By Mike Simpson
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By now, as a seasoned job hunter and student of the Interview Guys, you should know there are a few essentials you should have in your arsenal: business cards, a solid cover letter, your elevator pitch, and your well-formatted resume.
Hang on, haven’t we already gone over all this in that other article, How to Make a Resume 101?
In that article we did go over how to write a resume, but in this article, we’re going to take you to the next step and focus specifically on one seemingly small but massively huge part of resume building: resume format and how to select which one is right for you.
Why Is Resume Format So Important?
As any good “Interview Guys student” will tell you, a resume is a document used by job seekers (you) to quickly and easily let a hiring manager know what skills they have, what their work history is, and any accomplishments they might have.
Seems simple, right?
Well, it is, but only if you know what you’re doing. The tricky part of writing your own resume is it’s a deceptive document.
No, not deceptive as in you use it to lie to an employer about what you can do (don’t EVER do that!), but deceptive in that it seems like it should be really easy to write.
Trust me, it’s much easier to write a bad resume than a good one…and there are a LOT of bad ones out there, which, believe it or not, is a good thing.
Wait. It’s good that there are bad resumes out there? That doesn’t make any sense!
Yes, and the reason is, when a recruiter or hiring manager has to slog through a mountain of bad resumes, seeing a good resume is like a breath of fresh air. It stands out!
And if you follow our guide, that breath of fresh air resume is going to be yours!
But first, we need to figure out what type of resume format you need.
Types of Resume Formats
Once upon a time, many moons ago, there was just one way to write a resume, reverse-chronologically.
Chronological Resume Format
The reverse-chronological resume (simply called the “chronological”) was just that, a chronological listing of everything you’d done up to that point, starting with your most recent and working backwards.
During the heyday of the chronological resume, everyone used it. It wasn’t just industry standard, it was global standard.
Brain surgeons and tax accountants used the same chronological format as plumbers and babysitters – and for the time, it was fine.
Then someone said, “Hmm. These jobs aren’t all exactly the same..so why are the resumes being used exactly the same? Shouldn’t they be specific to the job you’re seeking? Shouldn’t it be more…functional?”
And in that moment, the functional resume was born.
Functional Resume Format
Rather than just simply listing what you’ve done (chronological), a functional resume specifically targets the job you’re going after and makes sure that it highlight the skills and abilities you have that relate to that position.
Rather than listing a ton of stuff that might not relate to what you’ve done, it highlights what is most relevant for the position you’re going after.
Whereas a chronological resume can seem cold and impersonal, almost a ‘shopping list’ of skills, promotions and upward mobility, a functional resume allows you to interject a little of “who” you are into the conversation, not just “what you do.”
And then someone said “I can’t decide…what works better for me? Chronological or functional? Ugh, why do I have to decide? Why can’t I use both?!”
And thus the combination resume was born.
Combination Resume Format
The combination resume takes all the best parts of a functional resume (relevant skills, qualifications and specifically targeted information) and combines it with the chronological resume (everything you’ve done in the past that’s gotten you to where you are right now.)
But which of the three resume formats is right for me?
How To Choose the Best Resume Format
The first thing you have to do when settling on what type of resume you plan to write (chronological, functional or combination), is figure out which resume format or resume layout matches your needs and who you are.
CHRONOLOGICAL RESUMES are great for people who have had a steady career path in the same field for a long period of time or are applying for jobs in similar fields and has few, if any, gaps in their employment history.
Employers like chronological resumes because it’s easy to see, at a glance, what an employee has done in the past. For people who have stayed within the same industry their whole career and haven’t moved around much, it’s a great option as it shows a potential employer quickly and easily your progression.
For example, executives who have had a steady progression to the top would benefit from a chronological resume.
Chronological resumes are also great for people who are just starting out or find themselves in the mid-level of their careers.
When organizing your chronological resume, you want to make sure you keep the following categories in this order (see, I told you we’d come back to categories in resume formats!)
- Objective Statement or Summary Statement
FUNCTIONAL RESUMES are great for people who have started and stopped their careers and are facing gaps in their work history or are making a significant career change. Functional resumes are also great for people who are targeting a particular position and need a resume that highlight specific skills and abilities that directly relate.
People just entering the job market can also benefit from a functional resume as it focuses more on skills than past work history.
When organizing your functional resume, you want to make sure you keep the following categories in this order:
- Objective Statement or Summary Statement
COMBINATION RESUMES are great for people who are looking to make a career change and move from one industry to another. It’s also a great format for highlighting well-developed skills and talents that are relevant to a specific position. This is the best resume format for someone considered a master within their field.
When organizing your combination resume, you want to make sure you keep the following categories in this order:
- Objective Statement or Summary Statement
Best Practices For Formatting Your Resume
Now that we’ve gone over different resume formats, it’s time to go over formatting the resume format (?) you have selected. Tongue twisters and confusing sentences aside, let’s start with the basics!
How Long Should A Resume Be?
