How to Pick The Best Resume Format

Essential résumé writing guide January 13, 2020 · 7 min read

Your resume is there to tell the potted story of you, what you’ve done, and what you’re capable of. Indeed, Curriculum Vitae literally means “life story”. It’s not a cover letter, which is a different beast altogether, and we’ve covered the differences for you in another article.

The way that you tell your story is as important as what you actually say, so you need to pick the right format. It’s something a lot of job seekers tend to overlook, so if you get it right, you’re one step ahead of the pack already.

You need to find the most effective way to show your skills and experience and we’re going to give you some tricks and tips about how to get your formatting on point. There are different resume formats to choose from.

When drafting a resume, structure is very importantWhen drafting a resume, it is very important to think carefully about its structure and to provide key information about yourself in the document.

In this article we’re going to go over:

Reverse Chronological Resume Format

This resume format is what you’ll have seen, and probably handed out a thousand times. It’s one of the best templates that are simple and easy for recruiters to understand and navigate their way through. However, since it’s the norm, it’s also pedestrian and ordinary.

Pro-Tip
Proud of your strong, solid work history? This is the style for you. If you’re switching industries or starting out on your career, go for something different. If you’re torn about adding your photo to your resume, check out if it’s right for the country you’re applying in.

Your work experience gets all the limelight in this resume format, you lay it out detailing your most recent job and work your way back through time. Education, qualifications, and skills come after you’ve listed your jobs when you do things in this way.

To draw the recruiter's attention to your work experience use reverse chronological resume formatTo draw the recruiter's attention to your work experience, first describe all the relevant positions, from the last place of employment to the first.
Reverse Chronological Resume Format Pros and Cons
Pros
  • Tells a clear story of your career and shines a light on relevant experience
  • Easy for recruiters to navigate and understand
  • Companies that use Applicant Tracker Systems will find it easy to use
Cons
  • Pulls out employment gaps in your past
  • Doesn’t show creative flair
  • You need to have experience to fill it out properly

Functional Resume Format

When your skills and hands on experience is more important that your year-to-year job history, you need to use the functional resume format. In this resume format you ditch the “work history” title and instead start with “professional experience” or “ accomplishments”. Here, you list the skills you’ve honed and things you’ve achieved over your life.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing to have periods without a job…

Pro-Tip
Emphasize your skills and capabilities when you’re changing careers, applying for your first role, or have gaps in your work chronology. A functional resume focuses on what you can do rather than going through a strict history of your job and shows you’re still qualified.

As well as having a diverse range of jobs, and not having a lot of actual work experience shouldn’t hold you back. These examples are relevant for both fresh college graduates or those looking to get into a new field. To get the message across that you’re still extremely capable of the job you’re applying for, go for the functional resume format. Just be aware, it’s the format your recruiter will be least likely to have seen before.

Use functional resume type when you have a little or no experienceHave a little or no experience? Recall your profitable skills and achievements relevant to the position you want, and focus on them in a functional resume type.
Functional Resume Format Pros and Cons
Pros
  • Takes focus away from employment gaps
  • Doesn’t spend time on irrelevant when you’re changing industries
  • Shines a light on technical and soft skills
Cons
  • Your inexperience in actual job roles can looks quite obvious
  • Most recruiters won’t have worked with the format before
  • Companies that use automated systems for CVs will struggle to work with the format

Combination Resume Format

To bring out the best of your skills and experience, whilst preserving the veracity of your work with full work history, you can use a combination resume. This is a flexible resume format and it is great for tailoring your resume to the specific job you’re going for. You can use a combination resume to clearly tell your story to the hiring manager.

Pro-Tip
A career packed with experience and skills is best highlighted with this resume format. When going for a career switch you can also play on the relevant skills for the role using a combination resume.

Choose this resume format to make sure the recruiter gets a broad understanding of not only what you can do, but who you are as an employee.

Combine you work experience and your skills and accomplishments using a combined resume typeIn a combined resume type, you describe jobs in reverse chronology, adding facts about your accomplishments and what skills you have mastered while working there.
Combined Resume Format Pros and Cons
Pros
  • More fun and interesting that a standard reverse chronology format
  • Works well with a range of skill and experience levels
  • Covers up gaps in employment history
Cons
  • Can miss details in education and skills
  • Needs to have a fair amount of information to flesh out the format
  • Needs detailed planning to avoid repetition between experience and skills sections

Targeted Resume Format

🎯 A targeted resume is very clearly aimed at the specific role you’re applying for. You customize every detail and highlight what you’ve got in your past that’s relevant to the job description.

You’ll spend a lot more time on a targeted resume, but they can be very effective because they are tightly aligned with what the original job posting is looking for. It’s tempting to start embellishing the details of your career history to hit everything the employer wants, this won’t be great when you’re expected to back these things up in the role.

Pro-Tip
Have a go at writing every resume to be targeted at the specific job. A generic CV is easy to spot in a pile; show the recruiter you’ve really spent time on applying for their role.

If the job is in a creative industry, adding a photo might be worth considering. We have a guide to choosing the right picture and the key differences between a LinkedIn and resume shot.

A targeted resume must be tightly aligned with what the original job posting is looking forThe targeted CV type will help you achieve your goal: you will demonstrate your best and most relevant job skills without leaving your employer a chance to quit.
Targeted Resume Format Pros and Cons
Pros
  • Shows you’ve read the details of the job you’re applying for
  • Can cover up gaps in employment history when you highlight everything else relevant
Cons
  • You need targeted skills and experience to produce a complete targeted resume
  • Needs a lot of research about the job and company to be really effective

Final Takeaway

Every type of resume serves a different purpose, and you’ll probably use different ones throughout your career path. The right one to use now will depend on your circumstances at the moment.

Check out our table to give you a guide: 👇

Your SituationSuggested Format
Career progressionReverse chronological or targeted
Changing careerCombination or targeted
Freshly graduatedFunctional
Gaps in job historyFunctional or combination
Applying for a traditional positionReverse chronological
Creative role being applied forCombination or targeted

Whichever way you go with the format of your resume, you need to make sure that it looks professional and is easy for the recruiting manager to extract the details they need. Readability is key, and you achieve this with a good layout and well defined section.

Don’t download any resume you find. Get only the most suitable template for you!

Our free resume builder makes it easy to customize your resume and make it specific to you and the exact role you want to land. Choose one of the creative samples available and tailor the perfect resume for your dream job!