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Format and Appearance

Choosing a Format

Resumes are usually formatted in one of three styles: chronological, functional, or combination. The types of format that you use depends on what your background and skills are, what experiences you want to highlight, what your priorities are for highlighting certain experiences, and what types of work you are seeking.


See how our student, “James Madison,” used each format to organize his experiences:

Chronological Format

A chronological resume emphasizes your work and experiences and organizes it around dates. Chronological resumes are easy to follow, because they highlight experiences, career growth, and companies’ or organization’s names. It is the most common resume format, and also the one most employers prefer.

You should use the chronological format when the following applies:

  • Work or experience is closely related to your job or opportunity objective
  • Previous job titles or roles are impressive
  • Job or experience history shows growth
  • Accomplishments can be emphasized

This format, unfortunately, does not ensure that your skills are highlighted, and it may show gaps in your career path. List jobs or experiences in reverse chronological order under each heading with your most recent position or experience first.


Functional Format

A functional resume organizes information under headings that highlight your areas of accomplishment or strengths. Your experiences and skills are organized to support your job objective and are not bound by employment dates, whereas your titles and work experiences are de-emphasized. You may draw upon all sources of experience (e.g. employment, volunteer work, college activities, and coursework) to describe your skills. Since functional resumes emphasize your skills, it can be useful for when you want to enter into a different career field or illustrate your transferable skills. Although the functional resume takes longer to prepare, it can be more effective than the chronological format. This is especially true if your work experiences have been limited, or you wish to focus on special skills.  


Combination Format

A combination resume includes aspects of both chronological and functional formats. Experiences and skills are emphasized equally. This format allows you to include a section about prior work or experiences and a section about your functional and transferable skills.


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As you proofread, make sure you are looking for consistent formatting and consistent verb tense usage in descriptions. Write action verbs in past tense with the exception of current experiences. Proofread for misspelled words and grammatical errors. Do not rely solely on “spell check” to catch errors, because words may be spelled correctly but mean something different than you intended.

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Page Length

Page length is usually determined by your relevant experience and the industry that you are submitting an application. Resumes for new graduates and entry-level job-seekers are often, but not always, one page. Most new graduates don't have enough relevant experience to justify more than a page; however, some do have lots of relevant experience that justifies a 2 page resume.  Additionally, some industries expect 2 pages, such as education and health. If you’re tempted to go to 2 pages, be sure there is enough relevant material to justify a second page.

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Sending Your Resume


For many applications, sending materials electronically is becoming customary.  When you submit a resume through email or other electronic format, send it as a .pdf file so that your resume looks the way you intended it to look when the file is opened. There are many free .pdf conversion programs that you can search for and download.


“Hard copy” resumes are still requested and good to bring to interviews, and you’ll use printed resumes at Career Fairs. When printing a resume on paper, choose traditional colors like white or off-white. Use the same paper for both your cover letter and resume. The Bookstore and Copy Center on campus both sell resume paper.

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