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Best Resumes

What Resume Format is Best for You?

Chronological. Functional. Chrono-Functional. Hybrid. Combination. Print. Formatted. RTF. Electronic. Text. Scannable. PDF. Web-based. All of these are terms that are tossed around when people talk about resume formats. How is a job-seeker supposed to know the best resume format i n any given situation? Do you need more than one format? Just how many formats do you need?

First, it's important to note that the term "format" has a couple of different meanings. When people talk about resume "format" they may be referring to:

    * The way the content of the resume is organized.
    * The technological approach to the resume's preparation according to how it is intended to be delivered to its recipient.
    * Both of the above.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of different types of resumes? What are the common elements of all resumes? This article addresses these issues, giving you all the information you need to write the best resume for you -- given your job history and job-search strategy. We primarily focus here on the ways resume content can be organized but also touch on technological approaches to resume preparation based on intended delivery method, which we expand on in our article [title and link].

The Purpose of Resumes

Your resume is a key job-hunting tool used to get a job interview. It summarizes your accomplishments, your education, as well as your work experience, and should reflect your special mix of skills and strengths.

A resume -- even the best resume -- will not get you the job; you'll need to convince the employer during the job interview. The resume is simply a marketing tool to get you into the door.

A resume is a statement of facts designed to sell your unique mix of education, experience, accomplishments, and skills to a prospective employer. Never lie or stretch the facts; do not get creative when identifying your job titles, dates of employment, or accomplishments. On the other hand, do not be modest; be clear about successes and accomplishments -- and quantify whenever possible.

Key Attributes of All Resumes

Regardless of the type of resume you create, a number of key elements overlap all successful resumes.

   1. Contact Information. Since your goal is for an employer to contact you -- either for a first interview or for a follow-up interview -- you must give employers as many ways to reach you as possible, including postal mailing address, email address, home phone number, cell phone, etc.

   2. Accomplishments. Focus the descriptions of your experiences on accomplishments, not duties and responsibilities. Accomplishments, especially those you can quantify, will sell you to a potential employer. Read more in our article, For Job-Hunting Success: Track and Leverage Your Accomplishments and its companion tool, Job-Seeker Accomplishments Worksheet.

   3. Education/Training. Include all the pertinent information regarding education, degrees, training, and certifications. Spell out names of degrees. Include the educational institution's name and location. If currently enrolled in an educational program, list expected graduation month and year. Graduates should list graduation year if within the last 10 years.

   4. Appearance. The first impression of your resume -- and of you as a job-seeker -- comes from your resume's appearance. Your resume should be well-organized with consistent headings, fonts, bullets, and style. Never overcrowd the resume. Leave some "white space" so that important points can stand out; and try to make your margins between .75” and 1” on all sides. For print resumes, use subdued color paper, such as white, ivory, beige, light gray.

   5. Avoidance of Typos/Misspellings. Take the time to carefully write, rewrite, and edit your resume. Be sure to meticulously proofread your resume for misspellings and typos. Resumes with errors get filed in the trash can.

   6. Targeted and focused. Tailor your basic resume to specific jobs and specific employers. There is simply no excuse for having one generic resume anymore. Tweak each resume you submit to the specific job you are seeking or to the specific employer.

Which Organizational Format?

One of the first decisions job-seekers must make when preparing their resumes is how to organize the resume's content. Today's resumes generally are:

    * Chronological (actually reverse chronological, listing all your experience from most to least recent).
    * Functional, which lists experience in skills clusters.
    * A combination or hybrid of those two types, sometimes known as a chrono-functional format.

Chronological Resumes

The traditional, default format for resumes is the chronological resume. This type of resume is organized by your employment history in reverse chronological order, with job titles/names of employers/locations of employers/dates of employment/ accomplishments, working backwards 10-15 years.

A standard chronological resume may be your best choice if most/all of your experience has been in one field, you have no large employment gaps, and you plan to stay in that same field.

The chronological resume is preferred by the widest variety of employers, as well as by recruiters and many of the Internet job boards. Recruiters and hiring managers tend to like this resume format because it's easy to read and clearly demonstrates your job history and career advancement/growth. This format is also recommended for all conservative career fields (such as accounting, banking, law, etc.) and international job-seeking.

See some samples of chronological resumes:

    * Experienced Job-Seeker Chronological Format
    * Experienced Job-Seeker Chronological Format II
    * New Graduate Chronological Format III

Functional Resumes

The resume format preferred by job-seekers with a limited job history, a checkered job history, or a job history in a different career field, is the functional resume.

Job-seekers who take a functional approach organize their resumes by skills and functions clusters. In a purely functional resume, company names, employment dates, and position titles are intentionally omitted. The functional resume can work for homemakers returning to the workforce, for example, or for new graduates entering the job market. The purely functional resume has very limited uses but can be an excellent marketing tool if well done, as in these two samples:

    * New Graduate Functional Format I
    * New Graduate Functional Format II

This resume format is the least common and least preferred by employers -- and most Internet job boards do not accept this resume format.

Combination (Chrono-Functional, Hybrid) Resumes

Because the purely functional format has become the subject of employer backlash in recent years, some job-seekers have learned to structure their resumes in a mostly functional format but to also include a bare-bones work history in reverse chronological order, creating what is variously known as a chrono-functional, hybrid, or combination format.

The work-history section need include only job title, name and location of employer, and dates of employment. You don't need to list what you did in each job because that information already is listed in your functional sections.

The chrono-functional/hybrid/combination resume highlights outstanding skills and achievements that might otherwise be buried within the job-history section while simultaneously presenting, yet deemphasizing, the chronology of jobs. The focus is on clusters of transferable skills and the experiences that are most relevant to the position for which you are applying. If you are open to more than one type of job, you can reconfigure the functional skills clusters to emphasize the skills most relevant to the particular job you seek.

