The resume format you choose determines which aspects of your professional background will get the most attention.
The three main resume formats most job applicants use are reverse-chronological, functional, and combination. Each of these is useful in its own way, but how to decide which one you should go for when applying for a job?
The answer is simple—read our comprehensive guide! We’ll show you the difference between the most popular resume formats and help you pick the one that fits to your needs.
Let’s jump right in!
There are three standard resume formats: reverse-chronological, functional, and combination.
The reverse-chronological resume is the most popular resume format in 2022 and is preferred by most recruiters.
The functional format focuses on skills rather than employment history, making it the best resume format for people with little experience.
The combination resume is a hybrid of the reverse-chronological and functional resumes, as it highlights both skills and work experience.
A well-formatted resume will make recruiters pay attention to the most important details of your resume.
The 3 Main Resume Formats
Each of the three main resume formats—reverse-chronological, functional, and combination—has a different structure, focusing either on your work experience, skills, or both.
Here’s what they look like:
Now, let’s briefly see what each one is about:
Common Resume Formats
Reverse-chronological resume format lists your work experience in reverse-chronological order, as suggested by its name. It starts with your most recent job, followed by the prior positions you held. This resume format is the most popular one, as it’s easy to read and accommodates job seekers with different experience levels.
Functional resume format is also known as a skill-based resume format because it emphasizes your skills rather than your work experience. As such, it’s a good choice for people who don’t have relevant work experience.
Combination resume format combines the first two formats by highlighting both relevant skills and your work history.
The resume summary or resume objective, contact details, skills (or skills summary), and education sections are common to all three resume formats mentioned above.
#1. Reverse-Chronological Resume Format
Let’s start with the most popular resume format—the reverse-chronological:
Reverse-Chronological Resume Sections
Here are the sections your reverse-chronological resume should contain:
Contact information. This includes your full name, phone number, email address, and your city and state/country.
Resume summary or resume objective. Here you should sum up your work experience, skills, and top achievements in a couple of sentences to capture the recruiter’s attention. Alternatively, you can use a resume objective to explain your motivation for working at this specific company.
Work experience. To make your resume easy to follow, list the positions you've held in reverse-chronological order (starting from the most recent one). You can expand on each point by listing the achievements you’re most proud of and the main responsibilities of the role.
Education. This is a place where you should explain your educational background. It’s a great chance to mention whether you have a B.A./high school diploma, or if you are still a student. If you’ve graduated from a university or college, you can skip your high school diploma and add some optional sections instead.
Skills (including both soft and hard ones). Include the ones that are really important and relevant to the job you’re applying for and avoid the ones that don’t have anything to do with it.
You can also include optional sections where you’ll list your awards, certificates, volunteer experience, and more.
When to Use the Reverse-Chronological Resume Format
Generally speaking, using the reverse chronological resume format is almost always a good idea, and especially so if:
You have plenty of work experience
Your career has advanced steadily and/or in one field
You don’t have gaps in your employment history
Note that this resume format is the obvious choice in most cases and is preferred by recruiters.
Reverse-Chronological Resume Format Pros
ATS-friendly, which increases the likelihood that your resume will reach the hiring manager
The most popular resume format around the globe
Easy to follow and skim through, which is why recruiters prefer it
Highlights your work experience, which is typically the most important section of your resume
Reverse-Chronological Resume Format Cons
Not the best resume format for people who have decided to change careers or have multiple employment gaps
Difficult to use if you don’t have any work experience
#2. Functional Resume Format
The reverse-chronological resume format highlights your work experience, but what if you don’t have any? The functional resume format might be your answer!
Here’s what it looks like:
Functional Resume Sections
The functional resume format should contain the following sections:
Resume objective or resume summary
Additional sections, such as volunteering experience, hobbies, languages, etc. (optional)
When to Use the Functional Resume Format
Consider using the functional resume format in the following situations:
You have one or multiple gaps in your employment history, and you don’t want them to grab the attention of your potential employer
You have little to no work experience
You’re switching careers, so your work experience doesn’t include relevant job positions
Functional Resume Format Pros
Moves the focus onto your skills
Useful for students who are applying for their first job
Allows you to hide any employment gaps
If you’re making a career change, it can help you draw attention to your transferable skills
Functional Resume Format Cons
Is nowhere near as popular as the reverse-chronological format, and some recruiters aren’t familiar with it
Isn’t very ATS-friendly, which means your resume might not reach the recruiter
Disregards your work experience and might seem like an attempt to hide a lack of it
#3. Combination (Hybrid) Resume Format
Now, let’s take a look at the combination resume format, which combines both resume formats we’ve mentioned above.
