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Resume Format Guide (Chronological, Functional And Combo)

A resume is not just a document that chronicles your work experience, educational history, skill sets and accomplishments. It is a tool that when undertaken with strategy and a sense of purpose will best present your qualifications to match those required of the job opening.

Thus your approach to writing your resume must combine composition with creativity and marketing.

An effective resume isn’t just about submitting one which uses the appropriate font, correct margins and doesn’t have grammatical errors and misspelled words. While those are important factors, they are not enough to get you to the next stage which is the job interview.

Because recruiters literally spend only a few seconds on every resume that lands on their desk, you need to craft yours in such a way that the most vital pieces of information are front and centre. To do this, you must choose the right format for your resume.

In this post we’ll explore the 3 most common resume formats. If you want to learn more about a particular one, use the navigation links below:

  1. Reverse Chronological Resume Format
  2. Functional Resume Format
  3. Hybrid or Combination Resume Format
  4. Which Resume Format Is Best For You?

Choose The Right Resume Format

The biggest mistake people make when they write a resume is assuming there is a set format. So they take a cookie- cutter approach by following the same formula as everyone else. They believe that by submitting a resume that looks and feels like the rest, the recruiter should have no reason not to review it.

In the first place, when you submit a resume your objective should be to make yours stand out from the crowd. For every job opening that a company posts, it will receive at least 250 applications. Why would you want to be in the middle of the mix? Your resume should help you climb to the top of the pile!

Second, people have different reasons for applying to a job post. Some are looking for their first job. Some want a complete change in career. Some are coming back to the job market after an extended time away from work. Some feel the job post offers better career opportunities.

Finally, everyone has a unique life experience and this provides each applicant with a unique set of advantages and disadvantages.

If the job post requires a Master’s Degree in Business Administration, minimum 5 years experience working for a universal bank and the ability to speak fluent French, do you think every single applicant would have all of these qualities?

Those that do would be well- advised to put these qualifications front and center in their resume. The top third of your resume is a crucial area. If there is no relevant information at this point, your resume could find its way under file or worse, in the trash can.

Can you imagine if you could speak fluent French and you just kept this bit of information in the back end seemingly camouflaged with the rest of your qualifications?

This is the reason why you need to choose the correct format: it will allow you to highlight your strengths, conceal your weaknesses and most of all, bring your purpose to the frontend of your resume.

The correct resume format will make the recruiter’s job easier and exponentially improve your chances of getting that sought- after interview.

The correct resume format will make the recruiter’s job easier and exponentially improve your chances of getting that sought- after interview.

The 3 Types of Resume Format

There are 3 types of resume format to choose from. Each one has distinct advantages over the other when it comes to presenting the strong points of your resume.

Keep in mind that recruiters read resumes from a different filter. Don’t write one that looks good for you. It should be written with the recruiter in mind.

If you have been unemployed for more than 6 months, you would not want that gap highlighted for the recruiter. Although recruiters know the difficulties of landing a job especially during a sluggish economy, why take the risk where there are ways to showcase the positives in your resume?
Recruiters are individuals with different experiences and perspectives. Some may take those extended gaps against your application. Thus, if you have a gap, you have to draw the recruiter’s attention to the positive elements of your resume right away.

The question you should ask yourself is, “How do I grab the attention of the recruiter within the first few seconds?”

This is the reason why you should never send the same resume to every potential employer. You have to tailor- fit or customize it according to the specific job requirements and the needs of the company.

And a big part of customization is the resume format.

So how do you know which resume format to choose?

We will go into a detailed discussion on the 3 resume formats by dedicating a section for each of them. At the end of the discussion, you will have a better idea on which format to use and how to apply its principles on your resume.

1. Reverse Chronological Resume Format

The reverse- chronological format is often referred to as the traditional format for writing a resume. You probably thought reverse- chronological was the only way to structure a resume which is why you are reading this article right now.

With the reverse- chronological format, the details of your work and educational history are written starting from the most recent experience then moving backward.

Recruiters prefer the reverse- chronological format because it’s easy for them to follow your history and at the same time quickly exposes gaps in your history. It is also applicable to all industries.

