Selecting the Right Resume Format for Your Job Hunt

With six seconds to make the right impression, your resume format matters.

Recruiters spend less than 10 seconds reviewing a resume before deciding if a candidate is a good fit for the job. When you have so little time to make the right impression, how you format the contents of your resume is just as important as what information you choose to include, which means choosing the right resume format is essential. 

What are the most common resume formats?

If you search online, you’ll notice that three types of resume formats commonly come up in search results. They are the:

Regardless of the format, the goal of any resume is to grab the attention of hiring managers. Depending on your circumstances, however, not all resume formats are created equal when it comes to meeting this goal, as you’ll discover in the following few sections. 

What should you consider when choosing the right resume format?

There are certain factors that are critical when determining the right resume format. These include:

Where a chronological format might be best for many, a functional or hybrid format might be better for others. In the following sections, we explore when you should use one of the three formats based on various circumstances. 

What is a chronological format?

The chronological resume, also known as a reverse-chronological resume, has been the most common format used for years and is still one of the most popular formats used today. In a chronological resume, your most recent work experience is listed first, with the rest of your work history listed in reverse chronological order. 

This layout puts what matters most to employers – your most recent experience – near the top of your resume. A few other benefits of this format include the following:

  • Since it’s commonly used, recruiters and hiring managers are conditioned to know where to look to find the information they’re seeking. As a result, they can quickly scan your resume to determine if you’re a potential fit. 

  • Most applicant tracking systems are programmed to read a reverse-chronological resume format easily. This means that using this format increases your chances of getting into the hands of a human reader compared to a format like the functional resume.

  • A chronological format makes it easy to know where to place and how to order your information. Your resume begins with your contact information, followed by your resume profile or summary, work history, and education sections. Additional sections can be included, though if you at least include these sections with the right type of content, your resume can indeed capture the attention of an ATS and hiring team. 

When should you use a chronological resume?

The chronological format is the right resume format for individuals with a traditional career trajectory. If you’ve held jobs with a typical progression within the same field or industry, for example, with little to no gaps in employment, a chronological resume is a great choice.  In other words, the chronological resume is a common choice and works well for those applying for a job in the same field or industry that aligns with most of their professional experience.

Suppose you’re someone whose career path hasn’t followed a traditional path, or you’re looking to change careers, or your employment history has gaps. In those cases, the chronological format might not be the right resume format for you. Instead, you might be better off choosing a hybrid or functional resume. 

What is a hybrid resume format?

The hybrid resume, also known as a combination resume, combines both functional and chronological information into one format. It includes a professional summary and an “Areas of Expertise” or “Career Achievements” section at the top of the resume that outlines your key qualifications, skill sets, and achievements. This section is followed by a reverse-chronological listing of your work history that puts these selling points into perspective by describing how you leveraged your skills with each role you’ve held and what you were able to accomplish as a result.

Resume writers often prefer the combination resume format for several reasons:

  • First, writers know that recruiters prefer to see all of your experience lumped together in reverse chronological order. 

  • Second, most applicant tracking systems (ATS) do a better job at reading and interpreting a hybrid format because they rely on chronological data to parse much of your application. 

  • Third, this format gives you an opportunity to clearly support your skill sets by tying each qualification back to a specific position within your professional history.

Also, in today’s world, it’s more common than it used to be for individuals to change careers more than once or hold positions across different fields and industries, making a combination resume the better option over a traditional chronological format. 

A hybrid resume includes the following information:

  • Contact information

  • Resume summary or profile

  • Core competencies or skills list

  • Career aptitudes or achievements

  • Professional experience

  • Education

Since the combination format is flexible in nature, you can opt to emphasize your skills first and then your professional experience or vice versa. If you have highly relevant skills that you feel will make your resume stand out, for example, you might choose to emphasize those before your Work History section. Additional sections can be included, though you might not have room depending on how much space you need to emphasize your skills and professional experience. 

When should you use a hybrid format?

