How you format your resume plays a huge role in forming your first impression on a recruiter’s mind. The contents of your resume are one thing, but how you present them is another.
Your resume format gives recruiters a chance to have a closer look at who you are as a person, and can play a significant role in their decision to interview you or not.
With knowledge based on real-world experience, we’ll tell you the best way to format the information in your resume.
Before we get to resume formats, it’s better to clear a misconception most people have regarding resume and CV formats. A CV is a completely different thing and is formatted differently. For now, we’ll focus on resumes only. The two majorly-used resume formats are:
A chronological resume is arranged in a reverse chronological manner. This means you put your latest work experiences and accomplishments at the top. Older experiences succeed each other, with your oldest professional experience and education right at the bottom. If you’re short on space, the oldest experiences usually get dropped off your resume unless they’re very important to the job you’re applying to.
The functional resume, on the other hand, is organized not in a chronological manner but based on your skillset. It informs the recruiter that you’ve got the skills required for a particular position and a brief description of what you’re capable of with each skill. Of course, your functional resume will contain info that’s more relevant to the job, but it may not cover everything that you’ve done over your career.
In terms of color, it's best to stick to black and white. Simple formats make it easier for your resume to pass applicant tracking systems. If you'd like to add a little bit of color to your resume though, consider which resume colors are best and which colors to avoid.
We asked recruiters for their opinion on resume format. And after interviewing hundreds of recruiters, here’s what we concluded.
Most recruiters concurred that if there’s something unusual, or ‘non-standard,’ it urges them to pause and have a deeper look at it. The chronological format is the standard. If you’re not using that, recruiters ask themselves why are you not using the usual resume format? Are you trying to hide something?
When you’re leaving off dates in a functional resume, they can’t be sure why you’re not including some of your career history. The key is to remember that recruiters are often looking for reasons to say no, and uncertainty about your career history is a big one.
Employers are looking for employees they can trust. Going with a functional resume can create a trust issue right off the bat. As soon as an employer sees it, they might ask themselves what are you trying to hide?
A study suggests that the average recruiter looks at a resume for six seconds. And during that time, they want to know what you did last. They are not interested in decoding what you have done from the skillset-oriented format.
So the best choice, if not directed otherwise, is to use the standard reverse-chronological format.
One drawback of using a chronological format is that you can only talk about specific skills or accomplishments with respect to a job you’ve done. This takes away the opportunity to talk about yourself as a capable individual and your career as a whole.
The solution is to include a short professional summary at the top of your resume. This way, you incorporate the best feature of the functional format into the chronological one. Mention big companies, aggregate achievements, and other notable things about you.
Sometimes, job seekers don’t want to go with the chronological format because they think their work experience is irrelevant. However, there are always soft skills to capitalize on. Things like agility, collaboration skills, ability to analyze data, etc., can still be highlighted.
Another reason why you might think a functional resume is better for you is because of an employment gap. There’s only one thing you need to know about this: Don’t try to hide facts. Letting them see it is the way to.
If it’s a gap in employment because of the pandemic, you get a free pass anyway. But even then, if a company decides not to hire you because of a gap, you should know that this is a red flag about the company itself.
Not hiding the facts and being upfront gives you a key advantage: an opportunity to tell your story. When a recruiter looks at a gap in your resume, they wonder what happened during that time and will probably allow you to speak for yourself.
Now, job seekers who can tell their story about what they've been doing over the pandemic are impressive to employers. That can include spending time with their family, working with their community, or personal development.
To conclude, the chronological format is the better choice. Even if you go for a functional one, recruiters will probably still check out your LinkedIn profile, which is in chronological order anyway.