How to Choose Your Best Resume Format

6 of 12 in Series: The Essentials of Preparing a Resume

Resume format refers not to the design or look of your resume but to how you organize and emphasize your information. Different resume format styles flatter different job histories.

Essentially, resume formats come in three family trees:

  • Reverse chronological: Lists all employment and education, beginning with the most recent and working backward.

  • Functional (skills-based): Shouts what you can do instead of relaying what you’ve done and where you did it.

  • Hybrid (combination): A marriage of both the reverse chronological and functional resume formats.

The narrative format is an outdated chronological format that starts with the oldest facts and works forward to the newest facts. A variation of the narrative format uses the third person as though you were writing a biography. This format is generally no longer recommended.

The three basic styles have spawned a variety of other formats, the best known of which are these:

  • Professional: A long (three- to five-page) resume format that emphasizes professional qualifications and activities.

  • Academic curriculum vitae: A comprehensive biographical resume of up to ten pages.

  • International curriculum vitae: An excruciatingly detailed resume used in an overseas job search.

Other less common resume styles or variations include:

  • Accomplishment: A variation of the hybrid resume that includes both qualifications and accomplishments.

  • Linear: Uses short, quick bursts of information without much detail.

  • Keyword: Includes heavy use of keywords commonly used in resume search databases.

  • Portfolio: Includes work samples; common in arts, marketing, and contracting fields.

The following table gives you a breakdown of which format to use when.

Resume Formats at a Glance
Your Situation Suggested Formats
Perfect career pattern Reverse Chronological
Rookie or ex-military Functional, Hybrid, Accomplishment, Linear
Seasoned ace Functional, Hybrid, Accomplishment
Business Reverse Chronological, Accomplishment
Technical Accomplishment, Reverse Chronological, Hybrid
Professional Professional, Academic Curriculum Vitae, Portfolio
Government Reverse Chronological, Professional
Arts/teaching Professional, Portfolio, Academic Curriculum Vitae
Job history gaps Functional, Hybrid
Multitrack job history Functional, Hybrid
Career change Functional
International job seeker International Curriculum Vitae
Special issues Functional, Hybrid
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