The Best Resume Format

A great resume will get you a new job, right? Wrong! Even the best resume format won’t get you the job, but a great resume will get you an interview. And once you get the interview, the rest is up to you.

When applying for jobs, your resume will be just one of the hundreds, if not thousands, of papers sitting on a hiring manager’s desk or in their inbox. So what’s the best resume format to make sure yours stands above the rest?

There are some simple rules you can follow to keep your resume clean, professional, and easy to read. Breaking these rules or handing in a sloppy resume will most likely fast-track your resume to the recycling bin.

Keep in mind there is no silver bullet for the best resume format. The best resume format depends on the job you’re applying for and the business that’s hiring you. 

Here are some of the more popular types of resume writing, along with when you should use them.

Chronological resume format

A chronological resume is also known as a reverse chronological resume, as it lists all of your experience, starting with the most recent at the top. This is by far the most common resume format, and all employers are familiar with it. The chronological resume best shows off your work experience because it starts with where you’re at today.

When to use a chronological resume format

The best time to use a chronological resume is when your work experience and skill set are similar to the job posting requests. This shows that you’re a good match. This type of resume format should show how you’ve progressed in your career, including how your skills have helped your past employers.

Benefits of a chronological resume

The main advantage of using a chronological resume format is that employers find them familiar and easy to read. The benefit to you is that they are also easy to write as there are many templates and examples to refer to online.

Pitfalls of a chronological resume

A chronological resume format may be popular, but it may not always be the best choice. If you have gaps in your job history, these become apparent, and you may have to explain them. Also, depending on your job history, it may give the impression that you can’t hold down a job for any length of time.

And finally, it will be challenging to differentiate yourself using a chronological resume format because it is so popular that almost everyone uses it.

Functional resume format 

When a chronological or reverse chronological resume isn’t the best resume format, there are other options. If you want to play up your skill-set because it’s these skills the employer is focusing on, rather than just your work experience, a functional resume is the best way to go. 

A functional resume format lays out your skills or categories of skills and focuses on matching the skills you have with the job description.

When to use a functional resume format

Use a functional resume when the transferable skills and qualifications you have for the job don’t stand out in a chronological resume. For example, it may be that your last couple of jobs had nothing to do with the job you’re applying for today.

When you have the technical skills or soft skills an employer is asking for, this resume format is the way to highlight and showcase them.  It’s more likely an employer will overlook these traits if they’re looking at your work experience in chronological order. There are some top skills employers are looking for that you should try and include.

Benefits of a functional resume

This is a suitable resume format to use if you are looking for a career change or have just graduated from post-secondary education as recent graduates often do not have relevant work experience. It’s also good to use a functional resume if you have significant gaps in your employment history. This is one format that works well if you have gained skills through mentorship, volunteering or in school.

Pitfalls of a functional resume

A functional resume format has its drawbacks, for example, some online job search boards and recruiters don’t accept them. Moreover, some employers tend to think if you use a functional resume format that you have something to hide. You must be specific about why and how you obtained your skills. Merely mentioning you are “good with people” doesn’t mean anything without a specific context.

Combination resume format

As its name suggests, a combination resume combines elements of both the chronological and functional resume formats. It’s also known as a hybrid resume.

When to use a combination resume format

Use a combination resume format when you have the skills that an employer is looking for and you have the work experience and career progression to back it up. A combination resume can work well if your career path has made you highly trained and/or certified in an industry or field.

Benefits of a combination resume

If you have the necessary skills and relevant work experience, this is the best resume format for you to highlight both. This is also an excellent format to use if your work experience doesn’t necessarily relate to the job posting but indicates a steady and loyal employment history.

Pitfalls of a combination resume

The downside to using a combination resume format is the same as with the chronological resume format. If your work experience indicates that you have difficulty holding a steady job or if you have mysterious, unexplained gaps in your employment history, you may be asked to explain why.

How to format a resume

How your resume looks is as important as how well it’s written. A hiring manager will look for and notice the details and the layout of your resume. Here are some tips to help you:

Fonts

The typeface you use in your resume formatting is important. It needs to be easy to read but also reflect your style and your professionalism. The font should also be consistent throughout. 

Calibri is a good basic choice as it is a default font with Microsoft. Cambria looks good both on the screen and printed. Garamond has an old-school look that is appropriate for job seekers with years of experience or academic resumes. Arial is also a good go-to font that also looks good on paper and online.

Font size

The font size should be between 10 and 12 pts. Anything smaller will be challenging to read, and anything bigger will make it look like you’re trying to fill space.

Margins

A margin of 1 inch (25.4 mm) on the right, left, top and bottom margins is best. Employers need white space to write notes!