Here’s what the combination resume format looks like:
Combination (Hybrid) Resume Sections
The combination resume format should contain the following sections:
When to Use the Combination Resume Format
The hybrid resume format can be a great choice if you:
Are a senior-level applicant with a broad set of skills and substantial work experience
Work in a creative field where skills are as important as the previous jobs you held
Contains the strong points of the reverse-chronological and functional resume formats
Unlike the functional resume format, it includes a chronological summary of your work experience
Allows seasoned professionals to showcase both their work experience and their skills
Combination Resume Format Cons
Doesn’t work for candidates with no or minimal work experience
ATS find this resume format difficult to scan, and recruiters might find it confusing
How to Choose the Right Resume Format for You
After learning more about the three most common and popular resume formats, it’s time to decide which one is best for you.
It’s simple—in most cases, the reverse chronological resume format is the way to go, as it’s really popular and quite easy to make. It’s also ATS-friendly, which is rather important because your resume will likely end up in the recycle bin if the software can’t read it.
Another reason to stick to this resume format is that recruiters and hiring managers all around the world favor this option.
The other two resume formats aren’t nearly as popular since they only work in specific cases. For example, if you decide to switch careers and don’t have relevant experience in the chosen field, you can rely on the functional or hybrid resume format. The same goes for people with gaps in their work experience or students who want to land their first job.
Yet, one of the biggest issues concerning both functional and combination resume formats is that the ATS may find them unreadable. In such cases, your resume will be rejected immediately without even making it to your recruiter’s hands.
The takeaway is that, more often than not, you simply can’t go wrong with the reverse-chronological resume format!
How to Format a Resume in 8 Simple Steps
The idea behind formatting your resume is to create an easy-to-read, professional-looking document. A well-formatted resume will make a good impression on the recruiters, allowing them to review your application more easily and find all the necessary information in no time.
Here are 8 simple steps you should follow to create an attractive and easy-to-follow resume:
#1. Pick the Right Resume Format
As previously mentioned, you can’t go wrong if you choose the most popular option—the reverse-chronological format. Not only will it emphasize your work experience in the best possible way, but it’s also simple and suitable for most types of candidates.
While the functional and combination resume types can help in some situations too, many recruiters aren’t familiar with them. Due to this, they may find your resume difficult to read, automatically discard it, or even think you’re trying to hide the fact that you’re inexperienced.
#2. Set the Margin Size
By properly setting the margins in your resume, you can make sure that the text will fit within the readable space of the page. One inch on all four sides is the standard margin for resumes and other formal documents (e.g., cover letters and resignation letters).
Still, if you have plenty of work experience, you might need to use narrower margins to fit all the information on one page. In such cases, it’s best to reduce your margins to 0.75 inches or anywhere above 0.5 inches. When the file is processed by an ATS or converted to PDF, the text that extends outside the 0.5-inch margins often ends up missing.
Align all the text on your resume to the left, including headings. This will improve readability since the eye automatically moves back to the left margin when it's time to move on to the next line of text.
#3. Choose a Legible Font
The font you use on your resume should be easy to read and look professional at the same time. This means you should stick to legible, commonly used fonts such as:
Commonly Used Fonts
Times New Roman
When it comes to font size, it should be between 10 and 12 points for the body text. Your name and headers should be larger to separate different resume sections visually.
#4. Start with a Resume Objective
A resume objective is located at the very top of your resume and is the first thing that catches a recruiter’s eye.
This is a brief statement that sums up your professional goals and their relevance to the position you’re applying for. Its purpose is to instantly show the employer whether you might be a good fit for the job (similar to a resume summary).
A good resume objective should be specific, attention-grabbing, and focus on how you can contribute to the company’s success. Ideally, it should be no longer than two sentences.
#5. Structure Your Work Experience Correctly
You should list your previous (or current) job positions in reverse-chronological order to make sure your resume is consistent.
Besides, in most cases, your most recent jobs are the most relevant. By listing them at the very top, you can ensure that the recruiter will quickly find what they’re looking for. Not to mention, it helps them easily see your career progression.
A well-formatted work experience section should look something like this:
Work Experience Section Example
Job Title and Position Company Name and Location Month and Year of Employment
Responsibilities and Accomplishments
#6. Add Additional Resume Sections
Besides the standard elements every resume should have, you can also include some additional sections, such as:
Additional Section Examples
Licenses and certifications
Awards and honors
Associations and professional organizations
Publications and personal projects
Internships and volunteering experiences
Hobbies and interests
Keep in mind that you should only add these sections if you have some space left after filling in the rest of your resume. Let’s be honest—your hobbies and interests aren’t as central to your application as your work experience.
