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What Resume Format is Best for You?
by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., and Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
Find the most current articles on resumes in our Content Index: Resumes.
Chronological. Functional. Chrono-Functional. Hybrid. Combination. Print. Formatted. Electronic. Text. PDF. Web-based. All of these are terms that are tossed around when people talk about resume formats. How is a job-seeker supposed to know the best resume format in any given situation? Do you need more than one format? Just how many formats do you need?
First, it's important to note that the term "format" has a couple of different meanings. When people talk about resume "format" they may be referring to:
- The way the content of the resume is organized.
- The technological approach to the resume's preparation according to how it is intended to be delivered to its recipient.
- Both of the above.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of different types of resumes? What are the common elements of all resumes? This article addresses these issues, giving you all the information you need to write the best resume for you -- given your job history and job-search strategy.
The Purpose of Job-Search ResumesYour resume is a key job-hunting tool used to get a job interview. It summarizes your accomplishments, your education, as well as your work experience, and should reflect your special mix of skills and strengths.
A resume -- even the best resume -- will not get you the job; you'll need to convince the employer during the job interview. The resume is simply a marketing tool to get you into the door.
A resume is a statement of facts designed to sell your unique mix of education, experience, accomplishments, and skills to a prospective employer. Never lie or stretch the facts; do not get creative when identifying your job titles, dates of employment, or accomplishments. On the other hand, do not be modest; be clear about successes, results, and accomplishments -- and quantify whenever possible.
Key Attributes of All Excellent ResumesRegardless of the type of resume you create, a number of key elements overlap all successful resumes.
- Contact Information. Since your goal is for an employer to contact you -- either for a first interview or for a follow-up interview -- you must give employers ways to reach you -- Website address/URL (if available), city and state only (no street address), a single phone number (no second/third number, no fax number), and a single email address.
- Accomplishments. Focus the descriptions of your experiences on accomplishments, not duties and responsibilities. Accomplishments, especially those you can quantify, will sell you to a potential employer. Read more in our article, For Job-Hunting Success: Track and Leverage Your Accomplishments and its companion tool, Job-Seeker Accomplishments Worksheet.
- Education/Training. Include all the pertinent information regarding education, degrees, training, and certifications. Spell out names of degrees. Include the educational institution's name and location. If currently enrolled in an educational program, list expected graduation month and year. Graduates should list graduation year if within the last 10 years.
- Appearance. The first impression of your resume -- and of you as a job-seeker -- comes from your resume's appearance. Your resume should be well-organized with consistent headings, fonts, bullets, and style. Never overcrowd the resume. Leave some "white space" so that important points can stand out; and try to make your margins between .75" and 1" on all sides. For print resumes, use subdued color paper, such as white, ivory, beige, light gray.
- Avoidance of Typos/Misspellings. Take the time to carefully write, rewrite, and edit your resume. Be sure to meticulously proofread your resume for misspellings and typos. Resumes with errors get filed in the trash can.
- Targeted and focused. Tailor your basic resume to specific jobs and specific employers. There is simply no excuse for having one generic resume anymore. Tweak each resume you submit to the specific job you are seeking or to the specific employer.
Which Organizational Format for Your Resume?One of the first decisions job-seekers must make when preparing their resumes is how to organize the resume's content. The standard format for resumes is chronological (actually reverse chronological, listing all your experience from most to least recent). A functionally formatted resume lists experience in skills clusters. A truly functional resume omits dates and may not even list specific jobs and employers. As you might imagine, hiring decision-makers especially loathe the purely functional resume for its omission of this key employer and date information. A compromise is known as the chrono-functional, hybrid, or combination format, which is a mostly functional format that also includes a bare-bones work history in reverse chronological order. Such a work-history section includes only job title, name and location of employer, and dates of employment. The job-seeker doesn't list what he or she did in each job because that information already is listed in the functional section.
Chronological ResumesThe traditional, default format for resumes is the chronological resume. This type of resume is organized by your employment history in reverse chronological order, with job titles/names of employers/locations of employers/dates of employment/ accomplishments, working backwards into your job history.
