How To Select the Best Resume Format

Every job seeker has a varied job history and background. What’s more, hiring managers for different industries or types of roles may have unique ways of evaluating candidates. No one-size-fits-all resume works for every person or type of job. For example, someone looking for their first job in accounting might have a totally different resume than a freelance writer or an HR professional making a career change into health care.

In general, there are three types of resume formats: reverse chronological, functional, and combination. The most common is the reverse chronological, which puts your most recent job history front and center of the document. In the functional resume, your skills are the main focus. And finally, the combination resume has elements of the other two.

Learn more about each of these resume formats and how to decide which is best for you based on your level of experience, career goals, and industry.

1. Reverse chronological resume format

This is the format of choice for most job seekers. It focuses on the most recent experience up top and illustrates how the person has progressed throughout their career. This reverse chronological approach puts the emphasis on work history and career accomplishments. It’s the format that recruiters and hiring managers see most often as well.

Someone with limited hands-on experience may be better suited to another format, although it’s acceptable to include nontraditional work experiences such as side hustles, volunteer work, or internships in the professional experience section.

There are other instances in which someone may want to utilize a different sort of resume. These include those making a drastic career change or going from the military to the civilian workforce, independent contractors who service various clients, or someone who was out of the workforce for a number of years.

2. Functional resume format

This format shines the spotlight on the job seeker’s skill sets rather than a chronological job history. It usually lists a skill (for example, technical support or patient relations) and then shares some bullet points from their past work that demonstrate that skill.

Then, below all the skills, a quick, reverse chronological list of jobs (with just the employer name and dates) appears without further context.

In general, functional resumes are not commonly used and can even be off-putting to recruiters since they are so unconventional. This format makes it challenging to get a clear picture of one’s career progression. Ultimately, it can bring up more questions than answers, and busy hiring managers may move on to other candidates who present a clearer picture of their accomplishments.

3. Combination resume format

For someone without a linear job history, a reverse chronological resume may be challenging to complete. Perhaps you’ve had a couple of stops and starts, or you changed to a new industry. It could also be that you don’t have jobs to add at all. In those situations, a combination resume format could be effective. As the name implies, it combines elements of the reverse chronological and the functional resumes. It allows for more flexibility to move resume sections around rather than diving right into a list of professional experiences.

For someone just starting out, you could provide details about an academic project closely aligned with the role you’re seeking rather than starting with the random part-time jobs you worked during college. Career changers entering a new industry might want to mention the new skills that have prepared them for their transition rather than making the reader skim past a long list of their jobs in the former industry.

4. Best resume format for entry-level job seekers

Entry-level job seekers can certainly go with a reverse chronological format for their resumes since that’s the most well-known option. You can include both jobs you’ve held as well as industry-related internships.

If you have limited hands-on experience, you can also focus on volunteer positions you held in college or academic projects you’ve done. In those cases, a combination resume might be a smart approach.

5. Best resume format for senior-level professionals

With several years of job history — especially if it demonstrates career growth over time — a reverse chronological format is ideal. Resume readers can see what you did in your most recent role and the path you took to get there. “Corporate climber” types can benefit from their work history being the focal point of the document.

If you’ve made or are making a career change or had a significant gap in your working years, consider using a combination format. The key is to find the right balance of illustrating how you’re qualified for the role you’re seeking while showcasing your prior achievements. Even if you have done varied types of work, your past accomplishments are still worth sharing as long as you can illustrate the value you’ve brought to previous organizations.

6. Should I use a one-page or two-page resume?

Contrary to some popular takes, there is no perfect resume length — it should be as long as it needs to be. Someone with several years of experience will likely have a resume that runs two full pages. And someone seeking work at the entry level should be able to fit everything onto one page.

If you barely run over one page, you can do some editing or play around with spacing to get everything to fit neatly on one page. First, there may be repetitive details or some you can leave out.

Likewise, if you’re going between halfway to three-quarters of the way onto page two, see if you can space out the information so that it fits nicely. Don’t pad your resume with personal details like hobbies or interests unless they are somehow related to the job. Instead, brainstorm any additional items that can help promote your skills.

7. How to select the best resume format for your industry

While reverse chronological and combination resume formats can work in any industry, there may be situations where one is more advantageous than the other. First, research resume templates for your position and skill level to see the approach that other people take.

If you’ve amassed different skills within your industry, it could make sense to use a combination resume that emphasizes different aptitudes, such as cybersecurity and system administration. The same goes if you’re a construction project manager and prefer to feature your construction projects and outcomes at the top of the document instead of going straight into your employee history.

Otherwise, when in doubt, you can’t go wrong with the tried-and-true reverse chronological format.

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Frank Hackett

Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW)

Frank Hackett is a professional resume writer and career consultant with over eight years of experience. As the lead editor at a boutique career consulting firm, Frank developed an innovative approach to resume writing that empowers job seekers to tell their professional stories. His approach involves creating accomplishment-driven documents that balance keyword optimization with personal branding. Frank is a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) with the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches (PAWRCC).