Chances are, prior to reading this article, you were writing your resume using this format.

But is it the correct format for you?

This format is ideal if you fall under the following conditions:

  • You want to highlight vertical progression in your career.
  • You are fresh out of college.
  • You have uninterrupted employment history.
  • You want to apply for a job in a similar field.
  • You’ve worked with blue chip companies
  • You’re a candidate for senior or executive management position.
  • You plan to contract the services of an international recruiter.
  • You are returning to the work force but in the same industry.
  • You came from military service and plan to segue to private life.

The reverse- chronological format is a great way to tell your story. You know the power of story- telling in content delivery. A well- crafted narrative places the reader in your shoes and compels him or her to follow the rest of your journey.

In a resume, that reader is the recruiter. Writing a resume is also subject to the same rules of writing great content: it must be relevant, engaging and unique. Keeping these qualities in mind when you write your resume will surely grab the attention of the recruiter.

The reverse- chronological format will not be the correct format to use if you fall under the following conditions:

  • You have multiple gaps in your work history.
  • You have been unemployed for more than 6 months.
  • You are planning to find work in an entirely new industry.
  • You change jobs very often.
  • Your work history does not show vertical progress.

Under these conditions, using the reverse- chronological format will only highlight the weak points and hide the strong points in your resume.

The Structure Of The Reverse Chronological Resume Format

I. Heading

Recruiters spend only seconds scanning a resume. The Heading is the first section they will look at. This is why you have to make sure all the important information is available right away. These details include:

  • Complete Name
  • Residential Address – City and State will do
  • E-Mail Address
  • Contact Number
  • URL for LinkedIn
  • URL for Personal Website, if available

II. Resume Introduction

A cover letter is a great way to launch your narrative. But if you don’t have a cover letter, a resume introduction can be equally effective in starting out your story.

With the reverse- chronological format, there are 3 ways to write your resume introduction:

1. Qualifications Summary

  • Ideal if you are applying for a job in a similar or different industry.
  • Places emphasis on a skill set that is relevant to the job or position.
  • Use no more than 6 bullet points to highlight your most impressive accomplishments.

Example:

Project Management Skills:

Managed a team of 5 individuals of various competencies such as web design, web development, social media marketing, SEO and content writing to plan, implement and oversee a comprehensive digital marketing campaign. Within the first 6 months, the team generate 150% more followers, 230% greater engagement, 474% increase in indexed pages and 600% improvement in sales conversions.

Most Significant Achievement:

Overhauled the inbound marketing campaign of YYZ Company which had been incurring losses the past year and turned it around to generate 1,400% sales growth; an acknowledged record in the industry.

2. Career Objective 

  • Written to target a specific position.
  • References the goals of the company.
  • Uses no more than 2-3 sentences to create the statement.

Example:

Financial Analyst with more than 6 years experience in the equities market conducting research, preparing reports and providing investment advice while maintaining integrity, precision and accuracy of data. MBA degree holder from New York University with a 4.0 GPA. Looking to leverage experience, expertise and proficiencies to land a Key Accounts Manager position in ABC Equities Holdings.

3. Professional Profile

  • It does not target a specific position.
  • You can use this approach when submitting your application to an online job site.
  • Combines elements of the Qualifications Summary and Career Objective.

Example:

  • Financial Analyst with more than 6 years experience in the equities market conducting research, preparing reports and providing investment advice while maintaining integrity, precision and accuracy of data.

  • Authored 2 publications, “How to Win in a Down Market” and “Using Numbers to Create Winning Investment Strategies”.

  • Represented YYZ Equities in various investment- related shows on TV, radio and podcasts.

  • MBA degree holder from New York University with a 4.0 GPA.

III. Work Experience

The centrepiece of your resume is the work experience section. A recruiter’s decision to award you an interview with the Hiring Manager could very well depend on how your work experience is composed.

The common mistake of job seekers when writing their work experience is to present it according to the tasks assigned or scope of responsibilities performed. Your purpose should be to highlight the accomplishments you made in your previous employment.

Because recruiters will only scan through these accomplishments, you should present them as bullet points.