Chrono-functional/hybrid/combination resumes suit a variety of job-seeker needs, such as a diverse job history that doesn't add up to a clear-cut career path and situations where the job-seeker has work experience that is related but not an exact link to desired position. Job-seekers who have large employment gaps or many short employment stints prefer this format because it downplays employment history. This type of resume also works well for older workers, career changers, and job-seekers with academic deficiencies or limited experience. See our handy chart on who should use a chronological and who should use a functional format.

While the chrono-functional/hybrid/combination resume is more acceptable to employers than the purely functional format, some employers are unaccustomed to functional formats of any kind, finding them confusing or even annoying. Some employers like to know what exactly you did in each job. Recruiters/headhunters particularly disdain functional formats, so this approach should never be used if you are primarily targeting recruiters with your job search. As noted, employers in conservative fields are not big fans of functional formats, nor are international employers. Functional formats, even chrono-functional, also are not acceptable on many online job boards.

See a sample of chrono-functional resume and see also our article, Should You Consider a Functional Format for Your Resume?

More than One Format?

Your resume is one of the most fundamental tools of job-seekers, so take the time and care to develop the best resume based on your previous work experience and job-search aspirations. For some job-seekers, this process may result in both a chronological resume and chrono-functional resume. For example, our subsidiary, Quintessential Resumes and Cover Letters, recently had a client with a strong background as a product manager in banking. Unfortunately, she had moved to an area where few banks had their corporate headquarters, so opportunities in her field were limited. She had to be open to other jobs that used her transferable project/product management, marketing, and customer-service skills. For those jobs, she used a chrono-functional format to emphasize transferable skills and position her for a possible career change. But she hadn't given up on approaching banks in her new locale, whether as a potential product manager or in a closely related position. Therefore, she still needed a traditional chronological resume, both because banking is a conservative industry and because a chronological format was still her best bet for obtaining a job similar to her previous positions.

Which Technological Format?

Once you developed your resume, your final step is to determine whether you need multiple versions of your resume based on how you will deliver your resume to recipients.

More than 80 percent of employers are now placing resumes directly into searchable databases and an equal percentage of employers prefer to receive resumes by e-mail. That means that it's an absolute must these days to have:

    * A formatted, "print" resume in document form that you can send as an attachment to an e-mail message to the employer.
    * A text-based (ASCII text) e-resume stripped of most formatting and pasted directly into the same e-mail message sent to the employer (can also be pasted into application/resume submission forms on online job boards). Read more in our article Top 10 Things You Need to Know about E-Resumes.

Sending your resume in text-based format directly in an e-mail message removes all obstacles to an employer's placing your resume right into a searchable database. If that's the case, why do you still need the formatted, "print" resume in document form sent as an attachment? Because the employer may want to print out your resume to review it, especially once the database search has narrowed down the candidates. The formatted, print version will be more reader-friendly than the text-based version. You'll also want to have a print version of your resume on hand to take to interviews and career fairs and for occasions when employers request resumes in "old-fashioned" ways -- by mail or fax.

Some employers still prefer the formatted document version of your resume attached to an e-mail message, while others won't open attachments because of concerns about viruses and incompatibilities among word-processing programs.

A dizzying alphabet soup of delivery formats comprise other options to consider. Scrutinize employer instructions carefully to see which format is preferred for any given opportunity to submit your resume. If in doubt, contact the employer and ask about submission preferences. See a comprehensive description of these file formats in our article, Your E-resume's File Format Aligns with its Delivery Method. In the meantime, here's a quick rundown:

    * Text (ASCII) resume, which removes all formatting and allows the resume to appear the same in all email systems -- and allows for easy placement into employer resume databases.
    * Rich Text (RTF) version, sometimes used for online job boards (such as Monster, FlipDog, HotJobs) or for sending as an attachment that is reasonably compatible across platforms and word-processing programs.
    * Portable Document Format (PDF) resume that is also highly compatible and consistent in appearance across platforms, though difficult to place directly into databases.
    * Web-based resume in hypertext markup language (HTML) to make your resume available 24/7 on the Web. Easily expandable into a Web portfolio.
    * Scannable resume, which is similar to a text resume although used increasingly less often these days since e-mailed resumes can go directly into databases and don't require the extra step of optical scanning.

As you might imagine, any number of versions of your resume are possible, including both organizational formats and technical formats. You could, for example, have both chronological and chrono-functional versions of your resume in print, text, RTF, PDF, HTML, and scannable file formats, for a total of 12 versions of your resume! Add to these the tweaks you make to target your resume to specific jobs/employers, and the possibilities are virtually endless.

In the end, the most important lesson here is that the days are gone when a job-seeker developed one resume format and printed 100 copies of it on high-quality paper. In today's job market, resumes need to be modified and fine-tuned at a drop of the hat, as well as available in multiple versions. In fact, electronic resume versions are taking over as the most popular formats for resumes. Still, there will probably be a need for years to come for attractive, eye-catching print resumes with appropriately organized content.

 
 

Success Stories

"I wanted to let you know that I was successful in finding a new position to which I transitioned on December 1. I am convinced that the improvements you made to my resume were instrumental in helping me communicate a true value proposition to prospective employers. I feel very fortunate, and I really appreciate your efforts.”
- Franklin Trusk

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Tips and Techniques

 1. Be Specific. Have Focus in your job/career search.

2. Beef up your email signature.

3. Authenticity Matters

4. Cross-promote.

5. Become visible in the industry.