The Three Basic Resume Formats

Resume manuals offer samples of the various formats one can use to write an outstanding resume; however, the vast majority of employers prefer the standard reverse chronological format.  Somewhere on your resume, you should offer the reader a section outlining your work history in reverse chronological order with dates of employment, name of employer and your job title.  You can then jazz up your resume by offering additional information in a functional format or by adding additional sections to your resume.   There are three basic resume formats:

Reverse Chronological Resume Format

The chronological resume is the most traditional format and focuses on time and continuity.  It is easy to organize, write, and read, and it is the most commonly used type of résumé and the one preferred by most employers.  In a chronological resume, you present your most recent job first, then trace backwards in time (reverse chronological).  Your most important job duties and accomplishments are described succinctly under each employer's name and location.  This format allows you to emphasize your career growth and progression and, therefore, is most favorable to those whom have worked in one field and have been steadily promoted to higher level positions.

Major drawbacks: It is not advantageous for people with limited or unrelated employment experience, who have job gaps, or a rocky work history. 

Functional Resume Format

The functional resume focuses on professional skills, responsibilities, and accomplishments while it de-emphasizing dates and specific work experiences.  The functional resume is organized by functional titles that explain general areas of expertise. Under each function heading is a brief explanation of accomplishments in that particular area.  One can tailor the functional resume to highlight specific skills.  Therefore, this format is often recommended for recent graduates, liberal arts majors, career changers, and people with limited work experience or interrupted careers.

Major drawbacks:  Most employers do not care for this type of format because it hides the chronological work history that they want to see when reading a resume.   Employers are not stupid, and the idea that one could fool them by using this format is rather silly.  In fact, most employers will immediately realize the applicant is trying to hide something by omitting a chronological work history and toss the resume out.  For this reason, it is recommended that you not use this format unless you have no work history.

Recommended for:  Only those who lack a work history, since they have no choice but to use this format.

Numerous resume writing books and even professional résumé writers continue to suggest the use of the functional format for those in the situations stated above, but human resource professionals urge you not to use this format.  Always include dates of employment on your resume and address any inconsistencies in your work experience at the job interview when asked.  If you do have a damaged work history, consider using the combination format discussed below to minimize the damage.

Combination Resume Format

The combination resume incorporates both the chronological and functional formats.  You can tailor the explanation of your job history to fit the types of jobs for which you are applying; you can also show continuity in your job record or history, while highlighting your accomplishments and achievements. 

Major drawbacks: There are no major drawbacks associated with this format type; except for the fact that some employers will think you're trying to schmooze them.  Of course, that's exactly what you're trying to do. 

This format is favored by resume writers because chronological work dates, as well as skill sets, are highlighted.  This format sells the skills and abilities of recent grads, liberal arts majors, career changers, and people with limited work experience or interrupted careers.  In fact, it is a great format that everyone can use because it will help your resume stand out from the crowd.  Most of the sample resumes in this section use both chronological and functional elements to highlight specific skills and experience.


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