Types of Resume Formats and Which One to Choose

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Putting together a resume is very serious business. It is your introduction to a prospective employer and, as with all first impressions, there are no do-overs. If the employer likes what he or she sees on your resume, you will have the opportunity to make a second impression, on a job interview for example. If he or she is unimpressed, it could end up at the bottom of the pile or in the trash. Your first step is choosing the right resume format: chronological, functional or combination.

Chronological Resume

The chronological resume is probably the one with which most people are familiar. On it, work experience is listed in reverse chronological order (most recent job first). This information goes beneath your name and contact information (address, phone numbers, and email address) and objective, as it does regardless of the format you choose. For each job, indicate the period of time during which you were employed. The name of your employer and then the employer's location should follow this. Below that you should give a description of each job. Follow your work history with a section on education that lists each degree, certificate, etc. you have earned.

This format is best to use when you are trying to show career growth. For example, if your most recent job is a store manager, the one before that is department manager, and prior to that you were a sales clerk, you can show a history of upward progression. However, if your work history has been spotty or if it has been stagnant you shouldn't use a chronological resume. If you are changing careers, a chronological resume is not for you either as you will not be able to show a career trajectory.

Functional Resume

A functional resume is a good format to use if you are changing careers. Although you don't have an employment history in the field in which are seeking a new job, you do have skills you have obtained through other experiences, both paid and unpaid. These are called transferable skills and a functional resume allows you to highlight them.

This type of resume categorizes your job skills by function, emphasizing your abilities. Follow your name, contact information, and objective with a section for each of the functions or abilities you want to highlight. Your related work experience goes beneath each section heading. For brevity's sake, try to keep to a maximum of three of four functions.

For example, you might have sections titled "Supervision and Management," "Accounting," and "Writing and Editing." Within the section titled "Writing and Editing," one of your items might be "Edited monthly newsletter to promote upcoming library events and workshops." Begin with the function on which you want to place the most emphasis. Choose the one that is most relevant to the job for which you are applying. Target your resume to different employers by changing your objective as well as the order in which you list the functions. The one downside of a functional resume is that it doesn't provide a job history. This may arouse the suspicions of the person reviewing your resume who will surely want to know something about your employment history. A combination resume will solve this problem.

Combination Resume

A combination resume is exactly what it sounds like—it is a hybrid of a functional resume and a chronological one. This is a useful format if you are changing careers but have a solid, though seemingly unrelated, employment history. You can also use the combination format if your work history includes only one place of employment, but you spent a significant amount of time there and your job duties were very diverse. It lets you stress the various skills you attained through that job.

The first item on a combination resume, after your name and address, should be your objective. Next come the sections describing your abilities or job functions. Follow the instructions for putting together a functional resume but keep your descriptions a shorter since you will have to leave room for the second part of this format: "Employment Experience" or "Work History." This part resembles a chronological resume. List employers and dates here, but do not offer further descriptions as you have already described your abilities in the functional part of this resume.

Using the resume format that is best suited for your background and job search objectives gives you the best opportunity to tell a prospective employer about yourself and how you will best serve his or her needs. If you have an extensive work history that does a good job of showing off your attributes, go with a chronological resume. Use a functional resume to show off your abilities while de-emphasizing a limited work history, or use a combination resume to show off your abilities and a bit more extensive but still limited work history. If you work in the creative industry, using a video resume to supplement a paper resume may help you stand out from other candidates.