The more resumes you look at, the more confused you can get especially since there are so many different formats to choose from. Most people don’t realize that the format is one of the most important choices when writing a winning resume. Get this wrong and you could effectively be hiding your own career highlights from the reader.

The bad news is that you only get about 10 seconds attention from the person screening your resume so you best make a good first impression. The good news is that I have narrowed it down to only three formats worth considering. Here they are, complete with reasons why you should choose them and in what order the content should be in your resume.

Chronological format:

The chronological resume is the most used out there, it’s the employer’s favorite as it is very easy to read and it’s hard to hide anything in it. It works brilliantly when you have stayed consistent in your career. As long as the job you are applying for is in the same field, the full chronology will be relevant to the reader and therefore the focus is on your experience.

Your employment history is actually in reverse chronological order and your current position will be at the top of the list. The chronological resume doesn’t work well when you have gaps or when you have shifted industries often, as it will expose your weak points.

  • Objective
  • Summary
  • Experience
  • Education
  • References

Functional format:

The functional format should be used when you want to draw attention away from your work experience due to job hopping, a very long career, a very short career, long gaps, re-entering the job market and so forth. The functional resume focuses on what you can do, what your achievements are and your core competence.

This format is used by graduates, people seeking to change their career completely and anyone with employment gaps that don’t add any value to their experience. If you are looking to change industries, make sure to focus on transferable skills such as sales or people management. A word of warning; employers are known to raise their eyebrows when they see a functional resume so only use this format if you absolutely have to.

  • Objective
  • Accomplishments
  • Capabilities
  • Employment History
  • Education
  • References

The combined format

The combination format is exactly what it sounds like; it combines the chronological and functional formats to give you the best of both worlds. It allows you to use the tasty features from the functional resume but you can still fly in under the radar in the eye of the reader.

Examples of people that can benefit from this would be someone wanting to change careers and has some relevant skills for the new field. It can also be useful when someone wants to pack more skills in than the work experience section allows for or would not bring out adequately.

  • Objective
  • Summary
  • Accomplishments
  • Experience
  • Education
  • References

5 housekeeping rules that apply to all formats:

  1. Make sure you put all your contact details on every page, make it easy for the employer to call you up for an interview.
  2. You have to put exact dates against every employment and education. If you don’t it will look slightly dodgy and you have to be prepared for a lack-of-dates grilling.
  3. All education and qualifications should be listed. The fact that you majored in art history doesn’t mean you can’t apply for a Java consultant job; it means you are trainable and can learn anything.
  4. The layout should be pleasing on the eye and never distracting, allow for enough white space in between your text, boxes and bullet points.
  5. Make it a habit to use a spel cheker, as your intended audience will swiftly delete a resume that contains typos.

Great, so which format do I use again?

If you can, go with the chronological as it’s everyone’s favorite. If you are shifting careers and possibly have transferable skills, go combined. If you have a short career or big holes in your experience, go functional.

Applying across state borders? Check out 3 Tips for Sending Your Resume to Another State.

Which format do you use and are you getting interviews? Let us know in the comments below!

The original Undercover Recruiter, after 7 years in tech recruiting Jorgen now runs Link Humans, a social media agency in London.