How to Choose a Resume Format in 2020

When your Resume lands on the desk of a potential employer it has approximately 8 seconds to make a great impression; to indicate that you may well be the person they’re looking for.

To do that it needs to be professional, eye catching, easy to read and most importantly it needs to impart relevant information quickly. So how do you go about choosing a format that will do all those things?

Top 3 Professional Formatting Options Compared

Below are the 3 most popular types of resumes with short explanations as to what each of their particular strengths are over other formatting types.

1) The Most Popular: Reverse-Chronological Resume

This format starts with a career objective, then lists your professional experience in reverse chronological order (starting with the most recent). It has a section for education/professional training and finishes with additional skills and/or personal interests.

2) The Highly Skilled: Functional (or Skills Based) Resume

This one is all about transferrable skills. It opens with a career objective, then lists your most relevant skills that match the needs of the employer.

You can list as many or as few as you like but must always put the most relevant first. This resume finishes with education & professional training and is commonly only one page long.

3) The Best of Both Worlds: The Combination/Hybrid Resume

For those who like elements of both 1 and 2, this format allows you to pick and mix bits from both, putting them together in the way that suits you the most and makes you feel the most confident and assured!

Before you make your choice, you need to ask yourself a few questions. The reason for this will become clearer as you read on but for now, consider the following…

  • Do you have gaps in your career history (longish periods of unemployment) that you would rather not draw attention to?
  • Have you held positions in the same industry and can you demonstrate a clear progression from one role to the next?
  • Do you know you have the skills the employer is looking for but not the direct experience to back up your claim?
  • Are you changing career direction?
  • Are you a recent school leaver or graduate?
  • Do you have the right qualifications?

Now that you’re armed with some answers, let’s look at the uses for each type of resume in a little more detail, to help you make an informed decision…

Chronological Layout Explained

A chronological resume, also referred to as “reverse chronological” is the most common choice and the most recognized by many employers.

It presents your work experience in reverse chronological order, newest first, and in most cases, it’s what we’re taught to do when we leave school.

Ironically though, this type of resume doesn’t work for everyone and one of the groups that should probably avoid it are school leavers!

A chronological resume is great if you have a clear career progression and want to demonstrate that you’ve kept moving onwards and upwards.

However, it doesn’t work if you have no work experience, if you have big gaps between jobs or if you are applying for something that will be a complete change of professional direction.

Chronological is also tough when you have big gaps in your employment history. If that is the case, then a combination/hybrid style layout explained below that features skills first and foremost may be a better option.

Functional Layout Explained

A functional or skills based Resume is one that focuses on the transferrable skills that you’ve acquired, which are going to be relevant to the new employer.

Focussing on skills rather than employment dates is a good way to avoid explaining gaps or lack of experience.

For a Resume of this type you are listing skills and demonstrating that you have them through relevant experiences and achievements. You are not worrying about the when and where they were acquired.

The most relevant skill to the job being applied for should come at the top of the list and you are looking to list as many as you can that are genuine and can be proven through a relevant achievement.

You can’t go on for ever though – you have dozens of skills but they won’t all be relevant to the role being applied for.

You may be an incredible pastry chef but if you’re applying for a job in a Bank that information really isn’t going to add anything to your interview chances.

Be a little bit wary of the functional Resume there are some reasons why you may want to go with Chronological or Combination formats:

The main focus of the functional resume is on the two Major Skill sections in the body. The work history is tucked away in a separate section and is listed very briefly — just the dates, job title, employer’s name, city, and state for each job.