A hybrid resume format works well for those with a diverse career history or who are changing careers, and it might not be immediately apparent how your past experience is relevant to the job you’re applying to. In these cases, it’s your transferable skills that you want to stand out. 

For example, if you’re applying for an accounting role but haven’t had the title of “Accountant,” but you’ve held a Store Manager job or other jobs where you were responsible for several accounting-related duties and responsibilities, a hybrid resume could work well and be the right resume format for you. 

What is a functional resume format?

In rare cases, you may choose to use a functional resume instead of a chronological or combination resume. In this resume format, the focus is placed on your skills and abilities broken down by function rather than a chronological work history. You’ll still include a chronological summary of your work history, but it will take a back seat to your skills, so the focus stays on what you bring to the table for your target job.  

When should you use a functional resume format?

This format is typically used when your recent work experience doesn’t support your job goals, or you’re dealing with a serious gap in employment – like after you’ve been out of the workforce for several years. In those instances, you want to focus on your transferable skills and abilities that are relevant to the new job or to overshadow your employment gap. 

Also, you’re more likely to land your next job by leveraging your network if a functional resume is your best option. In other words, don’t expect the functional resume to work well with standard online applications since it’s not well suited for applicant tracking systems and can sometimes be confusing for human readers. 

The best way to format your resume

Once you select the right resume format for your circumstances, it’s just as important to ensure you’re correctly styling the information within your chosen resume format. Regardless of the format you choose, keep the following things in mind:

Work with what you’ve got

Go back and think about your job goals. If you’ve recently graduated from college, your new degree is likely to be one of your best selling points and should be placed towards the top of your resume. However, if you’ve been in the workforce for a while, your years of relevant work experience take precedence, and your education and professional development activities will likely be placed at the bottom of your resume.

Create white space

More often than not, your resume is being quickly scanned for important pieces of information. An organized layout with a clear visual hierarchy is key. Avoid including dense blocks of text that the reader’s eyes are sure to glaze over. 

Center contact information and subheadings

Also, center your contact information and subheadings such as “Work Experience,” “Education,” “Technical Skills,” and so forth, since most recruiters focus on the center of the resume when scanning for information. If your resume exceeds one page, include a header on the second page that includes your name and contact information.

Expert tip: Do not place your contact information in the header feature of page one. The ATS cannot read headers and could reject your resume if it doesn’t find contact information. 

Avoid endless bullets

Bullet points are an excellent technique for drawing the reader’s eye towards important pieces of information. When everything is bulleted, you lose that ability.

Instead, when documenting your work experience, dedicate a few lines to describe your role and responsibilities and then use bullet points to call attention to your noteworthy accomplishments and contributions. This will allow you to more easily highlight your relevant achievements and qualifications. It’s best to stick with three to five bullet points for each position listed.

Apply the correct margins

Your resume margins can help add length or create white space. Set your margins between a half-inch and one inch at the top and bottom and three-quarters to one inch on the sides. Anything outside of half-inch margins is often cut off when converted to a PDF and not read by an ATS. 

Use a resume-friendly font type and size

Your font type and size need to be easy to read. There are several resume-friendly font options to choose from, like Arial, Georgia, Calibri, Helvetica, and Cambria. In terms of font size, go with between  14 and 16 point sizing for titles and headers and 10 and 12 points for the text content within each resume section. 

Consider your line spacing

If your lines are spaced too close together, they can blend together and make it difficult for the reader to follow. Go with double line spacing following headings and between 1.15 and 1.5 point spacing between text.

Stick to two pages or less

Your resume should be one to two pages in length at maximum. Though some may suggest sticking to one page if you’re an entry-level employee, that’s no longer the case. Suppose you have plenty of relevant experience from things like internships, part-time jobs, and extracurricular activities. In that case, having a two-page resume as a college graduate or entry-level employee is fine. That said, if a one-page resume tells a powerful career story, regardless of your career level, use a one-page resume. 

