The Best Resume Formats That Will Get You Hired In 2021

Which resume format should you choose?

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Best resume format for modern job market.
Irene McConnell
6 min read

November 10, 2020

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Just like people, careers come in all shapes and sizes. When it comes to resumes, it’s worth picking a format that presents your work history in as flattering a light as possible.

Choosing the right resume format will assist you in highlight your strengths whilst downplaying your weaknesses; needless to say, this is instrumental for getting the attention of future employers.

Whether you are an executive with a desire to step up into the C-suite, a mid-career professional considering a career change or a graduate entering the workforce for the first time, there’s a resume format that will suit you best.

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I’m here to give you the rundown on the three main resume formats – Chronological, Functional and Combination (hybrid). I’ll explore each format’s pros and cons and show you how to choose a format that will help you put your best foot forward in a tough job market.

 

3 Most Common Resume Formats.

 

Chronological Resume Format.

The Chronological format focuses on your work history. It lists your roles in reverse chronological order (most recent to last). It summarises your significant responsibilities and highlights your major achievements.

Key Elements Include:

  • Personal details – full name, email address and phone number.
  • Resume summary – a short introduction that highlights your unique value proposition.
  • Professional experience – job title, company, length of employment.
  • Responsibilities and achievements for the most recent and relevant roles.
  • Education/qualifications.
  • Professional affiliations, languages and other relevant information (optional).

 

Functional Resume Format.

A functional resume format focuses on your skills. It highlights your most relevant abilities in relation to a future role.

Key Elements Include:

  • Personal details.
  • Resume summary or career objective.
  • Core skills listed by theme.
  • 4-5 achievements under each skill.
  • Professional experience (listed).

 

Combination Resume Format.

As the name suggests, combination (or hybrid) resume format balances the chronological format’s focus on work history with the functional format’s focus on skills. It showcases your work experience and time spent at each position while highlighting the skills that you’ve acquired in each role.

Key Elements Include:

  • Personal details.
  • Resume summary or summary of qualifications.
  • Core skills listed by theme.
  • Professional experience with a strong emphasis on skills acquired.
  • Education.

 

Pros And Cons Of Each Resume Format.

Chronological Resume Format.

The Pros.

Chronological is the most common resume format used by job seekers. It’s also the one most commonly favoured by recruiters and hiring managers.

Why?

Because it provides the reader with a succinct overview of your work experience while enabling you to create strong narratives that position each role as a strategic career move. As a result, it is ideal for demonstrating vertical career progression.

The Cons.

Because of the structure’s linear nature, employment gaps tend to stick out – as do frequent job changes.

And because the emphasis is on work experience, it also tends to highlight a lack of it, so is not the best format for candidates without a substantial work history.

 

Functional Resume Format.

The Pros.

The Functional format’s emphasis on skills is ideal for highlighting transferrable abilities. Typically, the format includes a core set of skills, each supported with 4-5 examples that demonstrate how that skill was used to achieve key objectives. For example:

Account Management.

  • Delivered 20% revenue growth by identifying and converting opportunities across 10 key accounts
  • Maintained a 100% client retention rate through proactive relationship management with a focus on creating value etc.

By linking key achievements with your core skill set, this resume format demonstrates your competency beyond a role or industry. It also minimises the focus on your employment gaps.

The Cons.

As the structure is not linear, this resume format makes it difficult to demonstrate a clear upward career trajectory.

Consequently, it can make a seasoned professional look more inexperienced than they are. Additionally, some ATS systems have difficulty with this particular format.

 

Combination Resume Format.

The Pros.

With an equal emphasis on skills and experience, the Combination format is best used for highlighting relevant areas of a career in relation to a target role while providing context for key skills and achievements.

 

The Cons.

Like the Functional format, Combination can highlight gaps in your work history. Also, for it to be truly effective, your skills and achievements have to be complementary. There is also a risk that the resume can sound repetitive.

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Which Resume Format Is Right For You?

To select the right format, begin by honestly assessing your current career level, your work history and your target role.

 If you are new to the job market or have a limited work history, the Functional format’s focus on skills will probably be the best option for you.

If you have an extensive work history and a linear career trajectory, then a Chronological format is best positioned to highlight your value to a future employer.

