How Should a Resume be Formatted?

In a tight job market, candidates worry about everything from the font choice on their resume to its size. They wonder – “Should I put my LinkedIn url on my resume or should I only include my email?” They worry about whether they have enough experience or too much or not the right kind.

All of it matters, of course. However, one of the first, and most basic, things all jobseekers should be thinking about is the best resume format for their background. Basically, there are three. I’ll go over each here.

How Should a Resume be Formatted?

It’s important to bring out your important qualities first. However, it’s equally important to minimize any negatives you have. And don’t worry, no one has a perfect background. That said, there are three basic resume formats:

  • Reverse-chronological
  • Functional
  • Combination

Reserve-Chronological Resume Format: The Hiring Manager’s Preferred Choice

If you have a consistent employment background with no gaps or job hopping, then this format is ideal for you. In the Professional Experience section you begin with your most recent or current job and move backward from there. This format shows a hiring manager your career progression. That you moved from an entry-level customer service position to team lead and then to supervisor. It’s an efficient and elegant format. However, not everyone can use it. Which brings us to the next choice.

Functional Resume Format: Skills are Showcased

Job hoppers and those who’ve been unemployed for long periods tend to gravitate toward this format.

In it, you’ll have a skills section following your opening summary. If you’re an accountant, the skills might be Accounts Payable, Accounts Receivable, Taxation, Reconciliations. Whatever you do best. Beneath those subsections you’ll list bullets, stating your responsibilities and any achievements you did for that particular skill. Following that will be your Professional Experience section. Here, you’ll simply list your employers, titles and dates of employment.

The trouble with functional formats is that hiring managers know immediately there’s something amiss in your background, so they tend to dismiss you without really reading your resume. Functional formats make it difficult for them to know where you learned your skills and where you achieved those great accomplishments. If they can’t figure it out, they’ll move on to the next candidate.

Therefore, it’s always best never to use a functional format. There’s a better way even if you’ve had many jobs or you’ve been unemployed.

Combination Resume Format: The Best of Reverse-Chronological and Functional

This resume format also focuses on skills more than where you gained them. However, there is an important difference between it and a purely functional resume. In the Professional Experience section, you’ll include bulleted sentences beneath each employer stating what you did and what you achieved. No different from a reverse-chronological resume. In the skills section, which goes before Professional Experience, you’ll list your most important skills/knowledge/abilities for the targeted job. The hope is that the employer will be so impressed with your relevant skills, which showcasing before experience, that by the time they get down to that section, they won’t care that you’ve held many positions or that you’ve been unemployed.

One other thing to remember is to also write an accomplishment-based resume, not a task-focused one no matter what format you use. Accomplishments are what get you noticed. They separate you from the rest of the applicants.

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