4 Common Resume Formats & Which One Will Work For You

It’s often said that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Unfortunately, that’s what happens, most of the time, with job seekers and their resumes.

Everyone knows that there is so much more to people than their initial impressions. However, potential employers judge candidates by their resumes every day, within seconds of glancing through the document.  As a job seeker, you want to offer a resume that tells your story, presents your skills, and allows you to shine for each potential employer.

A resume shouldn’t be a static document that you create once and never touch again (like your own personal Declaration of Independence). Think of it more like a Constitution – a living, breathing document that needs to change and evolve along with you. The best resume format for you at age 25 may not be the best format for when you’re 45.

Let’s explore four standard resume styles and when they work best.

Chronological Resume: Present a clear timeline

Sometimes called the reverse chronological resume, the hallmark of this traditional format is that it presents your work experience from newest to oldest. This resume style is often used by mid-career applicants who want to demonstrate that they are progressing in their fields.

Older job applicants should probably steer clear of the chronological resume, since it magnifies the time you’ve been in the workforce (and possibly out of the workforce due to periods of unemployment). And entry-level candidates straight out of school might not have enough employment history to make this style the right fit. Each of these job seekers might want to consider one of the other formats listed below.

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Who should use a chronological resume?

  • Job seekers who want to show off upward career mobility
  • Job seekers who are applying to jobs in the same or similar industry
  • Job seekers who have a continuity of work progression (no large employment gaps)

Functional Resume: Tailor your skills

In contrast to the chronological resume, the functional resume does not present your work experience in date order. Instead, this style highlights the skills and abilities that you believe are most relevant to the position you are applying for, along with the positions where you developed those skills. It is often used by older applicants who want to try to avoid age bias and also show that they have the experience needed for the job.

Who should use a functional resume?

  • Job seekers who want to change careers into a new field
  • Job seekers who have large gaps in their employment history
  • Job seekers who want to showcase their skills that are relevant and transferable to the job opening

Combination Resume: The Best of Both Worlds

A combination resume combines the clarity of the chronological resume with the customized style of functional resumes. This resume starts with a summary of professional qualifications where you showcase the skills that are relevant to the job you seek. Then, you can list your work experience and education chronologically, though you don’t have to list every single item – just the highlight reel.

Who should use a chronological resume?

  1. Job seekers who want to transfer to a different career path
  2. Job seekers who have become experts in their field
  3. Job seekers who want to show a well-developed set of skills
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Yes, the combination resume overlaps with the other two styles described above. There may be times when more than one of these formats would work for you.

Curriculum Vitae: For academics & expats

The curriculum vitae, or CV, is not encountered nearly as often as the resume in the U.S. The CV format is usually a longer, more comprehensive document containing your life’s accomplishments. It is often required for academic roles, including college instructors, where long lists of publications, awards, and honors are more relevant than in the rest of the job world.

Who should use a CV?

  1. Job seekers who want to work in academia.
  2. Job seekers who want to work abroad.

Whether you are brand new to the workforce or have a lifetime of experience behind you, there is a resume style that will present your best face to potential employers who are looking for candidates just like you! Check out these sample resume formats, and tailor them to work for you.