Choosing the Right Resume Format for Your Needs

Kathleen MacNaughton

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Knowing when the chronological versus the functional resume format works best is crucial to creating a powerful resume.

There are 3 main types of formats for resumes:

  • Chronological, or more accurately, Reverse Chronological
  • Functional
  • A combination, or hybrid of the two

Of course, there are many other variations of the 3 named above as well. You’re really free to use whichever resume format you prefer, but there are certain situations where one format works better than another in selling you and your abilities. Keep reading to learn more.

The Chronological Resume Format

What it is. This type of resume format is the traditional, and still most common, format. It’s also the easiest to write. You organize it in reverse order by employer, with your most recent job listed first.

When it works best. This kind of resume format highlights your career progression and growth. Employers like it because it’s usually easy to read and can be scanned quickly for your employment history. Here are the situations where it works best:

  • When you’ve worked steadily and consistently with no major gaps in employment.
  • When your job history shows that you’ve moved up in responsibility steadily.
  • When you’ve held standard, well-recognized jobs for well-known companies.
  • When your most significant achievements have occurred recently.
  • When this format is expected for your particular career.

Tips for using this resume format. Since this format emphasizes your work history, then be sure your information is absolutely accurate. Use exact dates of employment and termination if you can, or at least use the month and year both. Provide more information for the first couple of jobs, since this is your most relevant experience. Don’t list the fast food job you held in high school if you’re 10 or more years into your adult career. It’s just not relevant.

When it doesn’t work well. If you’ve held many jobs within a short time period, a chronological resume may not be your best choice because it may look as though you’ve job hopped or that you didn’t have much loyalty to your employers. It’s also not the best choice for someone new to the workforce, or someone coming back into the job market after a number of years, such as a mother who stopped working to raise children and is now returning to work.

In those cases, and others detailed below, a functional resume format may present a more positive picture.

The Functional Resume Format

What it is. This resume format is also known as a skills resume because it is a summary of your qualifications organized by education, experience, achievements, and skills, rather than by job. In fact, there is very little emphasis on employer history.

When it works best. Many employers and recruiters may prefer the chronological resume format because it is so easy to read at a glance. But it won’t serve you well in some situations. Here are some cases where a functional resume is best:

  • When you’re new to the workforce or coming back after a long absence
  • When you have large, or many, gaps in your work history
  • When you’ve worked for only 1 or 2 companies over many years
  • When you want to make a career change
  • When you’ve been in the workforce for many years, and you want to de-emphasize your age
  • You’ve worked at a number of different, unrelated jobs.

Tips for using this resume format. Highlight your most relevant assets for each job you’re seeking up front in the resume, in their general order of importance. If you don’t have much formal work experience, then list any skills or experience that can translate into such, including volunteer work and internships. Be honest though; don’t make stuff up. If you have large gaps in employment, you may want to just list your past employers, but leave out the dates. You can deal with any questions during the interview.

When it doesn’t work well. If you know that in your career track, the chronological resume format is strongly preferred, you may have to go with the flow. Or, you may decide to take a combination approach, as described below.

The Combination Resume Format

What it is. A combination resume format takes the best features of both the chronological and the functional resume formats. You get a chance to present a strong summary of your skills and accomplishments up front (functional), while also providing a detailed employment history (chronological) that supports the statements made in the first section.

When it works best. There are a number of situations in which this resume format works well, such as:

  • When you’re trying to make a career change. (You can list your relevant skills and experience up front, then any relevant education. Next, list your job history, but only include the relevant duties performed at each. )
  • When you have done almost the same duties everywhere you’ve worked. (Listing the same duties over and over under each employer is redundant. Instead, you can highlight your most significant skills and experience up front, along with any special awards or achievements. Then, list only company-specific duties under each employer. )

Tips for using this resume format. Take the tips listed above for each of the other formats and incorporate them. Also, keep in concise and interesting. Avoid boring job descriptions. Instead, identify how you have been of value to your employers. Speak in terms of saving money, increasing profits, improving productivity, solving problems, or enhancing products or services. Be as specific as you can, using numbers, dollars, and percentages as accurately as possible.

When it doesn’t work well. This format works well in almost any situation!

Other Formats

If you’re applying for certain academic or teaching positions or trying to get a job outside the US, you may be asked to prepare a curriculum vitae, or CV for short, rather than a resume. This is a much more detailed document, although it may roughly follow one of the formats discussed above.

Kathleen MacNaughton is a freelance writer with years of management and recruitment experience. You can find lots more tips and advice on careers, resumes, and job hunting topics at


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