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How to Use Different Resume Formats

By Taunee Besson, CMF, CareerCast.com Senior Columnist

Q: I'm trying to create a good resume, but the more research I do on resume writing, the more resume formats and styles I discover. Is there one, ideal resume format that's better than all the others.

A: In a word, "No!" Job seekers spend an inordinate amount of time writing and re-writing their resumes, trying to find that perfect resume format. The truth, however, is that the concept of a perfect resume format that will work for any job or any job seeker is a myth. No single resume format could possibly work for every background and objective.

Like any successful marketing document, a strong resume is customized to address the needs of its specific audience – in this case, each potential employer. Combining a generic resume with a customized cover letter isn't good enough; companies use scanning software to screen candidates, and if your resume doesn't contain the same specific keywords listed in the job description, you won't get called for interviews.

But while there is no strict format you should use to create a resume, there are several things you can do that will help tilt the job search process in your favor. When writing your resume, remember that every good resume should include the following items:

  1. Your name, address, email and phone at the top.
  2. A specific job objective
  3. It's much better to write "Sales management position with XYZ Corp" instead "A management position with a dynamic, growth-oriented company." The more you pinpoint your goal, the easier it is to provide supporting evidence for why you deserve it.

  4. Your Accomplishments
  5. Potential employers want to know how your expertise can benefit them. Your achievements section should list activities and skills that fit their particular needs.

  6. Employment history
  7. A short reverse chronology of your past positions by title, company and date. Put the date at the right of the page. Your title should be first, since it's most important.

  8. Education
  9. Work experience is generally more important than educational credentials, unless you are just graduating, or a degree is a mandatory qualification for the position. List your education, both degrees and applicable continuing education courses below your experience.

  10. Personal data
  11. Professional organizations, civic groups, and hobbies are good candidates for the personal category. Many resume experts will tell you to delete this section. I like it because it rounds out a potential employer's picture of who you are.

These are all elements that make a strong resume. On the other hand, a good resume should not include the following items:

  1. Personal demographic information
  2. Demographics such as age, weight, height, marital status, and number of children are superfluous to your ability to do the job.

  3. Salary history
  4. You should deal with salary negotiations in person. Listing your past salaries weakens your negotiating position, whether you are currently making more, less, or the same amount as your job objective.

  5. References
  6. Only give references if everyone knows and loves these people. Otherwise you're filling critical space with names that are usually meaningless to your interviewer. Have you references ready, though, in case a potential employer wants to call them after your interview.

Companies screen resumes (sometimes hundreds, or even thousands for a single opening) to find the best candidates to interview. They are looking for specific skills and experience. Your challenge is to make the cut so you get a chance sell yourself in person. If your resume doesn't speak to their needs in the top two-thirds of the first page, they probably will reject it and squelch your opportunity to dazzle them face-to-face.

While there are lots of ways to present your accomplishments, all styles of resumes fall into one of two major types: the Chronological and the Hybrid. Both have advantages, depending on your situation.

Professionals who have years of experience in a particular career and wish to secure a job equal to or above the one they currently fill typically use the chronological resume. It puts the last job first and moves through work experience in reverse order. Featuring the most recent position at the beginning quickly catches a potential employer's eye with the most relevant, responsible experience. Job titles, companies, dates, locations, and accomplishments are all important ingredients in this style.

This format is the traditional, universally accepted one. However, it may not be the best style for you. In fact, if any of the following typify your experience, the chronological resume may do you more harm than good:

  • You have gaps in your employment history of six months or more.
  • You've jumped from position to position every two years or less, although Gen Y seems to do this with abandon.
  • Your most recent experience isn't relevant to what you want to do now.
  • You hope to make a major career change and rely on your transferable rather than specialized skills.
  • Your volunteer work is much more in line with your career objectives than your paid experience.

In any of the above cases, the hybrid resume probably will be the better choice. This format is much more flexible than the chronological one because hybrid resumes focus on transferable skills and accomplishments rather than specific experience by job title. They usually state an objective (Example: Director of Development for the Build a Better America Foundation), then divide the desired position into major functions (Example: directors of development need expertise in fund raising, oral and written communication, event planning, budgeting, and general management). Next, they arrange major paid and volunteer accomplishments under the appropriate functional category. For instance, experience listed under oral and written communication might look like this:

Oral and Written Communication

  • Designed a brochure distributed to more than 10,000 people discussing the benefits and features of membership in The Women's Foundation.
  • Wrote a proposal for a $50,000 foundation grant to Keep America Green, which was funded for three years.
  • Developed relationships with 30 media resources resulting in two feature stories and four television and radio show appearances.
  • Spoke to 25 professional and civic groups concerning the need for citizen participation in local government.

Note that job titles and dates do not dictate the structure of the hybrid resume. With it you gain a great deal of flexibility in listing your accomplishments in the order most relevant to your potential job. After your achievements, include an Employment History section, where you'll list a short chronological summary of past experience, now no longer the focus of your resume.

As you see, whatever resume format you choose will be the right one, if it clearly states your objective and mirrors your potential employer's needs.


Senior Columnist Taunee Besson, CMF, is president of Career Dimensions, Inc., a consulting firm founded in 1979 that works with individual and corporate clients in career transition, job search, executive coaching, talent management and small business issues. She is an award-winning columnist for CareerJournal.com and a best-selling author of the Wall Street Journal's books on resumes and cover letters. Her articles on a variety of career issues have appeared on numerous career/job websites and trade and business journals. Ms. Besson has been quoted numerous times in The Wall Street Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Business Week, Time, Smart Money, and a number of other websites and publications.

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