Wednesday, June 20, 2007

What Resume Format Should I Choose?

I noticed in your résumé samples that they are in three formats: chronological, functional and combined. What is the advantage of using one format over the others? For example, the functional format is probably good when applying for a highly skilled position or to use when you have some gaps in your employment. When would you use the chronological and combined?

by Catherine Sutton, Professional Résumé Writer

Thanks for your enthusiasm!

The basic reason you would pick one or other of the résumé formats is simply to present your experience and your transferable skills in the best possible light.
Remember, it’s what comes first and what jumps off the page that carries the most weight. Your résumé won’t get more than an eight-second scan in the first round, and the alternative to being laid aside for later detailed examination is the dreaded circular file!

The Functional résumé is most likely your best choice when you are changing careers and want to highlight transferable skills. In this way you can define yourself by your skills rather than by your old job titles. It makes sense to choose skill headings that most accurately match the skills and abilities asked for in the job ad.

Another important advantage of the functional résumé is that you can move your subheadings around to emphasize different skills. Always remember, what comes first has the most weight.

As you correctly surmise, this format also works best when you have employment gaps that won’t go away even if you leave out the months. Although you still have to account for the years when you weren’t getting paid (in the subsequent history section), they don’t show up until the reader has had a chance to appreciate your skills and achievements.

Choose a functional format if the experience you need to highlight took place some time ago, or is dotted throughout a varied career. By naming your skills and presenting your most relevant experience first (each point referenced to one of the positions in the history section), you have a better chance of convincing the reader that you have what they are looking for.

If you work in a clerical or service position, and have been performing basically the same tasks for several employers but don’t want to sound repetitive, you can avoid boredom with functional résumé and skill set subheadings.

A variation on the Functional résumé is the Achievement résumé, which doesn’t bother with subheadings. Simply pick a few of your most relevant achievements and write about them in an achievement section (referring to the relevant position as it appears in your History section). If you’re changing industries, always consider your audience and minimize any industry-specific terminology that would underline the fact that you’re coming from a different context.

The Chronological résumé is the most common format, preferred by many of the more traditional employers, although that is no reason to adopt it if it won’t do you any favors. Anyone who has a straightforward career path and is not dealing with any of the challenges mentioned above would do well to consider the chronological format. However, read on for one more chance to shine.

A Combination, or Hybrid, résumé uses the chronological format as a base but dynamically highlights your strengths with skill set subheadings under the name of the employer and your job title. It is particularly useful for:
- someone who has been in the same position for many years
- someone looking for a promotion within the company
- someone switching industries
- when your job title just doesn’t reflect your real responsibilities

Hope this helps you choose the best format for your purposes.

Catherine Sutton has been a professional résumé writer on Susan Ireland's team since 2002. She works with job seekers from all levels of employment in person or by phone and email.

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