Choosing a resume formats

There are three main resume formats—chronological, functional, and combination. Each is defined by the way it organizes your experience. Choose the one that shows your experience to its best advantage.


This resume type is the most common. It organizes your experience around the jobs you have held. This format is an excellent choice for people with steady work histories or previous jobs that relate closely to their career objective.

To create a chronological resume, list each position you have held, starting with the most recent and working backward. For each position, give the title of your job, name of the organization you worked for, and years you worked there. Next, relate the duties and accomplishments of that job. When describing your jobs, use action statements, not sentences. Instead of writing “I managed a fundraising campaign,” write, “Managed a fundraising campaign.” Use strong verbs to begin each statement.

Be specific, but not overly detailed, in describing what you did. Employers say three to five statements are usually sufficient for each job. And no job should have more than four consecutive lines of information under it; large blocks of text are difficult to read. If you must use more space, find some way to divide the information into categories.

Your most important positions should occupy the most space on your résumé. If you’ve had jobs that do not relate to the position you want, consider dividing your experience into two categories: Relevant experience and other experience. Describe the relevant jobs thoroughly, and briefly mention the others. If you have had many jobs, you probably do not need to mention the oldest or least important ones. Just be careful not to create damaging gaps in your work history.

Because the chronological format emphasizes dates and job titles, it is often a poor format for career changers, people with inconsistent work histories, or new entrants to the work force. For these applicants, the functional resume is a better choice.


The functional resume organizes your experience around skills rather than job titles. “I often recommend the functional format to students who have not had positions that relate directly to the job they want,” says Bryan Kempton, Program Director of the Career Center at the University of Maryland, College Park. “By organizing their experiences around skills, they can connect less relevant jobs to the career qualifications they need. For instance, a job waiting tables can be combined with other examples to show organizational or customer service skills.”

To create a functional resume, identify three or four skills required for your target job. For each skill, identify three to five concrete examples to demonstrate that ability. Again, use action phrases—not complete sentences—when writing your list.

Arrange your skill headings in order of importance. If you have a specific vacancy announcement, match the arrangement of your headings to that of its listed requirements. The closer the match between your skill headings and the reviewer’s expectations, the more qualified you seem.

The last part of the functional resume is a brief work history. Write only job titles, company names, and employment years. If you have gaps in your work history, you could use the cover letter to explain them, or you could fill them by adding volunteer work, community activities, or family responsibilities to your job list.


This format combines the best of the chronological format with the best of the functional format. Combination resumes are as varied as the histories they summarize. One variation begins with a chronological format but then subdivides each job description into skill categories. Another variation uses a functional format but, for each example of a skill, identifies the organization where the example occurred.

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