A great resume can capture the attention of a recruiter or hiring manager and help you stand out from other applicants. Formatting your resume is an important step in creating a professional, readable resume.
There are several different ways to format your resume. One of the first decisions you should make is the type of resume you will write: chronological, functional or combination. Each of these resume types is beneficial for different people who have various backgrounds and objectives. When making specific formatting decisions like margin size or font style, you goal is to deliver a document that allows employers to quickly see why you’re a good fit for the job.
In this guide we will discuss the best ways to format your resume for your career objectives. While you might be formatting your existing resume for new job applications, you can also make certain formatting decisions before you begin writing. This allows you to construct a resume within the guidelines of proper formatting. For example, setting one-inch margins provides a structure so you will know how long your resume is when formatting is applied. From there, you can adjust font size and style as needed.
Let’s begin by looking at the three main types of resumes and which would be best for you.
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Types of resume formats
There are three popular resume formats: chronological, functional and combination.
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.
A chronological resume format usually includes the following information in this order:
- Contact information
- Objective or summary statement
- Professional experience
- Relevant skills
- Additional information (i.e., volunteer work and special interests—optional)
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.
Functional resume 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.
A functional resume format usually includes the following information in this order:
- Contact information
- Objective or summary statement
- Summary of relevant skills
- Work experience
- Additional information (i.e., volunteer work and special interests)
A functional resume is best if you have multiple gaps in employment, are shifting careers with little to no experience in the industry in which you’re applying or if you’re re-entering the workforce after a lengthy break.
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.
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 volunteer work or special interests.
A combination resume format usually includes the following information in this order:
- Contact information
- Objective or summary statement
- Work experience
- Summary of most relevant skills
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.
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’d 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.
Here are the key steps for formatting a resume:
- Apply appropriate margins
- Select a professional, readable font
- Make your font size 10–12 points
- Feature section headers
- Use bullet points
- Ask for feedback
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 a highly readable space on the page. Standard margins for resumes and other professional documents like cover letters or resignation letters is one inch on all sides. If you have a fairly short resume with a lot of blank space, you can use wider margins to create a less distracting document that appears more full. If you decide to adjust your margins, you should keep them below 1.5 inches.
You should also make sure to left-align your resume so it is easy to read. If appropriate and readable, you might to decide to center-align certain section headers to stylize your resume.
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 application tracking system (ATS). 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 to read on a screen or on paper.
Related: Best Font for a Resume: How to Choose Type and Size
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:
- Franklin Gothic
- Gill Sans
3. Make your font size 10–12 points
Another factor in making your words highly readable is setting an appropriate font size. Generally, you should stay between 10 and 12 points. If you are trying to reduce white space, select a 12-point font. Anything more might appear cartoonish or unprofessional. If you have a lot of information on your page, 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 and see if there is opportunity to make your ideas more brief instead. You can do this by removing any irrelevant or extraneous information, combining ideas or making your ideas more brief with shorter sentences and less filler words.
For example, here’s a resume sentence that can be shortened:
“Performed inventory audits on a monthly basis 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 problem 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 points that are similar, consider combining them into one brief statement
Related: Q&A: How Long Should a Resume Be?
4. Feature section headers
Bolding, underlining or increasing the font size 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, 14 or 16 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.
5. Use bullet points where appropriate
Using bullet points in your experience, skills or education sections allows employers to easily consumer the most relevant pieces of information from your background. Bullet points should be used to list your achievements. Avoid using one or two bullet points—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, under a position you’ve held in the experience section, you would use bullets to communicate how you were successful in that role:
- Consistently operated overhead cranes, hoists, power tools and other project equipment in a safe manner
- 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
Aug ’10–May ’14
Florida Bar Board Certified
6. Ask for feedback
After you’ve finished writing and formatting your resume, ask trusted friends or colleagues to review. It can be helpful to have a third-party perspective provide their view 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 in your industry and job title. While they are not to be used as exact templates, it 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:
1234 Main Street
Houston, TX 77002
I am a passionate and dedicated communications professional seeking a position with a nonprofit organization where I can apply my public relations skills and my passion for philanthropy.
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
Worked alongside 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.
ABC Company 2013–2015
Help increase brand visibility through various marketing efforts, including social media campaigns and digital advertising efforts. Helped conceptualize and distribute printed marketing materials.
- Public relations management
- Corporate communications
- Team leadership
- Interpersonal communications
- Process streamlining
Texas State University, 2008–2012
Bachelor of Arts in Journalism
American Red Cross
Disaster Volunteer, Public Affairs
2016 – Present
1234 City Street
Atlanta, GA 30307
I am a hardworking and driven sales professional with more than ten 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 on-boarding and account management within both the medical device and pharmaceutical product verticals.
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 teams of more than ten sales associates at a time, coached and mentored junior sales representatives and regularly lead teams to exceed monthly, quarterly an yearly quotas.
Regional Sales Manager
ABC Medical Supplies, Inc., 2012–2017
Managed a team of sales associates. Trained and mentored new sales representatives. Oversaw regional account list averaging more than 90 existing clients and 40 prospects.
XYZ Pharma Co., 2008–2012
Managed a lengthy account list 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
Increase awareness of XYZ Pharma Co. products to small private practices through on-site education. Share information about new medications to help establish relationships with new prospects.
University of Georgia, 2002–2006
Bachelor of Science in Business Administration
University of Georgia
Certified National Pharmaceutical Representative (CNPR)
555 Main Avenue
San Diego, CA 92104
ABC Company, 2015–Present
Manage a team of twelve 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
Design creative for all digital properties. Spearheaded website re-design. Developed in-house brand style guide currently used by entire creative department.
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.
Coordinate team of creative resources, lead team meetings and offer mentoring as needed.
Manage all aspects of creative projects, including timeline, resource coordination, internal communication and sharing progress reports with outside stakeholders.
Create logos, design brand marks, offer brand color recommendations and create style guide to ensure cohesiveness across all assets.
Illustration, Typography, Client Communication, Time Management, Mobile Design, Adobe Creative Suite
University of California, San Diego, 2005–2009
Bachelor of Art in Advertising, Certificate in Graphic Design
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