The Most Effective Resume Formats

Each individual possesses a unique set of talents, skills, abilities, experience, and training; as a result, one must consider all factors in order to determine the best strategy.

Although there are dozens of different formats, a resume will fit one of three basic categories: Chronological, Functional, and Combination.

  1. Chronological

    A chronological format emphasizes professional experience; however, it is best if a chronological resume utilizes a focused summary of qualifications that quickly conveys essential skills to an employer. This provides an opportunity to immediately capture attention through vital keywords and employer-centric language, thereby ensuring you make a strong first impression during the critical 15-second initial human screening.

    Without a summary of qualifications, the chronological format can be risky as it will simply stress the past rather than target your goals and the employer's needs. With potentially hundreds of resumes to review, the employer cannot be burdened with interpreting a candidate's work history during the few seconds of an initial screen. Rather, the summary of qualifications does the work, ensuring you get the attention you deserve...and that relevant skills won't be missed.

    Generally, the chronological format works well if one's past employment meets certain criteria, including:

    • The work history directly relates to the targeted position; ideally the history will show progressive responsibility in a specific career direction.
    • The years of experience fall within a marketable range and include present (or very recent) employment.

    When work history is not directly related to one's current employment objective, a Combination format is likely the best approach.

  2. Functional

    This largely obsolete format seeks to present qualifications that relate to the targeted position by focusing on skills and qualifications only; this is achieved by using functional headings that are strategically developed around one's transferable skills without developing details about the work history. If work history is presented, it is generally only as a simple list at the end of the resume.

    The traditional functional format was historically used to hide unfavorable elements in a candidate's employment history, so it is often viewed with extreme caution by human resource and management professionals. In particular, they may wonder what the candidate is trying to hide, especially when the work history is omitted entirely (which we do not recommend).

    While the functional format was once considered effective if a job seeker's current employment objectives were completely unrelated to his or her work history, recent advances in resume parsing (screening) technology make it impossible for a functional resume to survive in most online job boards or employer applicant tracking systems. Virtually the only time a functional resume may be effective is when the resume will be delivered directly to the hiring manager and there is no chance that a resume parsing system will be applied. Even then, it is best to avoid combining non-complementary skills (e.g., truck driving and office management) as doing so simply conveys a lack of focus.

    In most cases where one is considering a Functional approach, a Combination/Hybrid format will prove to be more effective.

  3. Combination/Hybrid

    The combination format incorporates the functional treatment's strengths without posing the same risk; it, too, will demonstrate, at the beginning of the resume, a candidate’s key strengths, skills, and core competencies that are strategically developed around one's career goals and transferable skills (if applicable), thereby placing greater emphasis on one's overall skill set. Unlike the functional style, the combination resume includes details of the work history, including responsibilities, dates, contributions, and achievements. This makes the combination format superior, except in extremely rare circumstances, to the traditional functional format.

    While in most instances the combination format is the best choice for the majority of job seekers—it quickly illustrates one’s core skills in the 15-second human scan—it also works best in resume parsing systems where recent work history lacks a direct correlation to current employment objectives (such as with new graduates or those changing careers). By demonstrating, through functional headings, relevant skills, education, training, and accomplishments, the connection between your transferable skills and the targeted position will be clear.

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