Career Boost: How to Choose the Best Resume Format

A woman in a suit holding a resume

As a career coach with years of experience, I’ve seen my fair share of resumes. And, let me tell you, when I spot a poorly organized, messy, or overly lengthy resumé, it’s a big turn-off. 

Now, imagine turning in that same messy resume to a potential employer. If your career coach doesn’t like it, chances are even slimmer that the hiring manager will. 

In this guide, I’m going to walk you through how to choose the best resume format to catch your employer’s eye and help you land a job. I’ll also go into more detail about why resume formats matter so much and talk about what you should and should not include in your resume. 

Why Resume Formats Matter

Before we get into the heart of various resume formats, let’s take a second to talk about why they matter. 

You see, the format of a resume is the very first thing that catches an employer’s eye, even before they immerse themselves in the fascinating narrative of your career journey. It outlines how information on the resume is organized, be it your work experiences, skill sets, or qualifications. 

Therefore, a well-structured format not only enhances readability but also makes it easier for recruiters to spot pertinent details about you, making your resume stand out amidst the pile. 

Think of your resume as an advertising tool and yourself as the product. The resume format you choose will essentially “sell” you. It showcases your qualifications, skills, and experiences in the best light. If presented correctly, it could guarantee you a ticket to the interview stage. 

What are the Best Resume Formats and Why

There are three main types of resume formats that are widely used: 

  1. Chronological
  2. Functional,
  3. Combination. 

Each of them has its purpose and can be highly effective when used in the right circumstances. The one you choose will depend on factors like: 

  • your work history
  • your career progression
  • the industry you’re in
  • the job requirements of the role you’re seeking

For instance, if you are a fresh graduate looking to enter the tech industry, a functional resume can help you emphasize your tech-related skills over your limited work experience.

With this in mind, let me break down what each one looks like and why it works so well. 

Chronological Resume Format

It is arguably the most well-known format and is beloved by hiring managers for its straightforward layout. Here, you’ll list your work experience in reverse chronological order, with your most recent role at the top. 

As an example, if you’ve previously worked as a Marketing Executive, Associate, and then Manager, you’d list the Manager role first. This type of format is most beneficial for those with strong and steady work histories, showing clear progression in a specific sector.

Functional Resume Format

This format is a little less common and focuses more on your skills rather than your work history. If you have frequent job changes, employment gaps, or are looking to transition into a new industry, this could be the format for you!

For instance, if you were applying for a job as an HR officer, instead of listing your previous roles in order, you’d emphasize your skills in personnel management, recruitment, and conflict resolution, providing examples of how you’ve utilized these skills. 

Combination Resume Format

As the name implies, this format combines the best of both chronological and functional resumes. Here, you will highlight your relevant skills at the top of your resume and follow it with a reverse-chronological work experience section. 

This works best for those at the mid-career level, seasoned professionals, and career changers with relevant work experiences. 

How to Properly Structure a Chronological Resume Format

The chronological resume format is best suited to individuals with steady career progression in one or, at most, two fields. Simply put, it tells the story of your professional life in reverse order, starting from your most recent job experience. 

The great thing about a chronological resume is its simplicity and ease of reading. It lays out your career journey transparently, which recruiters appreciate. 

Yet, despite its advantages, it might not be the best option for everyone. For example, if you’ve made many job transitions or have several employment gaps, a chronological resume might draw attention to these facts in a way that doesn’t always serve your best interests.

What Is Included in a Chronological Resume

A chronological resume typically includes the following sections:

  • Contact Information: Name, phone number, email, and LinkedIn profile or professional website, if available.
  • Objective or Career Summary: A brief, punchy statement explaining your career goal and how you can bring value to the position you’re applying for.
  • Work Experience: List of jobs in reverse-chronological order, each with a bullet-point list of your duties and accomplishments. The focus is on what you did and how well you did it.
  • Education: Your degrees, diplomas, or certificates, along with the institution’s name and graduation date.
  • Skills: A list of hard and soft skills related to the job you’re seeking.
  • Optional Sections: These might include Awards, Certifications, Publications, or Volunteer Work.