But it is not enough to simply arrange them as bullet points. If you want your accomplishments to have more impact, here are 3 ways you can get the spotlight to shine even brighter on them:

1. Use Power Words

Power words are those that present you as a dynamic participant or active initiator of the tasks entrusted to you. Verbs such as “worked” and “responsible with” have been so overused that they have lost their power or luster with recruiters.

Among the best power words you can use are as follows:

  • Coordinated
  • Administered
  • Engineered
  • Reconciled
  • Accelerated
  • Cultivated
  • Mentored
  • Re-Engineered
  • Negotiated
  • Authored

Power words are not limited to verbs. There are descriptive words or adjectives that can inject more power and influence to your resume. These are words that reference soft skills that are sought after by the potential employer.

While hard skills refer to specific competencies or work- related proficiencies, soft skills are attributes or key personality traits that tell the company you could be an ideal fit to their organization.

The most in- demand soft skills include:

  • Leadership
  • Critical Thinking
  • Analytical Decision- Maker
  • Creative Thinker
  • Flexibility
  • Team Oriented
  • Adaptability
  • Effective Communicator

When choosing descriptive power words, make sure these are the soft skills you have and can be validated by actual experiences.

2. The PAR Method

The PAR Method stands for:

P- Problem; identify a problem or situation at work
A – Action; course of action taken to address the problem
R – Results; the outcome of the course of action

Here’s an example:

Problem: Raise $10,000 for the child welfare foundation
Action: Organize a fund raising concert
Results: Generated $15,258 from the proceeds of the concert

Using the PAR Method, the accomplishment will appear on the resume as follows:

  • Organized a fund raising concert for the child welfare foundation and generated $15,258 which far exceeded the target amount of $10,000.

3. Quantifiable Results

A stated accomplishment that is not substantiated by numbers, figures or statistics would lack impact and may not even create a positive impression. Worse, your claim may be considered “hearsay” by the recruiter.

Again we go back to the power of storytelling. A good story provides details. It must not lead to further questions such as:

  • How did the company benefit?
  • What was the end result?
  • Did your course of action introduce improvements over the previous administration?
  • How did your decision impact the performance of your team?
  • What was the effect on the bottom line?

Let’s take a look at 2 examples:

Example A:

Managed a sales department.

Example B:

Directed a department composed of 20 sales people to maximize opportunities at Essex General County and within 8 months, surpassed the sales total of the previous year by 217%.

Example A only provided very general information that had no substance. It does not show the recruiter what the applicant did when given a particular task.

On the other hand, Example B clearly explained what the applicant had to do and defined the accomplishment from the endeavor. Between these 2 applicants, Example B would be more impressive to the recruiter.

IV. Educational Attainment

Unless you are a fresh college graduate, you do not have to put too much detail in your educational history when using the reverse chronological format. It is important to make sure the following information is clearly indicated:

  • Name of your university
  • Location of your university
  • Type of degree
  • Course completed

Regarding your Grade Point Average or GPA, you should include it only if it is higher than 3.0.

Also, if you are a fresh graduate, educational attainment should come before work or professional experience.

V. Skills

In this section, highlight skills that are relevant to the job requirement. Include details on certifications or additional trainings received that were intended to improve your proficiency level in these relevant skills.

Earlier we discussed the difference between hard skills and soft skills. You could make an accounting of your various hard and soft skills.

For example, if you were applying for a position of Systems Manager your skills section would look like:

1. Hard Skills:

  • Certified, MCSD
  • Certified; CSSLP
  • Wix
  • Weebly
  • SquareSpace

2. Soft Skills:

  • Analytical Thinker
  • Creative
  • Problem Solver
  • Meticulous
  • Team Oriented

If you did everything as discussed in “Work Experience”, these skills would have been validated already.

VI. Interests

The section on Interests often elicits debate on whether it should be included or not. The benefit of having a section on Interests is that it gives the recruiter an idea of who you are outside the confines of work.

The only reminder is to include only interests that would be considered generally appropriate.

For example; cooking, travel and music are acceptable interests. Mosh-pit dancing, collecting lint and stalking celebrities are not.

