Has your résumé format changed with the times?
If you’re like a lot of jobseekers, that would be a resounding “NO”.
The thing is, much has changed over the years with the job search process. One important change is the kind of résumé format you should use to ensure that it doesn’t end up at the bottom of the pile, never to be seen.
The good news is that when you use the correct format, you can significantly boost your résumé’s success rate by helping it get through the applicant tracking system software (ATS) and appease the human reader who literally has numerous elimination criteria and their finger on the delete button.
The bad news is that most people don’t know how to do this properly and then they wonder why – despite clearly being the “perfect fit” candidate – they aren’t getting the interview.
So, before you dust off your résumé and send it off or create something new, please read this article so that you understand what the format options are – what to use, what not use, and why.
What is a résumé format?
The format is the way the résumé is laid out.
It’s not about about design elements (i.e. colour, font type, etc.). It’s more about what information is included, where the information is placed, and how the information is delivered.
The 3 main résumé formats
So, let’s take a look at what the formats are, the pros and cons of each format, and when you should use them, if at all.
#1 – Reverse chronological
The reverse chronological résumé is the format that was predominantly used in the past with many jobseekers still defaulting to this format
Just like the name implies, this format lists the employment dates chronologically starting with the most recent position and working backwards.
Traditionally, it did not include a summary at the top and if it did, it was typically an objective statement which is an outmoded practice and not recommended.
The reverse chronological résumé focuses on the employment history by showing the employer’s name/location, job title, employment dates, and listing the duties/responsibilities under each position.
This format makes it clear where the candidate worked, for how long, and the kinds of skills they used in each position. In other words, it showcases what the candidate did.
Because the dates are attached to each position, the reader can calculate how many years of experience the candidate has in certain areas and how recent (or not) that experience is. This helps the employer determine if the candidate’s skills and experience meets their requirements.
This layout makes it easy for the hiring manager, recruiter, and HR professional to assess the candidate’s career progression and how much experience they have in certain areas and if it meets their criteria.
This traditional format is task-oriented and reads more like a boring, generic job description than an effective and compelling career marketing document.
While it presents what the candidate did in each role, it does not give any evidence of how well the candidate performed in each position.
Since there is no indication of what kind of specific positive results the candidate achieved, the reader doesn’t understand what kind of value the candidate could potentially deliver in the position they want to fill.
For someone who has work gaps, job hopping, or lack of career development (i.e. staying too long in a role) this format can’t downplay them very well if at all.
in the face of the highly competitive career landscape, the reverse chronological falls short and as far as I’m concerned, you should avoid it altogether.
Career red flags can be addressed by being strategic and using another format (keep reading) and can be addressed by a professional writer.
#2 – Functional
This format focuses almost entirely on the candidate’s soft and hard skills and is often categorized into specific areas of expertise.
The functional résumé leads with the areas of expertise which includes detailed information as to the candidate’s duties and responsibilities under each category but doesn’t show dates or the employer details . The focus is on the candidate’s skills set and what the candidate did.
The work history is treated as an after thought and sent to the end of the résumé, showing only the name of employer/location, job title, and employment dates. There is typically little to no information provided that would give the reader an idea of what the candidate did in each role and for how long.
Once again, this format typically doesn’t include a summary and if it does, it’s usually an objective statement which as I already pointed out, is an outmoded practice.
This type of résumé still seems to be the go-to format for candidates who have “red flags” they want to hide such as work gaps, lack of career progression, lack of experience, and job hopping.
Because it’s often the candidates with challenging backgrounds who use this format, the functional résumé screams “Houston, there’s a problem”. As a result, the employer assumes there is a “problem” and will move on to the next better résumé that clearly shows the career progression.
I know what you’re thinking.
Why wouldn’t the hiring manager just contact the candidate to clarify the information, get more details, and address any concerns?
They’re too busy. They have about 200 other potential candidates to sift through, many of whom are using a better résumé format that gives them they information they’re looking for.