Regarding three pages, in very rare instances, should your resume ever go over two pages. Here are some examples of when you might have a three-page resume:

  • You’ve been requested to list all of your work history in great detail

  • You’re applying for a federal job that requires extensive details

  • You’re applying for a job in academia where a longer resume is expected

  • You’re applying to a high-level senior or executive role

  • You’re a contractor or freelancer with a lot of projects to include

  • You’ve participated in a lot of extracurriculars, like public speaking or research projects

Apply ATS-friendly standards

Let’s say your resume doesn’t get past an employer’s ATS. In that case, it won’t be read by a human reader, meaning you’ve wasted your time. No one wants that.

To avoid this scenario, writing your resume with an ATS in mind is essential. Here are some tips to help improve your chances of bypassing an employer’s ATS:

  • If you’re using acronyms, be sure to spell out the abbreviations the first time they’re used in your resume to improve the chances of an ATS understanding them.

  • Don’t include images, tables, or charts, as they can be difficult for an ATS to read and interpret.

  • Incorporate keywords from the job description to optimize your resume for an ATS.

  • Avoid creative or fancy designs that might be difficult for an ATS to read – a modern, simple resume format is best.

  • Submit your resume as an 8.5 x 11 size Word doc vs. a PDF file.

  • Don’t include important information in the header or footer sections of your resume. An ATS cannot read information in these areas of a resume. 

  • Avoid using a two-column approach to formatting the text of your resume.

Emphasize where appropriate

It can be helpful to emphasize some aspects of your resume to better guide the reader in finding the information they seek more easily. Ways to create emphasis include:

  • Bolding text

  • Underlining text

  • Increasing font size

Section headers, for example, should be highlighted by bolding or underlining the section title and using a slightly larger font size than the text between sections. If you have a very special or significant project that you’ve completed or worked on, you might choose to emphasize that by bolding it, as well. 

Use consistent formatting 

As you write your resume, use consistent formatting throughout if you don’t want to risk looking unprofessional. This includes using the same:

  • Bullet type

  • Font and size for text content

  • Font and size for section headings 

  • Formatting for dates used in your work experience and education sections

Left align text 

In your work experience section, it’s best to left-align the text. Left-aligned text is easier for most to read when there are large blocks of text on a page.

Be succinct

Your resume should only include relevant information written as concisely as possible. This is especially important if you find your resume is spilling onto a third page. Where can you remove filler words or tighten the text so that it’s as brief as possible while still telling the story you want it to tell?

Include the right type of contact information

Employers expect to see specific items when it comes to your contact information. This includes your first and last name at the top of your resume, followed by your:

  • Phone number

  • Email address

  • City and state

It’s also common to include your LinkedIn URL with your contact information. 

List your education in reverse chronological order

Regardless of the resume format you choose, it’s standard practice to list your education in reverse chronological order, with your most recent degree listed first. An exception to this is if an earlier degree is more relevant to the job you’re applying to. In that case, you can list the most relevant degree first and the rest in reverse chronological order. 

Remove outdated information

Be sure your resume doesn’t include outdated information, like a resume objective statement in most instances and your complete mailing address. Including this information will make it appear you’re not up-to-date with current resume standards. 

Avoid including personal information

It’s important to note that your resume should not contain any personally identifiable information, such as your date of birth, marital status, or parental status. Avoid including photos, as well. Many countries, like the U.S., have stringent anti-discrimination laws. In those countries, employers are likely to toss your resume in the trash bin if it has this type of information due to the risk of discrimination claims. 

Choose the right resume format for your unique circumstances

Now that you know what some of the best resume formats are to consider and when to use them for specific circumstances, which is the right resume format for you? Regardless of what format you choose, use the above formatting tips to create the best resume possible to get noticed, land interviews, and get that job offer. 

Are you using the best resume format? Is it easily read by an ATS and humans? Not sure? Find out with a free resume critique!

This article was originally written by Amanda Augustine. It’s been updated by Ronda Suder.

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