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Choosing a Format

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

Examples

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

Chronological Format

A chronological resume emphasizes your work and experiences by organizing around dates. Chronological resumes are easy to follow because they highlight experiences, career growth, and the names of companies and organizations. It is the most common resume format and the one most employers prefer.

You should use the chronological format when:

  • Your work or experience is closely related to your job or opportunity objective
  • Your previous job titles or roles are impressive
  • Your job or experience history shows growth
  • Your want to emphasize your accomplishments

This format, unfortunately, does not ensure that your skills are highlighted. 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.

Examples

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, they 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 if you wish to focus on special skills.  

Examples

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 sections about prior work or experiences and  sections about your functional and transferable skills.

Examples

Proofreading

As you proofread, make sure you are looking for consistent formatting and 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.

Page Length

Page length is usually determined by your relevant experience and the industry that you are submitting an application to. Resumes for new graduates and entry-level job-seekers are usually limited to one page dye to the fact that most students don't have enough relevant experience to justify more than a page. However, some students have lots of relevant experience that justifies a two page resume.  Additionally, some industries, such as education and health, expect two pages. If you’re tempted to go to two pages, be sure there is enough relevant material to justify the second page. If there isn't, think of ways to condense your resume to keep it at one page. Page length can additionally be supplmented for more information provided in a cover letter.

Sending Your Resume

Electronically

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

Paper

“Hard copy” resumes are still requested and good to bring to interviews, and you will 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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