No matter which of the three formats you decide to go with, it should fit neatly onto one single sided page without crowding.
Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, and in some (rare) cases (career changes, highly advanced technical fields, or individuals at the senior/executive level), a slightly longer resume is acceptable.
Anything longer than that and you’ve moved out of the world of resumes and into the world of CV’s (hey, we have an article for those! Check out our CV article here!) which are acceptable, but ONLY in VERY SPECIFIC CIRCUMSTANCES. (If you’ve been asked for your resume, make sure that’s what you give them or you run the risk of it being tossed.)
Keep in mind this isn’t your autobiography!
This is meant to give a hiring manager just enough information about you that they feel compelled to call you in and meet you face to face!
To put it bluntly, the average hiring manager spends initially between 10-20 seconds on each resume which means you have 10-20 seconds to catch their eye. The last thing you want to do is give them something that’s messy, confusing, or unorganized.
Rather than spend an additional 10 seconds trying to figure out your resume, most hiring manager will just throw it away…and we don’t want that!
Ok, so what about fonts, margins, paper, etc?
Let’s start with fonts.
Best Resume Fonts
Choosing the right font can seem like an impossible task, especially as there are hundreds of choices available. Making sure your resume is readable is step number one.
You want to make sure that a potential employer can easily read it regardless of if it’s printed out or on a computer screen. Speaking of computer screens, not everyone is on the same operating system which means a unique or quirky font on your screen might show up as code or nonsense on someone else’s.
And nobody’s hiring nonsense.
Your resume is a professional representation of who you are, and as such, should look professional.
Many companies these days use an automated applicant tracking software to first pre-qualify candidates and the last thing you want to do is get sorted to the bottom of the pile, or worse, rejected, because the computer program didn’t recognize your font or had difficulty reading it.
Try to avoid any font or typefaces listed as a Serif for the same reasons. Serif fonts are fonts with added embellishments and stylizations that, while subtle, can still cause problems with scanning software. Yes, your resume might look amazing, but it’s not doing you any good if it’s always getting rejected by the scanner because it can’t read it.
Sans Serifs fonts are fonts which are clean, crisp, sleek, and most importantly, scanner-friendly! They’re also “eyeball-friendly” which means a hiring manager reading it won’t have any issues trying to figure out what they’re looking at or run into eye-strain.
Stick to fonts like Arial, Verdana, Trebuchet MS, Century Gothic, Gill Sans MT (but NEVER Comic Sans), Lucida Sans and Tahoma.
Of course, over here at the Interview Guys, we’ll confess that we’re partial to Helvetica. It’s a flawless blend of style and clarity.
Another thing to keep in mind with fonts is the size you’re using. Shrinking everything down to the size of an ant just so you can fit it all onto a single page won’t win you any points. Again, you want to ensure that your resume is readable.
Try to stay between 10.5 and 12 points. Any smaller and it’s hard to read.
Formatting Your Margins and Spacing
When you format your resume you want to make sure that your leave enough margin space to allow for printing. If you try to adjust your margins and make them too narrow in order to fit more into your page, you run the risk of critical information being cut off if an employer prints it out.
Inversely, making your margins too large will leave your resume looking boxed in and squished. The general rule is to set your margins at one inch on all sides.
Think of your resume as a piece of fine artwork. Your margins should create a beautiful frame around it. If you’re truly desperate for space, you can slightly adjust your top and bottom margins but try to avoid adjusting your side margins.
In terms of the spacing, keep your resume to single-spaced with a blank line between each section of your content.
When you turn a resume into a potential employer, you want to make sure you’re using paper that helps convey the message that you’re a professional.
Of course, if you’re using an online submission system, you don’t get to choose what sort of paper an employer might potentially print your resume out on, but in the instances when you’re physically turning something in, it’s a good idea to put some extra time and thought into the paper you’re using.
Try to always print your resumes out using a laser printer or inkjet printer that produces crisp, high-quality results. You want to print on paper heavier than what you traditionally find in photocopiers.
Generally copier paper is considered 20 lb. weight. This is a lighter, flimsier paper which is perfect for running through a Xerox in high quantity at high speeds, but for a resume comes across as unprofessional and sloppy.
Aim for paper that’s slightly heavier. Most resume paper is rated at 24 lb. If you’re using paper with a watermark, make sure it’s facing the correct way relative to your resume.
When selecting the color of paper you’re using, it’s always a safe bet to stick to white or neutrals. Off-white, cream, ivory and light gray are acceptable for most professional jobs.
Finally, make sure you’re always using 8 ½ x 11 paper.
Which Resume Categories Do I Include?
Organizing your resume is just as important as formatting it. Many resumes are put together by job seekers who aren’t sure of how to organize their information, resulting in a resume that lacks focus.
You always want to make sure that your categories are well defined and organized appropriately for not only who you are, but the type of resume that you’re using (don’t worry, we’ll go into that further in just a bit!).
