Resume Formats
by Laura Laemmle Frongillo, Salary.com contributing writer

Resume FormatsA checklist for success
Is your resume a relic? Chances are, if you haven't actively updated it in the past year, or if you don't have a few different versions of it, in more than one resume format, the document is a dinosaur.

Advances in technology in the past several years have made resumes more powerful than ever, but you need to do a little initial work (and then maintenance work) to make them work for you.

But how do you know which resume formats are best for your particular job search? This article shows you how to create a customized resume that ends up in the hire pile, not the circular file.

Choosing the right resume format

In resume design, there are three basic organization types: chronological, functional, and combination. The chronological resume format lists job and education history in a reverse chronological order, making it easy for employers to see the applicant's career progression.

The functional resume format concentrates on pertinent skills and abilities. Names of employers, dates and education history details are omitted and the information is not presented chronologically.

The combination resume format is for some candidates the best of both worlds, presenting relevant skills and abilities in chronological order. So, which resume is for you?

Chronological Resume Formats

Most employers prefer chronological resume formats because they are easy to read and generally make salient points quickly and concisely. Most applicants choose this type of document.

As with all resume formats, first list your name, address, and contact information. Next, a targeted summary or objective statement will help the reader know at a glance if you might be a match.

Starting with your most recent position, list your employer, including location, dates, job titles, and descriptions of your tasks, accomplishments and skills, using concise, action-oriented words.

End with education, special skills and any relevant awards, honors, or accolades.

More chronological considerations

  • Include only the most important information about each position.
  • Be specific rather than general in your descriptions, using concise and vivid language.
  • Quantify the impact of your actions in your previous positions. Facts, figures, and numbers help to do this.
    For example: How many accounts did you work on? How many employees did you supervise?
  • Be sure to include a list of key contributions or achievements.
  • Find key words and terminology in the job advertisement and use them in your resume.
  • Don't use unnecessary prose. Have an editorially minded friend help cut out extra words.

Functional Resume Formats

Applicants such as recent graduates, career changers, and parents returning to the work force may choose a functional resume format to highlight skills instead of a spotty or atypical career path.

A skill-oriented resume format allows you to focus on your abilities and point out what you would bring to a particular job. This resume should be as targeted as possible in order to gain attention.

Start with your contact information and include a precisely worded summary or objective statement that draws a distinct parallel between your strengths and the job's requirements.

Include education, awards and any volunteer positions you've held.

Make it highly functional

  • Choose three or four pertinent skills (e.g. Marketing and Sales, Leadership, etc.) and use them as headers followed by bullets delineating your accomplishments within that field.
  • Recent graduates, list student government, athletics, community work, and other extra-curricular pursuits and describe the skills you presented in carrying out those activities.
  • If you volunteered at your child's school, took care of a sick parent, or served as the executor of a relative's will, it took talent. Describe all the skills you demonstrated.
  • If you have even one or two relevant work experiences, consider a combination resume.

 Combination Resume Formats

Functional resumes sometimes scare away hiring managers, who, after all, have piles of papers to wade through and may become suspicious or irritated when faced with missing dates or titles.

So, if you can't use chronological resume formats due to gaps or too little (or too much) experience, consider the combination option and add as many concise, chronological elements as possible.

Start with an attention-getting and pertinent description of your applicable skills. Then, lead off with clearly defined accomplishments, followed by jobs, dates, titles, awards, and education.

Combination considerations

Obviously, your combination resume will be tailored to your unique situation. Here are some tips to consider when balancing function with chronology

  • Remember that the sooner your reader is interested, the greater your chance of having your resume read. Be sparkling upfront. Get across your value as soon as possible.
  • Be sure the accomplishments you list are relevant to this position. In as few words as possible, call out your pertinent skills and responsibilities.
  • If your past jobs have little relevance to the desired position, simply list the titles and dates (if appropriate), without going into detail about job requirements.
Targeted Resume Formats
This is an outdated category, since, with unemployment rates so high, technology so advanced, and competition for each job so great, every resume needs to be a specifically targeted resume.

Even if you include a personalized cover letter for each job (which you definitely should), you still need to customize the resume, even if it's as simple as changing a word in the summary.

This is particularly important in electronic resumes, which are often searchable. This means employers can choose or eliminate resumes without ever looking at them, simply because they have or lack a certain keyword or search term.

More targeting tips

Always write a resume with a particular job posting in mind. Even if you use an existing document as a template, edit it to perfectly fit the new position's description and requirements.

If you have held positions which are similar but differ slightly, such as sales and marketing, be sure to emphasize the aspects of your experience that the desired job requires.

If your existing resume doesn't include many key terms from the job ad, see how you can edit your descriptions to fit them in. Make it clear that this job is exactly what you are suited to do.

The electronic resume

No longer is it enough to have a stack of nice, crisp, white or cream-colored paper resumes that you edit maybe once or twice a year and hand out or mail whenever a desired job is posted.

Yes, you still need an elegant paper resume to hand out at interviews, but most companies want an electronic version since they're easier to read, organize and scan for keywords.

They're also much easier for you to edit, forward and upload to job search databases and social networking sites like LinkedIn and Facebook that give your resume increased visibility.

More tips for the e-resume

The e-version of your resume can easily reach thousands of potential employers, so take advantage of career websites that allow you to post it and make it public.

E-resume pre-screening is done on a keyword basis. Employers can reach out to you when keywords in your document match their hiring needs, so keep your online resumes up to date.

When emailing a resume, attach an e-version, but also copy the same information in the body of the email in case the employer can't open the attachment.
Bonus tip: Create job alerts at sites like Salary.com to get relevant job ads emailed to you.

On the subject of subject lines...

Just like paper resumes can sink in a sea of paper, emailed resumes risk getting lost in a crowded inbox. At the very least, include your last name and the position for which you are applying in the subject line so employers can easily pick out your email.

It might also help to create a more compelling, but short, subject line, announcing yourself in a way that gets noticed. E.g.: "Ted Smith, your next top salesman." But use your discretion. This might backfire in a very serious company. And don't use all caps or words like "amazing" and "Read now" that could trigger spam filters.

Basic resume formats dos and don'ts

Keep the layout clean and easy to read to pull in the reader. Use high quality ivory or white paper and stick with one standard font, using bold and italics if necessary. Avoid excess formatting on electronic versions.

Begin with your name, address, e-mail and phone number(s) to make it easy for a potential employer to contact you, but avoid giving personal information such as Social Security number, age, height, weight, etc.

If possible, keep your resume to one page, and don't exceed two pages. A short, concise representation of your work history, experience and education is most likely to be read.

Present a precisely worded, short objective or summary to grab an employer's attention. Read the job ad closely to determine what the employer wants and then customize your message accordingly.

The experience section of your resume follows the objective. List your employers, job location, employment dates, job titles, and descriptions of tasks, accomplishments and skills.

Your education comes next, and should include college, degree, and any honors you received.

Be sure to include relevant awards or special recognition if you have received any. These are "eye catchers" that will keep the reader interested.

In resume formatting, clean and simple wins the race

In today's competitive job market, it's important that you help employers see the benefits of hiring you over someone else. A clean, simple resume stating your value is the first step.

Make sure it is formatted so potential employers can identify it, open it, read it, search it and immediately comprehend its main point - that hiring you is a winning proposition.

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