Sounds like a good idea if your work history isn’t pretty. But now let’s look at it from the employer’s view point. He/She may not like this format because:

  1. It’s hard to see where achievements happened. Many job seekers forget to weave that info into their achievement statements, so it sometimes feels like they’re making wild claims that aren’t grounded in a time and place. And even if there is a clue as to where an achievement took place, the employer has to do extra work to cross-check it with the Work History section to see when it happened. That’s a pain in the neck and most busy employers don’t want to bother with it.
  2. It looks like the job seeker is hiding something… and usually she is. The functional resume is almost never used by job seekers with perfect histories — and employers know that. When they get a functional resume from a job seeker, a red flag goes up that something’s not right. So when they read the resume (if they read it) their focus is on trying to figure out what’s wrong instead of what’s right with the job seeker. Not good!
  3. It doesn’t fit into Applicant Tracking Systems. Well, it fits and it can be searched for keywords, but the database system can’t match up the achievements with the dates because the functional format has them in separate sections.
  4. It’s not conventional. Most employers like convention and they want employees who fit into their company conventions. Starting with your job application, show that you fit in by using a traditional resume format such as a chronological or combination — not a functional format. An exception to this is in creative fields where being unconventional might pay off.

Combination/Hybrid Styled Resume Explained

A combination resume gives you the opportunity to pick and choose features from both the above styles and tailor your resume to suit you.

You might choose to start with a personal profile or career objective, go on to cover skills and achievements that are relevant to the role and then still list your experiences in reverse chronological order.

This is the one to choose if some of your professional experiences are relevant but not all and you’ve acquired skills from areas outside of formal employment that you know will help you to meet the criteria.

This is also a good option if you have gaps in your employment history as it places an emphasis on actionable skillsets more than it doest company names/dates.

How to Start Formatting Your Resume Like a Professional

It’s useful to sit down with the job description (because remember your resume must always be tailored to each individual role!) and highlight all the parts that match your abilities and make you perfect for the job.

After doing that you can consider whether it’s best to demonstrate these as a skills matrix, or in a career timeline.

A very good starting point for putting together your resume is to consider what you want to show on your first page. This is your sales document remember so it’s entirely up to you.

How can you showcase that you are the best fit for the job in those all-important 8 seconds?

Have you got all the qualifications they’ve asked for in the JD? If so, showcase them on the first page.

If you’re not qualified or you took certificates in completely different areas, then these can be moved to the second page (or in some cases, missed out altogether).

-Align your resume to overlap with the requirements in the job posting

Are you fully qualified and already on a career path that compliments the requirements of the role? Fantastic!

Make sure your current role is on that all-important first page and make sure you list all the achievements you’ve made in that role that will impress the new employer.

Perhaps your current job is unrelated to the area in which you’re applying? Don’t panic. Look at the job description again; there’s a reason you’re applying for something different.

Yes, you might currently be working in a very different career sector but you’ve highlighted lots of skills that are common to both. If this is the case, then you need a skills section on your first page.

-Put some serious thought into which skills you include and in what order they are listed.

Let’s look at a practical example. You’ve worked in a contact centre for the past 2 years but you’ve found the work unfulfilling.

A job has come up as a trainee instructor in the local diving school and you really want to apply.

You dive in your free time and you have some certifications but how will you convince the employer that you have the other skills he is seeking?

In a contact centre environment, you will have learned lots of skills that can be applied to roles in other industries.

For example, if you were applying to a client/customer facing position, you would want to include customer-centric skills such as:

  • knowledge of customer experience
  • teamwork
  • collaboration
  • health and safety protocols
  • quality, diversity and inclusion
  • working under pressure
  • meeting acquisition targets
  • achieving personal goals

The list goes on and on and when you look at the new job these skills are needed too! So, showcase them!

The same applies to school leavers and graduates. Through your studies, you will have learned many skills that are applicable to employers.

You have learned to prioritize your workload, to apply yourself to the job in hand, to produce written work that is of a high quality, to have worked together with your peers to achieve collective results, to have delivered presentations…and then of course there are the skills and knowledge that are directly related to your field of study.

Never be put off by a lack of experience. Think about what you CAN offer and then go for it!

-Remember to include your contact details in your first page plan – it would be a shame to miss out an interview because you couldn’t be contacted!

Choosing a resume format is a personal choice and one that you shouldn’t spend too much time beating yourself up about.

Don’t feel that just because you’ve chosen one type or the other that you can’t experiment.

Your resume is your chance to shine and as long as it is clean, clear, easy to read and showcases your absolute best attributes, then it’s going to be great!