Resumes & Cover Letters

2021’s Top Resume Formats: Tips and Examples of Three Common Resumes

June 25, 2021

A great resume can capture the attention of a recruiter or hiring manager and help you stand out from other applicants. There are different ways you can format your resume, but the three most common resume formats are chronological, functional and combination. Each of these resume types can be beneficial depending on your background and objectives. When making specific formatting decisions — like margin size or font style — your goal is to deliver an easily scannable document that allows employers to quickly see why you’re a good fit for the job.

In this guide, we discuss the best ways to format your resume for your career objectives. Let’s begin by looking at the three main types of resumes and which would be best for you. You can also start by browsing free professional resume templates on Indeed, designed specifically with the format and fields that employers and robots (applicant tracking system or ATS) look for.

Related: Strategies To Beat the Applicant Tracking System and Land the Interview

What are the most popular resume formats?

The three most common resume formats are chronological, functional and combination. When deciding which resume format you should use, consider your professional history and the role you’re applying for. For example, if you have limited work experience, you might instead focus on academic work, volunteer positions or apprenticeships with a functional resume instead of a chronological resume, which prioritizes job history.
In the next sections, we’ll explore each resume format type in detail, including which is best based on common job search situations.

Resume format 1: Chronological resumes

A chronological resume lists your work experience in reverse-chronological order, starting with your most recent position at the top. This is the most traditional resume format and for many years remained the most common.

Chronological Resume Format
Image description

Chronological Resume Format
1. Name and contact information
2. Summary or objective
3. Professional history
4. Educational history
5. Skills and abilities

A chronological resume format usually includes the following information in this order:

  • Contact information
  • Objective or summary statement
  • Relevant skills
  • Professional experience
  • Education
  • Additional information (i.e., volunteer work and special interests—optional)

When to use a chronological resume

A chronological resume is a good choice for anyone whose employment history shows a consistent, advancing career path. For example, you might select a chronological resume format if you’ve spent the past several years in the same industry and each role you’ve held was more senior than the last. It’s also often used by people who are applying to a position in the same or similar field to the majority of their work experience.

However, if you have multiple gaps in your employment history, you’re looking to change careers or your work experience is heavily varied, you may want to consider a functional or combination resume.

Resume format 2: Functional resumes

Functional resumes focus more on relevant skills than work history. While the chronological format highlights work experience with detailed summaries of the achievements within each position, the functional format focuses on the applicant’s skill set relevant to the role you are applying for.

Functional Resume Format
Image description

Functional Resume Format
1. Name and contact information
2. Summary
3. Skills grouped by theme
4. Any relevant professional experience
5. Education

A functional resume format usually includes the following information in this order:

  • Contact information
  • Objective or summary statement
  • Summary of relevant skills
  • Work experience
  • Education
  • Additional information (i.e., volunteer work and special interests)

When to use a functional resume

If you have one long gap or multiple employment gaps in your resume in the past five years, are a first-time worker or are drastically changing career paths, then consider a functional resume. By highlighting skills that transfer across industries and your most relevant accomplishments, you can emphasize the right qualifications for the position you want. This also prioritizes the information that’s most important to a recruiter rather than focusing on a work history that doesn’t align with the job.

In some cases, a functional resume might be too limiting. If you have some experience and few or no gaps in your employment history, a combination resume might be the right choice.

Resume format 3: Combination resumes

A combination resume is a blend of the chronological and functional resume types. This resume format allows you to emphasize both your work experience and relevant skills. Because your skills and employment history will consume most of your resume space, you may need to eliminate optional sections such as a summary statement, volunteer work or special interests.

Combination Resume Format
Image description

Combination Resume Format

  1. Name and contact information
  2. Summary
  3. Skills and abilities
  4. Professional experience
  5. Education
  6. Awards

A combination resume format usually includes the following information in this order:

  • Contact information
  • Objective or summary statement
  • Summary of most relevant skills
  • Work experience
  • Education

The combination resume is a more flexible format, so you should list either your skills or your work experience first depending on which you consider more important for the role. For example, if you have many unique skills that are especially valuable to the industry in which you’re applying to work, you might consider listing them above your work experience. It can also be helpful to look for clues in the job posting to understand what is most important for the employer in an ideal candidate.