Of course, this is just a basic outline. You may include more or less of these items, depending on your specific circumstances.

Sample Chronological Resume

Here’s a basic example of how a chronological resume might look.

[Your Name]

[Your Contact Information]

Objective: Passionate digital marketer with five years of experience specializing in SEO, content marketing, and social media advertising seeks to leverage expertise and creativity to boost XYZ Company’s digital presence.

Work Experience:

Digital Marketing Specialist, Company A, Jan 2018-Present

– Managed and optimized company’s SEO, leading to 30% increase in organic traffic.

– Developed content marketing strategies that boosted inbound lead generation by 25%.

Social Media Manager, Company B, Aug 2015-Dec 2017

– Laid groundwork for social media presence across platforms, growing followers by 50%.

– Devised and implemented social media advertising campaigns that increased website traffic by 35%.


Bachelor of Arts in Marketing, XYZ University, 2015 


SEO, content marketing, Google Analytics, social media advertising, and copywriting.

The Functional Resume Format

A functional resume format, to put it simply, is a skills-based approach. It’s designed to emphasize your abilities and accomplishments, placing less importance on the chronology of your work history. 

One of the greatest benefits of the functional resume format is its focus on your skills, not when you acquired them. It’s a liberating format if you’ve been out of the workforce for a while, are looking to shift careers, or you’ve honed your skills via nontraditional settings like volunteer work. 

But it’s important to note the drawbacks as well. Some hiring managers may find functional resumes less straightforward or feel you’re trying to mask a lack of experience or job hopping. And some applicant tracking systems struggle to parse them due to their non-standard format.

What Is Included in a Functional Resume Format?

In a functional resume, after your contact information and a brief professional summary, you’ll craft a robust section dedicated purely to your skills. Here, you’ll highlight your most relevant abilities and illustrate them with specific achievements or tasks you’ve completed. 

Following this, functional resumes typically include a brief work history section that lists roles, companies, and dates of employment with no additional details. Your education information would appear after your employment history.

Sample Functional Resume Format

Providing an example, let’s say you’re a graphic designer. Your functional resume might start by stating that you have “Ten years of experience in graphic design, specializing in digital artwork, with proven proficiency in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator.” 

You’ll then list relevant skills like ‘Illustration,’ ‘Brand Creation,’ and ‘Logo Design,’ followed by brief evidence that supports your listed skills. After the skills section, you’d include a simple list of your previous employment.

Remember, the key to a good functional resume is showcasing that you have the skills and the know-how, even if you’ve gained that expertise outside of a traditional job setting.

Combination Resume Format 

The combination resume, as the name suggests, combines the best of both the chronological and functional resume formats. It balances the focus between your skills and your work history, giving equal importance to both aspects. 

This format might just be your savior if you have extensive experience in your field but want to highlight specific, relevant skills for the job you’re applying for. This format is also a fantastic choice for those changing careers, as it allows you to show how your skills from another industry translate well to the new one. 

On the downside, this format could be a bit overwhelming for hiring managers due to the amount of information presented. Another potential disadvantage is that since combination resumes can get lengthy, you have to ensure that every line adds value to your application.

What Is Included in a Combination Resume?

In a combination resume, you would start with your contact information, followed by a short introduction or an objective statement. Then, you’d pen down a solid “Skills” section, methodically listing out and elaborating on your relevant skills. This is where you get a chance to shine, so don’t hold back! 

After this, you’d create a ‘Professional Experience’ section. Unlike a chronological resume, you don’t necessarily have to detail every job you’ve held. Focus on the ones most relevant to the job to keep things concise and targeted. 

Highlight your accomplishments and responsibilities under each, demonstrating how you’ve used your skills effectively in the past. The last section would be your education and any additional information like certifications or languages. 

Sample Combination Resume

To give you a better idea of how to put together this type of resume, here’s an example you can use.