Functional Resume Format

People used to think getting a college education was all you need to land the job of your dreams. Go to school, graduate, find a job then retire after 40 years in the company.

Times have changed. It’s no longer a realistic expectation to find a job and build a career until the day you retire. If the job market is uncertain, career planning is unstable. Studies have shown that college graduates go through 3 to 5 jobs in their first decade of employment.

Recruiters are keenly aware of this statistic. They know many applicants will have gaps in their resume. However, as the applicant you don’t know how the recruiter will view those gaps.

If your resume does not present continuous employment, the reverse chronological format will work against you. It will draw attention to the red flags in your resume.

Given that recruiters spend limited time on your resume, your immediate course of action should be to highlight the strengths and skills that are relevant to the position.

This is the advantage of using the functional resume format. It conceals potential weak points and brings your strengths front and center.

Here are other scenarios that should benefit by using the functional resume format:

  • You are in the process or re-entering the work force after a leave of more than 6 months.
  • You have frequently changed jobs.
  • You are planning to transition to a new career.
  • You want to highlight relevant and transferable skills to the job position.
  • You have reason to believe the recruiter may not find you an ideal fit for the company.
  • You are transitioning from a career in the military to private employment.
  • You believe you’re overqualified for the job you are seeking.
  • You are a fresh graduate and have no relevant work experience.

It should be noted that recruiters tend to frown on the functional resume format for the following reasons:

  • After perusing through resumes that use the reverse- chronological format, having to come across those written in the functional resume format can be confusing and disconcerting.
  • Recruiters may think it was done deliberately by the applicant to “hide” specific work experiences.

Regardless of the disadvantages of the functional resume format, if your work experience appears spotty, you will better off using it than the reverse- chronological format. After all, there is no way for you to know how a recruiter thinks. It’s best to focus only on things that you can control.

The Structure Of The Functional Resume Format

I. Heading

The guidelines for Heading are the same as those for reverse- chronological. It must contain the same information. You could however, opt for a larger font size such as 20-24 instead of 12 to 14 to create a more prominent heading. Think of it as giving a firmer handshake to the recruiter!

II. Qualification Summary

If you think your employment history will not impress because of periods of prolonged employment, the Qualifications Summary, as we discussed in the Resume Introduction section of the reverse chronological format is the best way to start your narrative.

Using this format will allow you to place your 6 most significant achievements near the top third section of the resume. It may help frame the recruiter’s mind to identify your narrative and set the tone for the next sections.

When writing your Qualifications Summary, as we presented in the section on reverse- chronological format, do not forget to validate your achievements with accurate facts, figures or statistics.

III. Relevant Skills

If work experience is the most crucial section in the reverse- chronological format, Relevant Skills is the meat and potatoes for the functional format. This is where you plan to hit the home run.

Since your employment history may be nothing to crow about, you have to draw interest to the skills that are relevant to the job position.

Here are 3 things to keep in mind when summarizing your relevant skills:

  • Choose no more than 3 relevant skills.
  • Highlight 2 to 4 accomplishments or valuable information on each skill.
  • Write them in bullet point format.

For example, you want to apply for a position as a Corporate Trainer but you’ve been unemployed for 8 months. Your last job was as a Team Leader in a popular fast- food restaurant.

You could present your relevant skills as follows:

  • Personnel Training/ Orientation
    • Managed training of new recruits; average of 15 service crew every month.
    • Presided over orientation of service crew on new policies, menu specials and marketing programs on a monthly basis.
    • Authored company manual on store operations and personnel management training.
  • Creative Thinking
    • Introduced improvements in personnel training programs which resulted in 150% increase in favorable feedback from customers.
    • Restructured the queuing system which improved the order taking time by 50%.
    • Developed the idea for a virtual customer dropbox where customers and personnel can collectively suggest ideas on store and service improvements. The idea helped increase customer engagement levels by 400%.
  • Inter-Personal Skills
    • Conducted team building programs which contributed to the reduction of attrition rates from 160% to 27%.
    • Instituted reforms for career-building and success planning programs that helped improve morale and lower employment turnover rate by 55%.