Here are the categories that you need to include on your resume:
The first thing you need to do is make sure that a potential employer knows whose resume they’re looking at!
Make sure you include your personal information at the TOP of your resume. Include your full name, phone number, email and personal branding website (if you have one, which as an Interview Guys student you should!) You can also include your mailing address, but this is purely optional.
An objective statement is a quick outline of your employment goals with the company you’re applying to and should take up no more than a sentence or two.
For our in-depth article on how to write a resume objective statement, click here.
Resume Summary Statement
A resume summary is a quick recap of your skills and experiences and, like an objective statement, should be no more than a sentence or two.
For our in-depth article on how to write a resume summary statement, click here.
This section is where you talk about your work history and highlight not only who you worked for but what you did as well as how long you did it. Be sure to include your job title as well as a bulleted list of your duties and/or responsibilities.
***This is listed in reverse chronological order with your most recent job first.
Skills & Abilities
This is where you want to highlight your relevant skills that relate directly to the position or job you’re applying to. Make sure you list things here that set you apart and help show a potential employer that you’re the perfect candidate for the job!
These can include things like technical skills, language skills, computer skills, anything and everything that sets you apart and fits exactly what the employer is looking for.
For recent graduates and people just entering the job market, this would mean where you went to school. For people in technical fields or fields where outside training is either required or encouraged, you would include this information here.
Once upon a time references were always included. These days, however, references are no longer a must have on resumes. That doesn’t mean you don’t need them… instead, have them as a separate list, and if requested, you can provide it.
Check out our article on how to use your job references strategically if you need more info.
Common Resume Format Mistakes to Avoid
Spelling and Grammar Mistakes (and Typos)
Always proofread your resume before you send it out! This includes double checking your contact information. It won’t do you any good if you have the perfect resume and employers who want to hire you if they keep calling the wrong number or emailing the wrong email. Double check! Then…check again!
Not Targeting Your Resume
Blanketing the job market with a one-resume-fits-all approach not only makes you look lazy, but it shows an employer that you’re comfortable doing the bare minimum rather than going the extra step to make sure your resume is targeted to the job you’re specifically seeking.
Remember, you’re one candidate out of hundreds, if not thousands. Submitting a resume that’s long, rambling, confusing or poorly organized isn’t going to get you anything except dumped. This includes padding your resume with unnecessary information. Keep your resume targeted, clear, concise, and clean.
Religious affiliations, social security numbers, personal social media contact, birthday (or age), marital status, or anything else that’s personal has no place on your resume. This also includes photos or headshots. All a potential employer needs to know is what your name is, how to contact you, and why you’re the perfect candidate based off of your skills, experience, and qualifications.
Save that for a personal discussion with the hiring manager a little further down the road. Putting your salary requirements on your resume is never a good idea. Check out the article we wrote on “When and How to Negotiate Your Salary” here.
Top 5 Resume Formatting Tips
1. Keep your format simple: Remember, you have 10-20 seconds to snag a hiring managers attention. Presenting them with a resume that’s overly crowded, hard to read, confusing or just plain messy isn’t going to get you the job…it’s going to get you thrown out. Watch your spacing, font size and margins. Keep it legible!
2. Keep it professional: Avoid cute fonts, gimmicks, scented paper, glitter, odd shapes, or anything that could potentially make an employer look at your resume and question your sanity. Don’t print on cheap paper. Show an employer you’re serious about the job.
3. Focus on what you did for past employers, not just the job you held. Anyone can push a button. Why were you the best button pusher there was? What set you apart from every other button pusher who came before you and will come after you? Don’t just outline the job description. What were your accomplishments while doing that job?
4. Make sure you’re selecting the resume format that best reflects who you are, your work history, and the job you’re applying for. Keep in mind employment gaps, career trajectory, where you are in your industry, and where you plan on going. Make sure you’re selecting the right format resume (chronological, functional or combination).
5. Be honest: I know we’ve said this again and again in multiple articles on this site, but it’s a sentiment that bears repeating. Be honest. Don’t pad your resume with jobs or duties you’ve never held or exaggerate ones you have just to impress an employer. The last thing you want to do is get a job you can’t do. Not only will you look bad, but it’ll haunt you down the line with other future potential employers. Be honest!
Putting It All Together
Whew! Did you get all that?!?
We promised you a much deeper look into resume formats and I think we’ve managed to deliver just that!
Making sure you have the right resume for the right job means more than just filling in your qualifications, it means selecting the right format and ensuring that you’re organizing it properly…and now, thanks to this article, you shouldn’t have any problems!
Of course, reading about it is one thing, but seeing how these resumes look is another. If you’re interested in seeing examples of how these resumes look in person, head on over to our sample resume format page. Just make sure, no matter which format you choose, that you’re targeting it for the job you’re applying to.
And as always…good luck!
(One final thought. How is your cover letter looking? Are you confident that it is formatted properly? Because we have created a companion guide just like this one called “Best Cover Letter Format Guide for 2017.” Click the link to read it now!)