Resumes come in three different basic formats – chronological, functional, and combination. It is simple to understand what each one does by just thinking about the name. The chronological resume is time-based, thus “chrono” as part of the name. Functional resumes are written around the functions executed in the job seeker’s experience. Combination format resumes are combinations of chronological and functional.
Understanding what they are is easy; determining which format to use for your particular career situation can seem complicated. I say “seem complicated” because many people want to make it difficult and its really not. There are two factors to consider when deciding on the proper resume format – employment history and current goal. Here are some guidelines to help you select the most effective format for your situation.
Here are a few career situations and the recommended format for each.
~~You are targeting a job that is a step up the ladder from your current position and you have at least three years experience in the field. Use a chronological resume.
~~You are targeting a job that is a lateral move and you have at least three years experience in the field. Use a chronological resume.
~~You are targeting a position in a different but somewhat related field where you would use skills that you have used in your current job. Use a combination resume.
~~You have a long, progressive career history in the same field and are targeting a lateral or upward career move. Use a chronological resume.
~~You are targeting a position in the same field but with significantly different required skills and job description. Use a combination resume.
~~You are military separating from the service and targeting a civilian job. Use a combination format.
~~You are in a technical field where you have used many different technologies, been involved in many projects, and have a broad array of skills. You are targeting a similar position or moving up. Use a combination format.
~~You have significant hurdles in your employment history such as large gaps, significant job hopping, or legal troubles and are targeting a position in your field. Use a functional format.
~~You are changing fields completely and your prior work history has no relevance to your new one (e.g. moving from computer programmer to chef). Use a functional format.
I am often asked if choosing the wrong format can be a killer for a resume. There is no hard, fast rule regarding resume formats. You have to choose the one that portrays your experience in the best light for the current goal. Functional formats are in-and-of-themselves red flags to employers and should be used only when a combination format would not suffice to win the interview. I’ve only listed two instances when a functional should be considered and both are extreme circumstances. Most recruiters hate the functional format resume because it usually indicates something in the career history has to be hidden. Whenever possible, one of the other resume formats is a better choice than a functional format resume.