capture the attention of a hiring manager or recruiter by using strong action verbs to describe current and past achievements in a chronological or combination resume format. For example, using words like “managed,” “executed,” and “oversaw” gives you ownership of your achievements, compared to using words like “responsible for” or “accountable for.” In a functional resume format, you can use strong action verbs when providing details about your professional skills.
Resume Format FAQ
1. What is the best resume format?
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 preferred 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, if you’ve had a part-time job, volunteer position, or internship or have taken a relevant class that relates to the job you want, be sure to include these experiences in your work history or education sections.
3. What is the preferred 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 to discuss 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 these tips.
4. What is the preferred resume format for someone who has had the same job for over 20 years?
A combination resume format is best in this situation. Emphasize the skills you’ve acquired over your career as well as specific job highlights, showing employers how you’ve developed professionally over this timespan, even if you’ve kept the same job title. Our Resume Builder provides suggestions in these areas along with other tools to further polish your resume.
5. What resume format is ATS-friendly?
The chronological resume format is the most ATS-friendly out of the three formats because of its straightforward organization. That being said, all resume formats can make it past the ATS filter, as long you use the right resume template. Our resume templates are professionally designed with the applicant tracking systems in mind, so you don’t have to worry about your resume not making it to the recruiter’s hands.
6. Do resume formats work differently in different industries?
A resume format establishes the way your resume will be organized and what information will be highlighted. For example, the chronological resume places a heavy emphasis on career progression and work experience, so the work history section is front and center. On the other hand, a functional resume format focuses on skills and what you can do, so it’s ideal for first-time job seekers and people changing fields.
That being said, if you’re a candidate with years of experience in one industry but your potential employer places a bigger emphasis on skills rather than work history, you might want to consider using a functional or combination resume format. It all comes down to what you want the employer to know about you and your abilities.
Explore our resume examples to get an idea of what different resumes may look like in different industries.