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Choosing The Right Resume Format Really Matters

Every time you send out a resume, it competes with 250+ other resumes. If you use a confusing or underwhelming format, you run the risk that your resume ends up in the trash. What if we told you that existing resume formats could easily do the job for you?
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Are you staring at a blank page? Unsure how to present your skills and experience on a resume? You're not alone. Many job seekers struggle to come up with a resume structure that accurately represents their professional aspirations and attracts recruiters' attention. The struggle, however, is real.

Every time you send out a resume, it competes with 250+ other resumes. If you use a confusing or underwhelming format, you run the risk that your resume ends up in the trash.

What if we told you that existing resume formats could easily do the job for you?

Here's our guide to resume formats to help you pick one that will get you closer to your dream job.

Knowing what's out there

When deciding on a resume format, you need to strike a balance between something that's unique enough to stand out, but not so out of the ordinary that it's difficult for recruiters to understand. A good idea is to start with standard formats and see how you can jazz them up.

Generally, there are three main types of resume formats you can choose from:

  • Reverse-chronological - this resume format is one that most candidates pick to present their professional profile to employers.
  • Combination - this one is for job seekers who want to show off their skills and qualifications.
  • Functional - this resume format is also known as the skills-based format, and it's quite controversial among recruiters (more on that later).

Let's take a closer look at each format to see its critical strengths and weaknesses, and to help you pick one that scores you a job interview. For examples of each format, please see the Uptowork guide on resume formats.

Reverse-chronological format - the popular choice

The reverse-chronological resume format is the most common format recruiters encounter.

Your work history appears at the top of the resume with your most recent job, with all other positions listed in reverse chronological order.

The good thing about this format is that:

  • It's very common and recruiters are used to it, which means that they're able to scan it quickly and find the information they're looking for.
  • Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) can process it easily.
  • It puts the emphasis on work history and experience, and this is where you put most of your relevant skills.

The popularity of the reverse-chronological format, however, may be its downfall: it's so widely used that your resume may end up looking like all the rest.

Since the format focuses on your work history and experience, it's also not a good choice if you've got significant career gaps or if you lack experience.

How do you use this format while ensuring that your resume still grabs recruiters' attention?

Here are three ways to revamp the format:

  • Add a resume objective or summary - if you have little experience or are transitioning to a different career, choose the former.
  • Include an Achievements Section - rely on facts and figures when listing your top accomplishments.
  • Add a Hobbies and Interests Section - it gives recruiters a glimpse into your personality and signals that you would be a good match for the company culture.

The combination resume format

A combination resume format starts with a summary, which serves as a snappy introduction to your professional profile, highlighting your career progress and skill set.

What follows is an Experience Section that focuses on skills. Group your responsibilities under skill-based subheadings such as "Leadership" or "Communication."

This section allows you to make the best use of relevant keywords that are essential in tailoring your resume to a particular job posting. If you're transitioning to a different career and want to show off your transferable skills, this format is for you. Talented professionals with lots of experience and expertise will benefit from this skills-oriented format as well.

The functional resume format (and why you should avoid it)

This resume format is designed to highlight your skills and abilities, often to the detriment of your experience. It might sound appealing, but throwing out your job history is a dangerous move.

A functional format reduces the experience section to a list of your old employers (removing information about your roles and responsibilities) and places it at the bottom of the resume.

The idea behind all this is to showcase your skills in the most efficient manner. The risk, though, is in turning your resume into a clutter of random skills grouped under vague-sounding headlines.

The format also does not offer space to explain how you acquired relevant skills because it doesn't link them to your experience. Without this information, recruiters won't be able to assess the relevance and quality of your skills. In their eyes, a lack of concrete data looks unreliable or even suspicious. Plus, the ATS robots won't be able to scan your resume properly.

Some experts claim that the format works well for professionals who are entering the workforce or have significant gaps in their work history. The truth is that it just makes you look as if you have something to hide.

Got your format? Now it's time to save and send your resume

The single best file format for saving your resume is PDF. You can be sure that your resume formatting won't get messed up if recruiters open your documents using different software or devices.

Remember that recruiters might require you to send something other than a PDF, and the same goes for most ATS, which prefer plain text.

After putting the finishing touches on your resume, head over here to learn how to send your resume to land more job interviews.

Key takeaway

Choosing a format for your resume ultimately comes down to picking what you want recruiters to focus on - your skills or your career progression. In either case, you'll need to personalize these resume formats to serve your needs while still adhering to industry standards.

Pick a format that works for you and then enhance your resume by improving each and every section. List your most important skills and achievements near the top and you're bound to attract recruiters' attention with a perfectly structured and unique resume.

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