Dear Sam: Can you break down the different resume formatting options? I’ve been using the standard timeline format since graduating college 11 years ago, but I’m wondering if a different format would serve me better at this stage in my career?
Dear Paige: There are three main resume formats you can choose from: Chronological, Functional, and Combination. The best format for you depends on your unique situation, as each format has its own advantages and disadvantages. While the chronological format is by far the most common and accepted, functional and combination resumes can sometimes be used to strategically hide work gaps or to showcase transferable skills when making a big career change. Use the following guide when deciding which format to use:
What you referred to as a timeline format in your question is officially referred to as the chronological (or reverse chronological) format. This format can be used to present a history of your work experience, beginning with your most recent position first. This format is typically best for entry-level candidates and mid-level professionals because it can showcase promotions and upward career progression.
The chronological format typically includes a heading; a qualifications summary, including some core skills or areas of expertise; professional experience, including the scope of each role and accomplishments; education; and any value-added information, such as trainings, technical skills, publications, honors/awards, military service, professional affiliations, volunteer work, and excerpts from performance reviews or LinkedIn recommendations.
The functional resume format could be an option if you have large gaps in your employment history or if you hope to transition to a new industry. The goal of a functional resume is to frame your skills and abilities in a way that is most relevant to the job opening. Similar to a chronological resume, a functional resume typically includes a heading, qualifications summary, education section, and value-added information. Different than a chronological resume, it includes a career highlights section with content categorized by functional area. For example, there could be sections labeled “Project/Budget Management,” “Deadline Achievement,” Client Relations,” and “Internal/External Communications” with relevant skills and content under each section. Employers are then listed in a separate work history section.
Word of caution: functional resumes are typically disliked by hiring managers because they tend to present a disconnected image and can leave the reader wondering what you did where and when. Functional formats should be resorted to only in situations where you have no chance of getting past the screening process if you use the traditional, and much more widely accepted, chronological format.
A combination format is a blend of the chronological resume with a functional format. Combining the two could allow you to focus the hiring manager’s attention on what qualifies you most for the role you’re pursuing, while minimizing the appearance and impact of disqualifying factors such as a large employment gap.
To utilize a combination format effectively, start with a keyword-rich qualifications summary, followed by a career highlights section (organized by functional subheadings), and then present your professional experience section with employer names, titles, dates of employment, and responsibilities. By having this information appear further down on page one or even page two of your resume, you can strategically choose to present your most transferable skills first.
Quick reminder: as a general rule, your resume will likely be one page if you’re an entry-level candidate; two pages if you are considered a professional or senior manager; or possibly three + pages if you are a senior executive with experience in multiple industries of if you are in an industry that prefers a Curriculum Vitae.
Feel free to check out my website for examples of each of the formats I discussed. Best of luck, Paige!