If you have long gaps in your resume, are embarking on a career change, or have a very diverse job history, then opt for either a Functional or Combination format. By choosing one of these formats, you’ll emphasise transferrable skills and relevant work experience over a standard career progression.
 

Most importantly, always tailor your resume for the target role. If the job description has a heavy focus on proven skills and abilities, then opt for a Combination format – even if you have strong experience. However, if the job description emphasises proven success and vertical experience, then it is best to choose a Chronological format.

 

What Is The Best Resume Format For Managers?

Managers have the option of using any of the three resume formats, however, are best served opting for Combination over Functional where possible, to demonstrate both skills and experience.

As a rough guide, use Chronological if:

  • You can demonstrate a strong career progression.
  • Your career has been spent in one industry.
  • You have minimal gaps between roles.
  • Are applying for a role in a similar field.
  • Are applying for a role in the same industry as former roles.
  • Are seeking to highlight promotions.
  • Your recent work history (usually the last 2-3 roles) is relevant to the target role.

Use Combination if:

  • You have a consistent work history, but only with a few employers.
  • You are a junior to mid-level candidate and want to highlight transferrable skills.
  • You are embarking on a role or industry change.
  • You have a diverse job history.
  • You are returning to the job market after a considerable absence.

Use Functional if:

  • You have been out of the job market for a significant period of time.
  • Your skills and achievements are not complementary.
  • Your work history doesn’t meet all the job criteria.

 

What Is The Best Resume Format For Executives?

Executives represent a critical, high-value investment for employers, so the recruitment approach will be far more thorough and diligent in order to minimise risk.

The Functional resume format, although suitable for more junior roles, is unsuitable in the executive space, given its ability to mask employment gaps and inexperience.

Executive recruiters prioritise the Chronological resume format because it immediately highlights inconsistencies.

Typically, executives who have extensive work histories and demonstrate an upward career trajectory (particularly in the same industry as the target role) are prioritised for shortlisting.
 

This isn’t to say that the Chronological format is the only option for executives. If you’re a senior leader looking to pivot into another role or sector, you will need to showcase a transferrable skillset that is relevant to your target direction. And that’s where the Combination format comes into play.

 
The key to making the Combination format really sing in the executive arena lays in creating a compelling front page that aligns your unique value proposition with the target role.

By supporting your core skillset with your most impressive, complementary achievements, you’ll draw attention to the most relevant areas of your work history.

 

Final Resume Formatting Tips.

Now that you’ve picked the right format for your resume, here are some formatting tips to ensure your application really gets noticed.

 

Align Your Content To The Left.

When scanning a document, the eye naturally pivots back to the left margin after finishing a line.

Recruiters will typically spend only a few seconds scanning your document. Make the experience as easy as possible for them by aligning your content to the left. This is also the standard for most professional documents.

 

Use Easy-To-Read Fonts.

Don’t get too fancy with fonts. There’s nothing more off-putting for a recruiter than trying to decipher a cursive font. The best fonts are the ones that are easy to read and don’t get in the way of content.

These include Calibri, Arial Narrow, Trebuchet MS, Garamond, Helvetica and Cambria.

Remember – the goal is to make the resume as reader-friendly as possible. Rather than trying to make the font smaller to fit in more text, consider editing the text to keep the font size larger.

 

Use White Space.

Although you’ll be tempted to maximise every last bit of real estate on the page, you’ll improve your chances of getting a job if you include an abundance of white space that helps guide the reader’s eyes and improves readability.

Experts have shown that when a document features white space between lines of text, it immediately becomes more reader-friendly – important when only 28% of words are read on a web page.

 

Use The Requsted File Format.

Often, a job posting will request that a job application is sent in a specific file format.

Occasionally, a recruiter will request a PDF, but more often than not, the standard file format is Microsoft Word, or more specifically, .docx. If a file format isn’t specified, send your resume as a .docx file.

 

Don’t Be A Drag.

The ideal resume length depends on your career level and the extent of your work experience. In the US, resumes are typically restricted to 1-2 pages, while in Australia it’s OK for a resume to be 3-5 pages in length.

For new graduates, resumes are typically 1-2 pages long.

 

– Irene

 

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