A Guide to Resume Formats: How to Choose the Right Layout for Your Experience Level

By LiveCareer

How you format your resume impacts how its content is received, so it's imperative you choose a structure that does an excellent job of showcasing your most relevant qualifications. While many assume there's only one way to organize this fundamental job search tool, there are, in fact, a few different options, and how appropriate each is for you depends somewhat on where you find yourself in your career.

Here we profile three popular resume formats and dive into which options work best for different experience levels.

The three most common resume formats

The reverse chronological resume

By far the most traditional choice, this resume style clearly shows how your career has evolved over time by putting most of the focus on your employment record. Past and current jobs (and educational experiences) are listed in reverse chronological order, with your most recent position appearing first. Recruiters are most familiar with this format, and as a result it's a fairly safe option. It's also easily scanned by keyword-reliant applicant tracking systems (ATS).

The functional resume

This layout alternative de-emphasizes your work history and career timeline while shining a
spotlight on your relevant skills and areas of expertise. Competencies are organized into
categories, with accomplishments and concrete examples of how abilities were applied in the
past listed as bullets below each subheading. Work experience may be touched on toward the end of the resume, but only briefly. Although popular with applicants who want to stress strengths over formal experience, many argue that the functional resume is never a good choice. Recruiters tend to dislike this skills-based format because it presents information out of context (no dates or places) and makes it trickier to ascertain exactly where you worked, when, and what you contributed in each position.

The hybrid resume

The hybrid layout brings together the best of the above resume formats by focusing on skills and work experience equally. Like in a functional resume, your competencies and achievements are highlighted first, followed by a detailed sketch of your employment history using the traditional reverse chronological approach. For obvious reasons, the combination format is ideal for those who don't want to focus solely on their professional trajectory, but who also don't want to risk omitting their work timeline altogether.

Best resume formats for different career levels

Junior professionals

Even if you don't have much work experience to list, a reverse chronological resume should still serve you -- the entry-level professional -- well. Most recruiters will expect you to use this format, and it gives you space to dive into your education, which you can position above your work history section.

However, if you're a new graduate who's acquired impressive skills through college projects, internships, volunteer work and other experiences, you might want to opt for a hybrid resume structure. That way, you can profile your relevant abilities and potential first, before you present your limited employment record.

Mid-career professionals 

By the time you're midway through your professional life, you should have a fair amount of
experience behind you. If you've walked a linear path, showcase your progression with a reverse chronological resume, but make sure the final product is not too "ordinary" --it should stand out among the masses.

If you're changing careers or have a lengthy gap in your career timeline (due to full-time
parenting, for example), consider a hybrid layout. A combination format will give priority to
your transferable skills and highlight what you can offer while taking some of the focus off an
irrelevant or spotty work background.

Senior professionals

A reverse chronological resume might seem like the obvious choice here. After all, senior
professionals will have decades of experience to unpack. But that's part of the challenge: When there's so much to say, you can quickly overwhelm readers with a laundry list of dates and duties.

In the case of senior-level resumes, it's often a good idea to pull out the most pertinent points and focus squarely on the traits that make you a brilliant executive: your strategy and leadership skills. You can do so by using a hybrid format that features a bulleted "Core Proficiencies" or "Areas of Expertise" section up top. Or, if you're feeling brave and your employment history is a little convoluted and non-traditional, this might be the only time a functional format would be appropriate.

If you'd like additional guidance on all things resume, let LiveCareer help. Use our Resume
Formats page for guidance on how to format yours, or put our Resume Builder to work, and get top-to-bottom writing assistance with the construction of your resume.

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