As you can see, even if the industries are widely differentiated, by stating the 3 relevant skills and substantiating these with figures, they become transferrable skills to the new career.

IV. Work Experience

People become unemployed for various reasons. It’s not only because of cut- backs, recessions or resignations. Sometimes situations arise where unemployment becomes an option. These situations include:

  • Taking care of an ill parent.
  • Assuming parental duties while the spouse maintains a regular job.
  • Decision to take advance studies full- time.
  • Decision to take extended time off or vacation.
  • Personal illness.

Recruiters are well aware of the different causes of unemployment. But it does not mean you should reveal these reasons in your resume. Even if the reason is valid, the recruiter may consider it a red flag and look at you as a high- risk candidate.

This is why in the functional resume format, relevant skills comes before work experience. The purpose is to pre-empt the gaps in employment history. The recruiter will immediately take note that you used the time away from work to improve on certain skills or gain other valuable experience.

And that is the key to closing these employment gaps. Regardless of the reason for your unemployment, you must always find ways to keep productive and stay busy:

  • Become a freelancer or telecommuter.
  • Do volunteer work.
  • Take part- time jobs.
  • Take up a new course.
  • Get certified in a hard skill.

You can turn an unfortunate situation into a potential deal- maker by simply finding ways of coping with it. A recruiter can easily connect the dots between the skills you acquired and the employment gap.

Here’s another way you can conceal the employment gap. Notice how work experience was presented:

Professional Experience

Technical Analyst
Benchmark Global Solutions Inc.
2009 – 2016

  • Prepared all technical analysis reports that were distributed to more than 300 publications nationwide.
  • Attended to the training of new research team members in Dow Theory and Elliott Wave Theory.
  • Authored 4 training and research manuals.
  • Published 2 books on technical trading, “Using Ratios for a Winning Strategy” and “Riding the Elliott Wave of Success”.

Head Research
RJS Securities
2007 – 2009

  • Spearheaded more than 350 research expeditions at over 100 countries.
  • Managed a research department of 120 personnel.
  • Authored 12 operating and systems manuals for the company.

As you can see, the applicant did not indicate the inclusive months. He could have been unemployed for more than 6 months in 2009.

Is this being deceptive or resourceful? Either way, the applicant was not lying in his resume. He just withheld information that is not implicitly required.

V. Educational Attainment

The guidelines for educational attainment remain unchanged. Include the same information as you would in a reverse- chronological format. Highlight achievements or accomplishments that are relevant to the job description.

For example, if you are applying for project management and you chaired a school organization, you should emphasize this and include your landmark achievements as leader.

VI. Interests

The Interests section could serve a stronger purpose in a functional resume format because it could position you as someone who is right- fit for the company.

Research on the company and find out more about their values, working culture, socio-civic endeavor. Do an accounting of your interests and assess which ones fit with those of the company’s.

Hybrid Or Combination Resume Format

The combination format is exactly what it is. It combines elements of the reverse- chronological and the functional formats; a hybrid format, if you will.

Does this mean, the combination format is the most effective of the three because it has the best of both worlds?

Like the other formats, the combination has its advantages and disadvantages.

You should use it if your situation falls under these conditions:

  • You want to highlight a relevant skill set.
  • You want to make the move to an entirely different industry.
  • You have an assortment of transferable skills.
  • You are re-entering the work force after a prolonged absence.
  • You are considered a “Master” at what you do.

As you can see, the hybrid shares common situations with the reverse- chronological and the functional. However, what stands out is the final condition where you are widely recognized as a “Master”, a key resource person or an expert in your job.

In a competitive job market, you can use the combination format to put the spotlight on your expertise and create more distance between you and your competitors.

Do not use the combination or hybrid format if your situation falls under these conditions:

  • You are an entry level candidate or a fresh graduate.
  • You plan to emphasize your educational attainment.
  • You do not possess skills that are relevant to the job.

The structure of the combination format is the same as the functional format but there are very distinct differences in the content of its key sections such as the Resume Introduction, Skills and Professional History.

The Structure of the Combination or Hybrid Resume Format

I. Heading

The required information for the combination is the same as those for the reverse chronological and functional formats. However, there is more to be expected. Make sure your LinkedIn profile has been updated and it would be to your advantage given your level of expertise and experience to have a personal website.