Still, in some cases, additional sections can be non-negotiable (e.g., if you’re applying to be a certified nursing assistant, you must include your certification).
#7. Don’t Go Over One Page
A one-page resume is definitely the most effective approach to applying for your desired job position.
A single page should have enough space for you to list all your skills, work experience, and achievements to show why you’re the right candidate for the specific job. If the resume is short, it will grab the attention of hiring managers more easily, as they usually don’t have time to read resumes that are two, three, or more pages long.
In certain situations, you won’t be able to fit all the information on one page, and that’s not something you should worry about. This mostly happens when you have 10+ years of relevant work experience or professional achievements. In such cases, it’s alright to expand your resume to fit everything in.
#8. Save Your Resume as a PDF or Docx
If you ask recruiters which resume file format they prefer, most of them will choose PDF.
However, if you don’t get specific instructions regarding the file format in the job description, feel free to use either PDF or Word.
Both PDF and Word file formats are ATS-friendly, which means you don’t have to worry about your resume not getting past the ATS scans.
Another important detail you shouldn’t miss is choosing an easy-to-scan file name so your resume doesn’t get lost. Here are a few rules you should follow when naming your resume file:
How to Properly Name your Resume
Use your first and last name together with the document type, which in this case is resume
Include the position you’re applying for (optional)
Separate the words with an underscore or a dash
Use title case
Here’s an example of an appropriately named file:
Resume Name Example
Some job descriptions will contain specific instructions for naming your resume file, and you should follow them. If you fail to do it, your application may be rejected.
How to Make Your Resume ATS-Friendly
Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are software apps that help recruiters track job applications. They scan resumes for relevant keywords, such as job titles, skills, and education.
With 75% of recruiters using ATS, optimizing your resume for ATS is a must-do before submitting your application. Otherwise, it’ll be automatically rejected.
To get past the ATS scan, your resume has to be properly formatted and contain the right words. Any score over 80% is likely to be good enough to pass the ATS screening.
Here are some useful tips for improving a resume’s ATS score:
Tips to Make your Resume ATS-Friendly
Use the right keywords
Steer clear of special characters (stick to the standard, circle-shaped bullets)
Use legible fonts
Don’t use images, graphics, tables, or logos
3 Free Resume Samples You Can Use
#1. Reverse-Chronological Resume
#2. Functional Resume
#3. Combination (Hybrid) Resume
FAQs About Resume Formats
#1. What is the best resume format in 2024?
The best and most widely used resume format in 2024 is the reverse-chronological one. This format is preferred by recruiters and hiring managers because it is easy to skim. Moreover, it is more ATS-friendly than functional or combination resume formats.
#2. Is a resume format the same as a resume template?
The terms resume format and resume template are not synonymous.
A resume template is a document design that showcases your qualifications to employers in a professional and attractive way. A resume format, on the other hand, is the arrangement of elements found in a resume.
Simply put, resume templates can have different formats. It is up to you to choose the appropriate one for your resume template.
#3. What are the three most common resume formats?
The three most common resume formats are reverse-chronological, functional, and combination.
The reverse-chronological resume format lists work experience in reverse-chronological order, with the most recent job on top. The functional resume format focuses on skills rather than work experience, while the combination resume format highlights both aspects.
#4. How to format a resume the easiest way?
The easiest way to format a resume is by using a resume builder. Resume builders are interactive online tools that let you fill in the information and create a professional resume in a flash.
Using such programs helps you avoid the hassle of creating and formatting a resume from scratch. You’ll also get an ATS-optimized document, which means you don’t need to worry about whether the software will be able to scan your resume.
Another option is to find some good resume format examples or a sample resume format online and try to create your document based on them.
#5. What resume format is the best for students?
The functional resume format is the best choice for students (both college and high school) and recent graduates who are looking to land their first jobs. Since it emphasizes skills rather than work experience, it works great for job seekers with little to no work experience.
However, if you've held volunteer positions, internships, or part-time jobs as a student that relate to the position you’re applying for, you’re better off using the reverse-chronological resume format. You can include these instead of the work experience section.
#6. Which file format should I save my resume in?
If you don't get instructions on what file format you should use for your resume, save it as a PDF (preferable) or Word document. Most employers should be able to open these common file types with the software installed on their computers.