Bullet Points

Bullets break up the text and can organize your work experience and your skills. They are also easy to read. Remember to be consistent in your punctuation. If you use periods at the end of your bullet points, double-check to make sure you’ve used periods throughout the text.

Headers

Make sure you use the Heading 1, 2, or 3 font-sizes for your titles to break up the text and keep things easy on the eyes. Headers will help to organize your resume, separating work experience from skills, volunteer work, contact info, etc.

A few more tips

  • Keep your resume to one page. Employers are reading hundreds of resumes and don’t have time to read anything more than one page per person. This means keeping your writing concise and to the point.
  • Avoid using “I”, first-person language. 
  • Use the past tense when you are describing your work experience, and use the present tense when you are describing your current work experience.
  • Using underlining, bold, or italics to highlight certain words or phrases you want an employer to notice.

Resume format structures: how to write a resume

Writing a resume can be daunting, and sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. There are many resume examples, resume builders, and free templates online, but here are some resume layout structures to help you get started.

Chronological resume format

1. Contact information: Start with your contact information at the top. Include your name, email, and your phone number. You can also include a link to your LinkedIn account, your website, or other social media accounts if applicable. There is no need for a mailing address.

2. Resume summary. A summary statement is an introduction where, in just a few sentences, you outline your most valuable skills, relevant qualifications, and career goals.

3. Work experience: Professional experience sections will look the same under all the resume 

Formats. List the company name, your job title, and the dates you worked there. List your most relevant work experience in reverse chronological order. With each job you’ve had, use three to five bullet points to list your responsibilities and, more importantly, what you accomplished. Use action verbs and play up how you helped your employer achieve its goals, instead of just a list of tasks or duties.

4. Education: This is a short synopsis of your education. Include the school, and where it’s located, the degree or the certification you earned and the date you graduated. Include your GPA if it is more than 3.5.

5. Skills: The skills section is where you highlight your relevant technical and soft skills to reinforce your qualifications for the job. Be concise and use bullet points.

Functional resume format

1. Contact information: your name, phone number, and email address should be at the top, along with your LinkedIn link and your professional website and social media accounts, if applicable. A mailing address is not necessary.

2. Summary: Similar to the chronological resume format, you should introduce yourself in a few sentences outlining your most important qualifications and career goals. This is also an excellent place to briefly point out your most significant career achievements.

3. List your skills: Refer to the job posting and use the same keywords when listing your skills. Be specific. State your skill but also add context such as how, when and where you learned the skill and whether it was school, mentorship, or work experience. 

According to USAJOBS, you should use specific numbers to quantify your achievements. For example, “Managed a sales team that saw an increase of 20% sales in 12 months,” is better than just “Managed a sales team.”

4. Education: List your academic achievements, with the university or college, location, the type of degree or diploma, and your grades – if they were high. 

Combination resume format

1. Contact information: Much like the other resume formats, including your name, telephone number, and email at the top. And feel free to add a link to your LinkedIn account, your website, or social media handles if appropriate.

2. Summary: The summary is also called a professional profile. This is where you summarize your top skills and relevant qualities that make you perfect the job. Also, include your career goals to provide a bit of personality to your resume.

3. Skills: In a combination resume you will be using both work experience and skills. Begin with your list of skills. Logically bundle your skills, relating those skills to what is required for the job.

4. Work experience: In this section list the company name, your job title, and the dates you worked there. Use bullet points and list your accomplishments rather than your everyday tasks. Show how you helped the business’s bottom line.

5. Education: If you are well into your career, then education sections aren’t that important, although many jobs require university degrees or college diplomas. List the school and location, your field of study, and the type of degree or diploma you earned. Add an honors degree or high GPA, but this section should be short.

Should I Include a Cover Letter?

You should (almost) always include a cover letter with your resume when you apply for a job. A well-written, thoughtful cover letter shows that you’re interested in the job and that you took the extra time and effort to pitch yourself and explain how you align with the employer. It’s a chance to show your personality and connect with a potential employer. 

A cover letter is a good place to explain any employment gaps in your work history or why you have had many different jobs in the last 12 to 24 months.

Of course, if the job posting explicitly states no cover letters then it’s best to follow instructions. Also, if you don’t have the time to write a good cover letter, then handing in no cover letter is better than handing in one that is poorly written. 

The Best Resume Format: Final Thoughts

Your resume is an important document that could help get you to start your career or land your dream job. There isn’t one best resume format, nor is there one single way to write a perfect resume.

Every resume, like every individual, is unique. The one thing you have to do is keep it easy to read and understand, highlight your experience and skills, and relate your experience and skills to the specific job you are applying for.

Sending one catch-all resume to dozens of potential employers is never the best route. Using the information outlined here and these resume samples, build your resume, making sure to personalize it to the job you are applying for.

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