When to use a combination resume

A combination resume may be best for you if you're making a slight career transition or if you have a diverse employment history where relevancy to the role you’re applying for may not be immediately clear. For example, you might use a combination resume if you’re applying for a people manager position and you have extensive experience managing teams but you’ve never officially had a “manager” job title. This format can help showcase your leadership accomplishments and transferable leadership skills.

Related: How To Format a Fresher Resume (With Tips and Examples)

Why are these the best resume formats?

These three resume formats are some of the best options because they’re easy to read and the most likely to be processed through an ATS without critical errors.

Recruiters often have to review many resumes for a single open role. They can read a resume in a standard format more easily and thoroughly because they know where to find the information they’re looking for. For example, if a role requires a specific skill, a recruiter will look for it in your skills section included either above or below your work experience. They have a limited amount of time to spend reviewing each resume, so they may move on and assume you don’t possess the qualification if it takes too long to find the right information.

Also, most applicant tracking systems will perform a more accurate review of your resume if the format is simple, straightforward and follows a few basic rules. The three resume formats discussed in this article mostly adhere to these best practices, though some ATS may have difficulties scanning a functional resume, and can help ensure that your resume is successfully processed through an ATS review.

Related: 13 Best Practices for Beating an Applicant Tracking System

How to format a resume

The goal of formatting your resume is to create a professional-looking, easy-to-read document. Employers have only a short time to look through your resume, so your formatting decisions should make information clear and easy to find. If you are formatting an existing resume, you might need to adjust certain words or phrases to ensure it is still easy to read after you’ve applied formatting changes. If you are formatting a resume before you write it, be sure to pay attention to how the information looks on the page and adjust as needed.

Resume Format
Image description

Resume Format
1. Name and contact information
2. Summary or objective
3. Professional history
a. Company name
b. Dates of tenure
c. Description of role and achievement
4. Education
5. Skills
6. Optional (Awards & Achievements, Hobbies & Interests)

Here are the key steps for formatting a resume. Let’s look at each of these components in detail. Consider how you might apply each of these when drafting or updating your resume.

1. Apply appropriate margins.

Setting proper margins for your document ensures the information fits within the readable space on the page. Standard margins for resumes and other professional documents like cover letters or resignation letters are one inch on all sides.

If you have a fairly short resume with a lot of blank space, one-inch margins will likely be the best option to create a well-spaced document with text that fills up the page. If you require more space to describe your relevant skills and experience, then you might reduce your margins to .75 inches. If you decide to adjust your margins, you should keep them at or above .5 inches. Text that spans outside .5 inch margins is often left out when the file is converted to a PDF or processed by an ATS.

Pro tip: Left-align all the text on your resume since it’s the easiest format for reviewers to read. If you prefer, you can center-align your name, contact information and headline. If you do choose to center-align any text, this is the only section that should be considered.

2. Select a professional, readable font.

When deciding what font to use for your resume, keep in mind that it should be clear and easy to read. Making sure employers don’t have to work to understand words on your resume is the most important factor when choosing a font. It is also helpful if your resume is sent through an applicant tracking system. Many employers use an ATS, which doesn’t always read and interpret intricate fonts well. You should also avoid “light” or “thin” fonts which can sometimes be difficult for people to read on a screen or paper.

Related: How To Write an ATS-Friendly Resume

There are two main categories of fonts — serif and sans serif. Serif fonts have tails while sans serif fonts do not. Sans serif fonts (or fonts without tails) are generally good fonts for resumes because they have clean lines that are easy to read. There are fonts like Georgia, however, that are still widely accepted among employers as simple and professional.

