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Whether you're looking for new opportunities or simply want to get your foot on the job ladder, you already know that a resume is important.

It's not just the content you're filling it with that matters, though; the format of your resume is critical, too.

Related: How to make a resume employers will notice

A strong resume design follows a clear format. It's easy for the hiring or recruitment manager to understand—and boosts the chances of being invited to an interview (or, even better, landing the role itself).

In this guide, we'll show you three different resume formats, the pros and cons of each, and how to determine which format is best for you.

Ready? Let's dive in.

The three resume formats

In your quest to create a strong resume that stands out against the pile, you'll need to pick a resume format to present your education, skills and work experience.

Here are three resume formats you can choose from.

1. Chronological (or functional)

A resume following the chronological format goes through the sections in order. It flows from your contact details to your skills, followed by your education and, finally, your previous places of work.

You've got the option of listing your previous jobs starting with your first job or going reverse-chronological: starting with your current job and working your way backwards.

Also known as a functional resume format, here's what it looks like in practice:

Professional resume format example
Professional resume template

Chronological resumes are the most common resume format for job-seekers. The experience section is easy to find, and it's convenient for recruitment managers trying to suss out whether you're the best candidate for the job.

(That's important, considering recruiters spend just six seconds looking at a resume before deciding if the person is worthy of an interview.)

Should you use the chronological format for your resume? Let's take a look at the advantages and disadvantages.

Pros:

  • It's easy to show how your career is growing through your previous positions.
  • Recruiters can easily find your experience, and they don't have to invest much time to figure out whether you're qualified for the job.
  • Documents in this format are usually accepted by applicant tracking software (ATS).

Cons:

  • It can be difficult to disguise employment gaps because the chronological format requires you to show the dates of employment at each place of work.
  • You can't easily show the skills you've acquired through each job.

Here's an example of when I might use the chronological resume format: I graduated college with an accounting degree five years ago, and I've worked at three start-up companies since I graduated. I don't have any employment gaps; I've jumped from one job to another and worked my way up from an apprentice to the manager of a small team. However, I'm looking for a new challenge and decide to switch-up my resume before applying for new jobs.

The chronological resume format would be perfect here because accounting is an industry known for paperwork. I'm not overwhelming the recruiter with grand, colorful resumes—I'm simply stating my experience, the dates I worked there, and the tasks I did.

To summarize: The chronological resume format is usually best-suited to recent college graduates or students, people without gaps in their work history, or job-seekers applying for roles within traditional industries.

2. Skills-based

A skills-based resume format is pretty self-explanatory. Instead of showing your previous jobs in order, you're focusing on the skills you've built—and why they're beneficial for the job you're applying for.

Here's what a skills-based resume looks like:

Creative resume format example
Red creative resume template

As you can see, this resume format focuses heavily on the person's professional and personal skills. But, just like any format, this type of resume has some advantages and disadvantages.

Pros:

  • Gaps in employment can be made less obvious since employment dates aren't included.
  • People who've gained experience outside a traditional job setting—such as hobbies or volunteering—can show the skills they've learned. (For example, if you run a blog, you can include writing & editing as part of your skillset.)
  • The infographic style of a skills-based resume is interesting to look at, making it perfect for job-seekers in a creative industry.

Cons:

  • Job-seekers with lots of experience might not be able to convey this using a skills-based resume format, since employment dates aren't included.
  • Some recruiters prefer to see employment dates.
  • You might appear less experienced than you actually are.

Putting this into practice, let's say I'm a recent college grad applying for an advertising job. I studied advertising in college, but I don't have any professional work experience besides a two-week internship I did over the summer and some Facebook ads I managed for a friend's small business.

In that case, the skills-based format would be most appropriate. Why? Because the resume format highlights my skills, instead of pointing out my lack of experience. It shows I've gone off my own bat to learn more about the industry and develop my skills—even if it's not in the traditional job format.

In a nutshell: The skills-based resume format is a new, emerging type of resume that's best-suited to job-seekers applying for creative jobs. However, recruiters aren't too familiar with the style yet, so you'll have to weigh the risk.

3. Combination

You guessed it: a combination resume format is a mix of the chronological and skills-based formats. Perhaps one of the most interesting resume layouts, this format proudly displays your skills, while also explaining your previous employment history.

Here's an example of a combination resume format:

Infographic resume format example
Infographic resume template

Wondering whether to use this format? Let's take a look at the pros and cons.

Pros:

  • The skills and work experience sections provide more space for people further along in their careers to talk about how they're best-suited for the role they're applying for.
  • It's more interesting to look at than the traditional resume formats.
  • It's a less-common format, meaning you could boost your chances of standing out in a recruiter's pile of resumes.

Cons:

  • You don't have much space left to highlight other things, such as your contact details or education.
  • Your resume could become lengthy if you have an extensive job history, list of achievements, or skills. Remember—the perfect resume is just one page long.
  • Recruiters in certain industries might not be familiar with or understand this format.

Let's use another example and say I'm currently a senior marketing manager for a software company. I've got 20 years of experience in my role and manage a team of five, but I'm looking for a new challenge and decide to spruce up my resume before applying for a new job. Which resume format should I use?

I'd go for the combination format because I've got enough space to detail my job experiences, while also sharing the skills I've learned by managing a small team.

To summarize: A resume using the combination format is best-suited to people who want a significant career change, or job-seekers who have a solid work history and a broad skill set.

How to choose the best resume format

By this point, you should have a rough idea of the resume format you're going to use. If not, don't panic—there are still a handful of things that could help you decide.

  • The industry. Is your industry known for being creative, or is it on the analytical side? A skills-based resume could be perfect for the former, while a chronological format might be better-suited to the latter. Think about what a recruiter in that industry is looking for, first and always.
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  • Your job history. Do you have gaps in your employment, or have you stuck at each job for a decent length of time before hopping into another? A skills-based format could disguise employment gaps, but a combination resume could show off your skills and experiences.
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  • The size of the company recruiting for the role. Are you applying for a role at a one-man-band company, or does the organization have offices all over the world? Larger companies use applicant tracking software to manage their hiring process—meaning a traditional format might be required to prevent your application from being missed.

As you can see, the best resume format for your job-hunting quest depends on many things. You can determine which format to use by jotting down the answers to the questions above, along with the type of role you're applying for, and deciding which of the formats we've shared would give you the best chance to tell your story.

Remember: The aim of your resume is to land an interview. Make sure you're picking a resume format that represents you, along with your skills and employment history, in the best light.

Final thoughts on formatting the perfect resume

Are you ready to start attaching your resume to applications for your dream job?

Once you've found the resume format that suits your skills, work history and education, simply pick out a resume template and fill in the blanks.

Choosing a great resume template is half the battle done, especially if you use Lucidpress. Say goodbye to confusing Word docs that jump around when you move a text box, and color combinations you can't figure out how to change. Talk about making your job search easier.

Now that you know how to make a resume, you can design and print your own. Pick out a free template to get started!

Free resume templates - Lucidpress

Author Bio

Elise Dopson is a freelance B2B blogger based in Manchester, UK. She specializes in long-form, data-driven blog content for marketing and SaaS companies.