I personally don’t think there are any advantages to using this format. There are better ways to address career red flags and using the functional format isn’t one of them.
Like the reverse chronological, the functional format is often task-oriented and focuses entirely on the candidate’s areas of expertise such as Sales, Customer Service, Administration, and Marketing.
The biggest problem with this format is that it isn’t clear about how many months/years experience the candidate has in each area of expertise and what they accomplished in each of those areas and where (i.e. employers). It’s more about their skills and what they did as opposed to how their contributions impacted the companies they worked for.
This is another format that reads like a boring job description and says nothing about how the candidate’s skills, knowledge, and experience positively impacted their employers.
If you have a good work progression and you don’t have any major “red flags”, using the functional format is actually hurting your chances, so don’t go there.
#3 – Combination/Hybrid/Modern
As the name suggests, the combination format combines the best of the reverse chronological and the functional formats and is sometimes call a hybrid or modern format.
The main sections of the combination résumé are as follows:
Career Summary/Professional Profile. This is not an objective statement, but rather, a short paragraph near the top of the document that summarizes the candidate’s specific and quantifiable value. It’s also referred to as a value statement, value summary, or value proposition.
Areas of Expertise. This is a skills section that highlights key and relevant hard and soft skills.
Work Experience. This is where the employer, job title, and employment dates are shown in reverse chronological order. It uses strong impact statements in bullet points that clearly communicate key contributions and accomplishments.
Additional Sections. Education, Professional Development, Technical Skills, and other applicable sections.
The 7 main criteria of a modern, combination résumé is that it:
i) is targeted to a specific position
II) contains industry keywords
iii) showcases specific and measurable accomplishments
iv) communicates the candidate’s value proposition throughout
v) is ATS friendly
vi) is easy to skim quickly (readability)
vii) is ideally 2 to 3 pages max
A strong, combination résumé will include strategically designed marketing elements that strategically placed to stand out, grab immediate attention, and generate interest by clearly communicating the specific, quantitative value of the candidate that addresses the needs of the employer.
Marketing elements include things like a target job title, headline, and other strategies that can be inserted in key spots of the document to increase impact.
If done properly, this format makes it very easy for the employer to understand immediately what kind of value the candidate can bring to the table. They can see at a glance, what the candidate did, where they did it, for how long, and the kinds of accomplishments they achieved over their career trajectory.
Because it addresses the job requirements and delivers what the employer is seeking, this format is very effective in generating the kind of interest that’s needed to motivate the hiring manager to reach out to the candidate to learn more.
Unlike the reverse chronological and functional formats which are both pretty easy to slap together in an hour or two, the effectiveness of a combination résumé relies on having a clear marketing strategy so it’s much more complicated and time-consuming to develop.
The format you use is very important
It signals to the the employer how up-to-date you are with résumé development.
If you use a modern, up-to-date format, you’ll look modern and up-to-date.
If you use something from the dark ages, you’ll look like a fossil.
The format you use will determine how well it will pass through the ATS.
A properly-crafted modern résumé has as way better chance of getting through the ATS.
A dated format will likely be the 75% or so that don’t.
The format you use will determine if the human reader will even read it.
Recruiters and Hiring Managers are way more likely to read the modern résumé format because they can “see” if there’s a potential fit.
They don’t like the traditional formats which don’t give them the information they are looking for and might even pass them over.
So, to wrap it up….
If you want to be perceived as a candidate who’s current and well informed and want to be contacted for the interview, you need a résumé that’s going to get over the hurdles and onto the “must call” pile. The best way to achieve that is to use the combination format.
Creating a modern résumé is a little tricky, so take advantage of the free resources and contact me if you get stuck.
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Hi! I’m Diana.
I draw from over 15 years recruitment, career/job search coaching, and sales/marketing experience to help all kinds of jobseekers stand out, get noticed, and get hired for their dream job.
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