A standard chronological resume is the best choice for the vast majority of job-seekers and is preferred by most employers, as well as by recruiters and most Internet job boards. Recruiters and hiring managers tend to like this resume format because it's easy to read and clearly demonstrates your job history and career advancement/growth.
See some samples of chronological resumes:
- Experienced Job-Seeker Chronological Format
- Experienced Job-Seeker Chronological Format II
- New Graduate Chronological Format III
Functional and Chrono-Functional ResumesFor more about functional formats, which we recommend only in extreme cases, see The Demise of the Functional Resume.
Which Technological Format for Your Resume?Once you developed your resume, your final step is to determine whether you need multiple versions of your resume based on how you will deliver your resume to recipients.
More than 90 percent of employers are now placing resumes directly into searchable databases and an equal percentage of employers prefer to receive resumes by e-mail. That means that it's an absolute must these days to have:
- A formatted, "print" resume in document form that you can send as an attachment to an e-mail message to the employer.
- A text-based (ASCII text) e-resume stripped of most formatting and pasted directly into the same e-mail message sent to the employer (can also be pasted into application/resume submission forms on online job boards). Read more in our article Top 10 Things You Need to Know about E-Resumes.
Sending your resume in text-based format directly in the body of an e-mail message removes all barriers to an employer's placing your resume right into a searchable database. Some employers still prefer the formatted document version of your resume attached to an e-mail message (because the employer may wish to visually review the more reader-friendly version of your resume, especially once the database search has narrowed down the candidates), while others won't open attachments because of concerns about viruses and incompatibilities among word-processing programs.
You'll want to have a print version of your resume on hand for networking, to take to interviews and career fairs and for the rare occasions when employers request resumes in old-school ways -- by mail or fax.
Scrutinize employer instructions carefully to see which format is preferred for any given opportunity to submit your resume. If in doubt, contact the employer and ask about submission preferences. See a comprehensive description of these file formats in our article, Your Resume's File Format Aligns with its Delivery Method. In the meantime, here's a quick rundown:
- Text (ASCII) resume, which removes all formatting and allows the resume to appear the same in all email systems -- and allows for easy placement into employer resume databases.
- Portable Document Format (PDF) resume that is also highly compatible and consistent in appearance across platforms, but can be problematic in employer databases. See our article Pros and Cons of PDF Resumes.
- Web-based resume in hypertext markup language (HTML) to make your resume available 24/7 on the Web. Easily expandable into a Web portfolio.
As you might imagine, any number of versions of your resume are possible, including both organizational formats and technical formats. You could, for example, have both chronological and chrono-functional versions of your resume in print, text, PDF, and HTML file formats, for a total of eight versions of your resume! Add to these the tweaks you make to target your resume to specific jobs/employers, and the possibilities are virtually endless.
Final Thoughts on Creating Your Job-Search ResumeIn the end, the most important lesson here is that the days are gone when a job-seeker developed one resume format and printed 100 copies of it on high-quality paper. In today's job market, resumes need to be modified and fine-tuned at a drop of the hat, as well as available in multiple versions. Still, there will probably be a need for years to come for attractive, eye-catching print resumes with appropriately organized content.
Read lots more resume articles, tips, do's and don'ts -- and find lots more resume samples -- in the Resume Resources section of Quintessential Careers.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers, is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for Quintessential Careers, edits QuintZine, an electronic newsletter for jobseekers, and blogs about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). Visit her personal Website or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at)quintcareers.com.
Dr. Randall S. Hansen is founder of Quintessential Careers, one of the oldest and most comprehensive career development sites on the Web, as well CEO of EmpoweringSites.com. He is also founder of MyCollegeSuccessStory.com and EnhanceMyVocabulary.com. He is publisher of Quintessential Careers Press, including the Quintessential Careers electronic newsletter, QuintZine. Dr. Hansen is also a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. He's often quoted in the media and conducts empowering workshops around the country. Finally, Dr. Hansen is also an educator, having taught at the college level for more than 15 years. Visit his personal Website or reach him by email at randall(at)quintcareers.com.
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