Here are several examples of the best resume fonts:

  • Avenir
  • Calibri
  • Cambria
  • Constantia
  • Corbel
  • Franklin Gothic
  • Garamond
  • Georgia
  • Gill Sans
  • Helvetica

Related: Best Font for a Resume: How To Choose Type and Size

3. Make your font size 10 to 12 points.

Another factor in making your words clear and readable is setting an appropriate font size. Generally, you should stay between 10 and 12 points. If you have a shorter resume and are trying to fill space, select a 12-point font. Anything larger might appear unprofessional. If you have a lot of information on your resume, start with a 10-point font and increase it if you have space.

If your resume is still more than one page with a 10-point font, avoid reducing your font further. Instead, see if there is an opportunity to make your ideas more concise. You can do this by removing any irrelevant or extraneous information, combining ideas or making your ideas briefer with shorter sentences and fewer filler words.

For example, here’s a sentence in a resume that can be shortened:

“Performed inventory audits every month and discovered issues with over-ordering — executed an organization solution across all teams which resulted in a 10% increase in revenue over the next two quarters.”

Make your ideas concise and remove filler words to include only the core value of your statement:

“Performed regular inventory audits, identifying and solving over-ordering issues to achieve 10% revenue increase.”

Here are a few other ways you can use to make a shorter resume:

  • Consider removing filler words such as “like,” “with,” “a,” “and” and “that.”
  • Instead of listing each function of every job you’ve held, pick 2-3 key impacts you made in those roles.
  • If you have two similar points, consider combining them into one brief statement.
  • Adjust the spacing between sections.

Related: Q&A: How Long Should a Resume Be?

4. Feature section headers

Bolding, underlining or increasing the font size by one or two points for section headers can help employers quickly find the information they are looking for. Be careful when formatting section headers—they should be differentiated from the section body in a clean, professional way. You can stylize your headers in a few different ways:

  • Use a “bold” font on your section headers.
  • Increase the size of your section header fonts to 12 or 14 points.
  • Underline your section headers.

You can also apply these styles to your name and contact information at the top of your resume. This information should be the first thing employers see, and it should be easy to read and reference.

Pro tip: When differentiating section headers, avoid inserting lines that span across the page. Often, when an ATS reads a formatting element like this, errors will occur like scrambled text which can make your resume difficult to decipher.

Related: Resume Headings for Listing Your Experience

5. Use bullet points where appropriate.

Using bullet points in your experience, skills or education sections allows employers to easily read the most relevant information from your background. Bullet points should be used to list your achievements. Avoid using only one or two bullet points in a single section — if you have less than three pieces of information, simply list them without bullets in sentence form or use other punctuation to separate different ideas.

For example, when describing a role you’ve held in the experience section of your resume, you would use bullets to communicate how you were successful in that role:

  • Consistently operated overhead cranes, hoists, power tools and other project equipment safely
  • Anticipated needs of 11 on-site workers and delivered parts to 23 field technicians
  • Completed weekly service reports, time cards and other related project equipment paperwork

In the education section, you might not have three or more ideas to share, so it might look something like this without bullet points:

CORAL SPRINGS UNIVERSITY, May 2020
Juris Doctor
Florida Bar Board Certified

Related: Using Bullet Points To Make Your Resume More Readable (With Examples)

6. Ask for feedback.

After you’ve finished writing and formatting your resume, ask trusted friends or colleagues to review it. It can be helpful to have an outside perspective and feedback. While they should look for grammar and spelling mistakes you might have missed, they should also pay attention to your formatting. Ask them to look for readability, consistency and a professional look and feel.

Related: 27 Proofreading Tips That Will Improve Your Resume

Resume format examples

When drafting or updating your resume, consider reviewing resume samples from within your industry and profession. While they shouldn’t be used as exact templates, they can give you ideas for how best to present your qualifications to employers.

Related: How To Use Resume Samples

Here are examples of what a resume might look like following each of the three formats:

Chronological

José Alvarez
1234 Main Street I Houston, TX 77002 I jalvarez@email.com

Summary
Passionate and dedicated communications professional with 6 years of experience seeking a position with a nonprofit organization where I can apply my public relations skills and my passion for philanthropy.