II. Resume Introduction

Since the purpose of the combination format is to drive attention to your skills and proficiencies, your resume introduction could be one of these 2 options:

  • Professional Profile – This is a synopsis of the skills and proficiencies from your previous employment.
  • Qualifications Summary – This summarizes the achievements or accomplishments you made from your previous employment.

You can review the samples on these 2 options in section on the reverse- chronological format.

III. Relevant Skills

Even if you do not have gaps in your work history or if the period of employment is shorter than 6 months, in the combination format, the Relevant Skills section remains positioned ahead of Professional Experience.

Again, the purpose is to bring your skills dead center in the resume. It will further add substance to your extensive work history and create a greater impression on the recruiter.

Since this is perhaps the most crucial section when using the combination format, you must know the correct approach in writing and organizing your skills.

Here are 3 important things to keep in mind when creating your skills section:

1. Keep it Relevant

The recruiter only wants to see the skills that are relevant to the job or position.

For example, if you are applying for the position of IT Manager, you skill section should look like this:

  • Certified, SQL Programmer
  • Certified, Java Programmer
  • Certified, HTML Programmer
  • Certified, C++ Programmer
  • Systems Management, 5 years experience

Other IT-related accomplishments such as “DOTA Champion 2006-2008” are not related to the job and will only be nuisance information for the recruiter.

2. Quantify Your Skills

Anytime you can validate information in your resume, go for it. Numbers and statistics add credibility to your claims. It’s not just in work experience and educational attainment but also in skills.

For example, if you are applying for a job as a Medical Transcriptionist instead of presenting your skills as:

  • Typing
  • Accurate
  • English Language

You should write it down as follows:

  • Fast typist at 80 wpm
  • 98% accuracy rating in transcription work
  • Graded level 10 in English proficiency

Attach certifications whenever available. Whatever you can provide to support or substantiate your claims would be an advantage for your application.

3. Use Bullet Points

Recruiters don’t have the time to read through your skill set. They want to know right away what you can offer their company and find out once and for all why hiring you will be the best decision they can make.

Summarize these skills into bullet point format. But make sure these are organized according to competencies.

Example A:

  • Proficient in MS Word
  • Fast typing skills; 80 wpm
  • Bilingual; English and Level 7 in Spanish
  • Fluent in conversational Spanish

Example B:

  • Proficient in MS Word
  • Bilingual; English and Level 7 in Spanish
  • Fast typing skills; 80 wpm
  • Fluent in conversational Spanish

When summarizing your skills, these should be well- organized. Example B is clearly disorganized. The recruiter’s train of thought would be derailed from processing information related on MS Word to language skills.

IV. Professional Experience

The content is pretty much the same as with the 2 other formats. But we should emphasize that if you have extensive work experience of 10 years or more, to leave out those that are not relevant to the job or position.

For example, if you are eyeing a position as Lead Auditor but you were a Personal Trainer for the first 2 years, you don’t have to include this experience in your resume. It has no relevance to the position and will only serve to distract the attention of the recruiter.

V. Education

Keep this section short. Focus on your accomplishments but you don’t have to be extensive because at this point, you are already far deep into your career.

IV. Interests

This bears less significance given your level of tenure and experience. It would be up to you if you want to include this or not. But given that you are perceived as an authority in the industry, this type of information may only distract the recruiter.

Which Resume Format Is Best For You?

As you have read, the resume is not just a document that you need to submit to comply with the requirements of a job. If you view the resume that way, it will lack the impact necessary to make a difference among the rest of the applicants.

A resume should be approached with thought, purpose and strategy. It is not something that you should rush into. Take your time. You have to evaluate your current situation, determine your purpose for applying for the job and undertake proper research.

Do an accounting of your experiences at work and your academic achievements. Conduct a deep dive into your hard and soft skill sets. Find out which ones are relevant, usable and transferable to the available position.

It should never be written as a “one size fits all” approach.

Once you done an assessment of what you can offer to the company, it should become very clear which resume format would best serve your interest.