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Resume Formats and Styles: How to Choose the Best One in Your Situation

– Posted in: Resume Writing

Choose The Best Resume FormatResume formats can be confusing. How do you select the best resume format for your needs?

The unthinkable has happened and you have been downsized from the company where you have been employed for the past ten years. In all this time, you haven’t touched your resume and now find that you must completely rewrite it. Being the intelligent person that you are, you figure that writing it can’t be too difficult, and you sit down with a book of samples, prepared by professional writers, hoping that they will guide and inspire you as you write your own. As you browse your book, you slowly come to realize that each sample is in a different format and is very personalized. There doesn’t seem to be a template of a “typical” resume, and in fact there even appears to be many distinct resume formats. Maybe this isn’t as easy as you first thought…with all these choices how will you ever make a decision about which style and resume format is best for you?

You are correct in your recognition that each resume is personalized and unique. The most skilled professional resume writers never use resume templates and take great care to tailor each document that they create to highlight the unique skills, qualifications, and accomplishments of the individual. In this sense, they must be personalized, and just because one resume utilizes a particular heading and layout, does not mean that the next will. However, if you read carefully, with an eye toward format, underlying these layouts are two distinct types of resumes written in three distinct formats. Deciding which is the best resume format for you is not difficult if you understand the advantages and disadvantages of each. The following guidelines will help you make your choice.

Resume Formats – Choose Your Focus: Step 1

Targeted Resume

A targeted resume is used to focus your job search toward a specific career objective, performed in a specific industry, and for a specific company. The content is written to highlight the skills, qualifications, and experience that match the requirements of your job target. You may want to consider writing a targeted resume when:

  • You know the title of the position you are interested in and have a good idea of the qualifications that will be required for entry into this position.
  • You are applying in response to an employment advertisement.
  • You are applying to a specific company.
  • You have several different specific career objectives and want a different resume for each one.

Targeted Resume Format Example 1

Targeted Resume Format Example 2

101 Resume Examples

Inventory Resume

If you have only a general objective (e.g, accounting management position but open to a number of industries) and don’t want to limit yourself to a specific job title, an inventory resume may be your best choice. Likewise, if you want to be able to use the same resume to apply to a number of companies, the best resume format for you my be the inventory style. This type of document is designed to highlight your skills, qualifications, and achievements in a more general manner. Understand however, that you must have at least a general objective, for example, “a management level position in sales.” In this case, you know that you are interested in sales management but you are open to the industry and company that you do this for. Once you have a clear idea of your general objective you can focus the content of your inventory resume by deciding on 4-6 key skills and abilities that you possess, that are relevant to your general objective, and that will be of value to an employer in this field. The content should highlight these skills by demonstrating them through statements of relevant accomplishments and achievements. If you are conducting an extensive job search campaign, the inventory format is your most efficient choice and in most cases, you are still able to target specific companies and job openings by writing a tailored cover letter to send with your resume. Also, keep in mind that if you have more than one unrelated career objective, you should write a separate inventory resume for each of these.

Inventory Resume Format Example 1

Inventory Resume Format Example 2

Resume Formats – Choose Your Format: Step 2

The Chronological Resume Format

The chronological resume format is designed to highlight progressive career growth and advancement. It is easy to read and can be quickly scanned for employment history. For these reasons, it is the most accepted format among hiring authorities. In fact, many even prefer and/or expect it.

The chronological resume format is most suitable when:

  • You have a steady and consistent employment history with no major gaps in employment and have not changed career tracks recently.
  • Your employment history has been one of progressively responsible positions.
  • Your titles have been impressive and/or you have been recently employed at well-known companies.
  • Your major accomplishments have been achieved in your most recent positions.
  • You are seeking a career in a field where this format is expected.

Chronological Resume Format Example

The Functional Resume Format

The functional resume format highlights key skills, accomplishments, and qualifications at the top, regardless of where they have occurred in your career. Your employment history is de-emphasized by placing it toward the bottom and by documenting a simple listing rather than details of each position. In this way, the functional format firmly places the focus on what you have done rather than where or when you did it.

Unfortunately, many hiring authorities don’t like this format, as it is generally believed that the functional format is used to hide some deficiency in your career history. Despite this, the functional format can be very effective when:

  • Most of your achievements and accomplishments occurred in a past position.
  • You have recently graduated from high school or college.
  • You have been out of the job market for some time and are trying to re-enter.
  • You are an older worker and want to de-emphasize age.
  • You have held a variety of unconnected positions.
  • You are changing career tracks.
  • You are returning to a previous line of work.

Functional Resume Format Example 1

Functional Resume Format Example 2


The Combination Resume Format

The combination resume format combines the benefits of both the chronological and the functional formats. By beginning with a summary (functional format) of your most impressive qualifications, skills, abilities, and accomplishments, it immediately places the emphasis where you want it. This is followed by an employment history section, written in the chronological format, that supports the statements made in your summary.

The combination format is well accepted by hiring authorities and you should consider using it when:

  • You have a steady and progressive employment history.
  • You are applying for a position for which the chronological resume is expected but you also want to highlight qualifications from earlier positions.
  • You are writing a targeted resume and need an effective way to match your skills to the job requirements.

Combo Resume Format Example 1

Combo Resume Format Example 2

Combo Resume Format Example 3

Resume Formats – Final Considerations: Step 3

Now that you have chosen your style and format, you are ready to write your content. Before you do this, consider the following:

First, remember that even more important than the format you choose, is the content and how it is arranged. With only 15 seconds to capture the attention of a reader, it is essential that you arrange your content so that the most important and impressive information is in the top third of the document. This is easily accomplished by using a “Resume Summary” or “Qualification Highlights” heading at the very top.

Second, be certain that your resume has a focus. An employer must be able to look at it and immediately discern the logical principle holding it together. This too, is easily accomplished if you keep your objective in mind the entire time you write. You may explicitly state your objective in a separate “Objective” section or you may prefer to state it implicitly, through the organization and content. Either way, be certain that you know what your focus is and that you communicate this clearly.

Finally, stay away from boring descriptions of your job responsibilities. Instead, whenever possible, write concise statements that describe specific examples of accomplishments and achievements. Tell employers how you will be of value to them by describing how you have been of value to previous employers. Examples of accomplishments to include would be how you have saved money, increased profits, improved productivity, or enhanced services. Whenever you can, include actual dollar figures and percentages.

Download the PDF version of this step-by-step guide in choosing the best resume format for your own resume.

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About the author: Michelle Dumas is a multiply-certified, national-award-winning professional resume writer and career marketing expert widely recognized as pioneering thought-leader and trend-setter in the employment services industry. With 20 years of experience, Michelle has helped 10,000+ job seekers in all 50 U.S. states and across the world land rewarding jobs and build fulfilling careers.

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