How to Choose the Right Resume Format

If you don't choose the right format for your resume, you can easily doom your resume to the trash can. If you are changing careers, going back to work after years away from the workplace or are just starting out with very little experience, a chronological resume could be your worst enemy! Yet, if you have a solid work history worth focusing on, then that same chronological resume could be the best way to present yourself.

Resume Formats

There are three basic resume formats, functional, chronological and combination.

Functional: The functional resume draws attention to your skills instead of your past employment or work history by grouping relevant skills and accomplishments into special categories and placing them before the work history section of your resume.

Chronological: The chronological resume places more emphasis on your past employment by listing your work history near the beginning of your resume.

Combination: The combination resume combines the best features of the functional and chronological styles by emphasizing your abilities while including a full job history. This format is quickly becoming the format of choice for upwardly mobile professionals due to its flexibility and ability to highlight strengths and skills while allowing the use of searchable keywords near the beginning of the resume.

Choosing a Resume Format - The Most Important Question to Ask

Do I have direct, in-depth experience in the career I am applying for?

If the answer is yes, then the traditional chronological resume format will serve you well. If your answer is no, the chronological format will emphasize the fact that you don't have the direct, in-depth experience the employer is looking for. Your resume will hit the trash can.

If you do not have direct, in-depth experience, choose a functional resume format or a combination format instead. The functional resume format allows you to highlight the transferable skills you have that make you a good candidate for the job. In this resume format, your skills can be grouped into categories that parallel the skills description for the job posting. Functional resumes typically contain elements not used chronological resumes: performance profiles, career objectives, qualifications summaries and relevant skills summaries. In addition, other sections may be added to coincide with your knowledge and circumstances.

The functional resume does have its drawbacks, though. Some employers see this format as an instant indicator that you are hiding something. In a way they are right. You are trying to de-emphasize your lack of experience in the specific job skills for the position. This is why you may want to consider the combination resume format.

If you do have direct, in-depth experience, a chronological resume format will emphasize your work history as directly relevant to the job you're seeking. If your experience demonstrates that you have grown within a single profession and without many job changes or periods of unemployment, then a chronological resume is a good choice. It combines your achievements and job-specific duties and applies them to each position with each employer in the work history section of your resume.

The combination resume format is used for a variety of situations: those returning to the workforce after an extended absence, those who recently graduated from college, those possessing a wealth of knowledge with little true professional experience, those who have made many job changes and those who are  embarking on a new career altogether.

A combination resume combines the best of both the functional and the chronological formats. It allows you an opportunity to spotlight your credentials and your skills with self-awareness. The combination resume usually includes a professional profile or career summary to accentuate skills, traits and accomplishments. It may also include a job objective, a targeted job title or a positioning statement. This format utilizes a detailed skills summary and incorporates an area in which to highlight previous experiences and accomplishments in categories that are relevant to both your job search and your personal history. The combination style also utilizes a work history, detailed in reverse chronological order, with the most recent experience listed first.

Your Resume is Your Sales Pitch

Remember that your resume, combined with your cover letter, is your only opportunity to sell yourself. If you can accomplish this task in one page, do your best to do that. At the same time, it's often not possible to present yourself effectively in one page, especially if you have a solid work history to present.

Employers do want to see some form of work history, even if it includes volunteer and self-employment positions. Yet, someone starting out new or changing careers may have never worked in a job related to the position he or she is applying for. This is why it is so important to study the job description.

If the employer provides very little detail, a call or an email asking for more information about the job, could be your opportunity to stand out. Mention that you want to be sure you have the right qualifications for the position. You never know whether this indication that you are serious about being valuable to your future employer may just land you the job.

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