While there are lots of variations, when you want to choose the best resume structure, you essentially have three choices.
#1 The Reverse Chronological Resume Structure
This is the resume format that most people are familiar with.
As the name implies, this type of resume presents your experience and your achievements in reverse order from the most recent to the oldest.
Now, strangely enough – considering that it is the most recognizable format – you might be surprised to know that in my work in helping tens of thousands of clients write their resumes, I have never written a pure reverse chronological resume.
Keep that thought for a moment, and I’ll explain why in just a minute.
#2 The Functional Resume Structure
Functional resumes focus on your experience, achievements, and skills and they de-emphasize the chronology of your work experience. This structure can be useful under certain circumstances – for example, if you are making a dramatic career change, if you are starting a new career, if you are returning to the workforce after a significant period of time off, or if you have significant gaps in your work history.
These are all valid reasons why you may choose a functionally formatted resume. However, in general, this format is used to hide something less than attractive in a person’s background. And, for that reason, it often raises a red flag and makes an immediate negative impression on hiring authorities.
While it is a sweeping generality, I would have to say that the vast majority of recruiters and hiring authorities distrust and dislike the functional format. So, use it if you must, but I don’t really recommend it unless you really don’t have another option.
#3 The Combination Resume Structure
The combination resume format is the preferred format of virtually all professional resume writers.
The reason you see so many resume experts using this format is a simple one – they use it because it is so effective.
The combination format combines the best of both the reverse chronological format and the functional format.
Generally, this type of resume begins with a summary or profile section that highlights and emphasizes your job target, your value proposition, key qualifications, and your major achievements and results to illustrate those qualifications and value proposition.
This summary section is essentially a snapshot that can be scanned quickly by the reader – so that they come away with an understanding of who you are and what you have to offer them, even if they don’t read any further.
This is then followed by the more traditional reverse-chronological section, which, of course, presents key data about the challenges you have faced in each position, your achievements in relation to those challenges, and the results those achievements have delivered to your past employers.
Okay – so those are the three resume structures – reverse chronological, functional, and combination.
Which is right for you?
If you choose the functional format, be aware of the potential problems and carefully weigh the pros of using it against the cons.
However, for the vast majority of people reading this article, the combination format will be the correct choice.
Now, may I ask you a question?
On your current resume, where have you listed education?
A common error that I see on many resumes is the placement of educational background. Unless you are a new graduate and your education is really your most important credential and qualification, you should list it at the end of your resume, after your professional experience.
And this leads me to another important tip. You should prioritize and think carefully about how you have positioned and presented all of the information in your resume.
Your resume is all about communicating something compelling, to whet the appetites of the reader and entice them to pick up the phone and call you. The most enticing, persuasive, and compelling pieces of information should be given priority placement on your resume. Think strategically as you design, structure, and format your resume.
I encourage you to set aside 10 minutes now and reassess the way that your resume is formatted and structured.
Is it really formatted in the best way to illustrate your focus, your value proposition, your experience and achievements?
If not, spend some time on restructuring right now. While it may seem like a small thing, the format and structure of your resume plays a big role in its overall effectiveness.
If you ultimately determine that you have to completely overhaul the format – well, the truth is that it is going to take some time. But it is time that I promise will be well spent. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. Make the first one count!
Updated and republished from an article originally published on this blog, March 16, 2011.