Professional Skills
Public relations management I Corporate communications I Team leadership I Interpersonal communications I Process streamlining

Experience
Public Relations Manager
The Volunteer Foundation, 2017–Present

  • Plan and direct public relations programs to create a positive public image for The Volunteer Foundation.
  • Manage PR staff and act as mentor to junior public relations personnel.

Public Relations Specialist
The Volunteer Foundation, 2015–2017

  • Supported the PR team to ensure all fundraising efforts, local events and other special projects met the organization’s brand guidelines and upheld a favorable public image.
  • Managed a team of 10 volunteers.

Communications Coordinator
ABC Company 2013–2015

  • Increased brand visibility through various marketing efforts, including social media campaigns and digital advertising efforts.
  • Helped conceptualize and distribute printed marketing materials.

Education
Texas State University, Bachelor of Arts in Journalism

Volunteer Work
American Red Cross, Disaster Volunteer, Public Affairs, 2016–Present

Functional

Janice Johnson
1234 City Street I Atlanta, GA 30307 I jjohnson@email.com

Summary
Hardworking and driven sales professional with more than 10 years of experience seeking an account management position in the healthcare industry.

Areas of Expertise
Medical Device, Supplies & Pharmaceutical Sales
I have a wealth of experience in selling to healthcare organizations ranging from large hospitals to small private practices. In previous roles, I’ve managed prospecting efforts, relationship development, new client onboarding and account management within both the medical device and pharmaceutical product verticals.

Relationship Management
I am skilled in developing and new relationships with prospects and nurturing relationships with existing clients. In previous roles, I used a combination of proficiency in conflict resolution and my ability to build rapport to increase client retention rates as high as 300% year over year.

Sales Team Leadership
I have managed a sales team of more than 10 sales associates at a time, coached and mentored junior sales representatives and regularly lead teams to exceed monthly, quarterly and yearly quotas.

Work Experience
Regional Sales Manager
ABC Medical Supplies, Inc., 2012–2017

  • Managed a team of 20 sales associates.
  • Trained and mentored new sales representatives.
  • Oversaw regional account list averaging more than 90 existing clients and 40 prospects.

Account Manager
XYZ Pharma Co., 2008–2012

  • Managed an account list with more than 30 clients including private practices and mid-sized clinics.
  • Worked to maximize account growth through regular on-site visits, monthly check-ins and quarterly updates.

Junior Sales Associate
XYZ Pharma Co., 2006–2008

  • Increased awareness of XYZ Pharma Co. products to small private practices through on-site education.
  • Shared information about new medications to help establish relationships with new prospects.

Education
University of Georgia, Bachelor of Science in Business Administration

Certifications
Certified National Pharmaceutical Representative

Related: 10 Resume Writing Tips to Help You Land a Job

Combination

Julie Pak
555 Main Avenue I San Diego, CA 92104 I jpak@email.com

Professional Experience
Creative Director
ABC Co., 2013–2015

  • Manage a team of 12 creatives, including designers and copywriters.
  • Oversee all in-house creative projects and ensure all deliverables meet brand guidelines.

Senior Graphic Designer
ABC Company, 2013–2015

  • *Designed creative for all digital properties.
  • *Spearheaded website redesign results in a 40% improvement in bounce rate.
  • Developed in-house brand style guide currently used by the entire creative department.

Graphic Designer
XYZ Creative Agency, 2010–2013

  • Develop visual concepts for web and print design, including websites, mobile sites, digital ads, business cards and trade show collateral.

Related Skills
Team Management
Coordinate team of creative resources, lead team meetings and offer to mentor as needed.

Project Management
Manage all aspects of creative projects, including timeline, resource coordination, internal communication and sharing progress reports with outside stakeholders.

Branding
Create logos, design brand marks, offer brand color recommendations and create style guides to ensure cohesiveness across all assets.

Additional Skills
Illustration, Typography, Client Communication, Time Management, Mobile Design, Adobe Creative Suite

Education
University of California, San Diego
Bachelor of Art in Advertising, Certificate in Graphic Design

Related: Resume Samples and Templates

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