Contact Info: John Doe, [email protected], (111) 222-3333

Introduction: Experienced project manager with over 8 years of experience managing large-scale tech projects. Certified Project Management Professional (PMP) with expertise in budgeting, risk management, and team leadership.**


   – Budget Management and Cost Control

   – Risk Management

   – Quality Assurance

   – Team Leadership and Development

Professional Experience:

1. Project Manager, XYZ Tech, City, State, 2017-Present

   – Oversaw and directed 10+ large-scale tech projects from conception to completion.

   – Managed project budgets of over $1M, ensuring cost-effective allocation of resources.

2. Assistant Project Manager, ABC Software, City, State, 2013-2017

   – Assisted in the management of 5 software development projects.

   – Trained a team of 20+ employees, boosting collective productivity by 30%.


   – Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, University Name

   – PMP Certification, Project Management Institute

Practical Tips for Choosing the Right Resume Format

Choosing the best resume format for you is integral to presenting yourself in the best light to potential employers. You want to showcase your solid track record, your skills, and your potential in a way that is clear and compelling. 

With that in mind, here are some valuable tips to consider:

Tip #1. Reflect on Your Career Goals and Experiences

For instance, let’s look at an aspiring marketing manager who has been steadily climbing the ranks in her company. She wants to apply for a senior role and already has a significant amount of relevant experience. In her case, a chronological resume may be the most suitable choice, as it allows her to showcase her consistent career progression and her notable achievements in a clear, linear fashion. 

Tip #2. Consider Your Skills

In another example, let’s say an employee is looking to pivot from finance to retail management. Despite his lack of direct experience in the latter, he has transferable skills such as leadership, analytical abilities, and excellent customer service. It is vital for him to highlight these abilities and demonstrate how they would translate to a retail environment. That’s why a functional resume format may be the best fit, as it places the spotlight on his skills.

Tip #3. Pay Attention to Job Application Requirements and Company Culture

Every job and company has its specific set of requirements and culture. Understanding this will guide you in choosing the right resume format that will resonate with them. For example, if the job application emphasizes specific skills over years of experience, a functional resume format may be the best choice. 

Tip #4 Use Resume Templates & Samples for Reference

These templates can serve as a preliminary guide to help you shape your thoughts and be a practical starting point. As an example, if you’re an experienced project manager aiming for an executive role, looking at samples of combination resumes can provide a vision of how you can effectively incorporate both your skills and notable work history.

Other Tips for Properly Formatting a Resume

Now that we’ve covered each resume format in detail, let’s dive into how you can seamlessly format your own resume, irrespective of the type you choose. Besides choosing an apt resume format, maintaining professional aesthetics and a streamlined look can be crucial in capturing an employer’s attention.

For one thing, you’ll want to make sure your resume is consistent. For instance, if you decide to use bullet points to describe your responsibilities and achievements, use them throughout your resume. Similarly, if you bold the title of your past employers once, ensure you do it every time. Consistency creates a smooth, unified look.

Besides consistency, it’s important to choose a clear, legible font like Arial or Times New Roman, and resist the urge to go smaller than a 10-point font, even if you are trying to fit everything on one page. 

Additionally, you’ll want to ensure adequate white space by using margins between 0.5″ and 1.0″, and consistent space between sections for easy reading. 

Finally, make sure to proofread your resume. Errors, either grammatical or typographical, can make a prospective employer question your attention to detail. 

By following these formatting tips, you’ll be able to create a professional, clean, and well-organized resume that can leave a lasting impression. Don’t worry if you don’t get it right the first time; it may take some tweaking and revising. Remember, your resume is a living document that should be continuously updated and improved!

Craft the Perfect Resume for Landing Your Next Job

Choosing the best resume format for your specific situation can make a significant difference in your job search and may even become the stepping stone for your career progression. Regardless of whether you choose the chronological, functional, or combination format, there are plenty of great resume styles out there for you to use. 

Besides choosing the right style, make sure to always produce an error-free, accurate, and visually appealing resume. Regardless of the format, your attention to detail and care can come through in the presentation and content of your resume, leaving a lasting impression. 

If you still need more help, we’ve got your back. Check out our other resume articles to get your resume up to speed and land your next job!

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