Resume Structure and Formatting
The overall look of your resume matters almost as much as its content – at least when it comes to that first impression. An ugly or unreadable resume will not do you any favors.
These insights will help you give your resume some style while ensuring it’s a breeze to read.
I’ll share layout strategies that enhance the flow of information, direct the eye to key sections, and create a cohesive visual experience. Whether it’s the strategic placement of headings or the thoughtful use of white space, these layout techniques can elevate your resume’s impact.
The thoughtful use of fonts, bullet points, and layout can influence readability, ensuring important details stand out. This attention to formatting might seem unimportant, but when it comes to making an impression, these details are a big deal.
By the end of this lesson, you’ll not only understand the ‘how’ but also the ‘why’ behind effective resume structure and formatting. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be well-equipped to craft a resume that doesn’t just list your achievements but truly showcases your potential.
Resume Resume Formats: Chronological, Functional, and Combination
When choosing the perfect resume format, remember that you’re not just creating a document – you’re creating an opportunity.
The layout of your resume is like choosing the perfect outfit to showcase your professional persona. Like a well-tailored suit or a fashionable dress, the format is crucial in making a lasting impression.
The fun part is that you can choose a format that truly represents your individuality and showcases your unique strengths.
There are three main resume formats, each with pros and cons. Understanding these formats and ideal use cases for each style lets you choose the most suitable format for your needs.
Will you opt for a traditional and polished Chronological format, or perhaps the sleek Functional format suits your style? Maybe you’re ready to make a statement with a contemporary and attention-grabbing Combination format.
Whichever format you choose, remember that it’s not just about looking good; it’s about creating a resume that seamlessly guides the reader’s eyes, emphasizes your key qualifications, and leaves them eager to learn more.
If you’re not sure, this is where using a Resume Outline comes in handy. It lets you get your details down on paper without the pressure of finalizing the document.
You can jot down your work history, skills, and achievements, allowing you to brainstorm and organize your thoughts freely. You can experiment with the formatting later.
Chronological Resume Format
The chronological resume format is the most commonly used and familiar style. It presents your work experience in reverse chronological order, starting with your most recent position. This format is ideal if you have a consistent employment history and want to highlight your career progression.
- Demonstrates a clear work history, showing steady growth and development
- Highlights your most recent and relevant experiences, which is important to many employers
- Provides a straightforward and easy-to-follow structure for hiring managers to review
When to use:
- When you have a strong and continuous work history
- When applying for a job in the same industry or a related field
- When your career progression, job titles, and growing responsibilities are important to showcase
Example of a Chronological Resume:
Phone: 555-555-1234 • Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Results-driven professional with a Bachelor of Science in Human Resource Management and a proven track record as a Human Resources Coordinator. Specialized in talent acquisition, employee relations, and HR administration. Experienced in facilitating recruitment processes, implementing onboarding programs, and managing HRIS for streamlined administrative processes.
Bachelor of Science in Human Resource Management, City College, Anytown, USA – 2021
Human Resources Coordinator, Scotts Paper Solutions Ltd., Anytown, USA
July 2021 – Present
- Facilitated the recruitment process, including posting job openings, conducting initial screenings, and coordinating interviews.
- Assisted in the implementation of employee onboarding programs, resulting in a smoother integration process for new hires.
- Managed HRIS (Human Resources Information System) to ensure accurate employee records and streamline administrative processes.
- Provided support in resolving employee inquiries and issues related to benefits, payroll, and policies.
HR Intern, People Dynamics Inc., Anytown, USA
May 2020 – August 2020
- Assisted in organizing and conducting employee training programs on workplace policies, diversity, and inclusion.
- Contributed to the development of employee engagement initiatives, fostering a positive workplace culture.
- Participated in the drafting and updating of company policies and procedures.
Administrative Assistant, XYZ Consulting Services, Anytown, USA
September 2019 – April 2020
- Provided administrative support to the HR department, including scheduling interviews, managing calendars, and preparing documentation.
- Assisted in organizing company events and employee recognition programs.
- Maintained confidential employee files and records.
- Talent acquisition and recruitment
- Employee relations and conflict resolution
- HRIS management
- Training and development
- Administrative support
- Excellent communication and interpersonal skills
- Professional in Human Resources (PHR), HR Certification Institute, 2022 (anticipated)
- Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace, Anytown Training Institute, 2021
Functional Resume Format
The functional resume format focuses more on your skills, achievements, and qualifications rather than your work history. Hence, it is also known as a skills-based resume. It highlights specific abilities and expertise relevant to the job you are applying for, making it suitable for individuals with non-linear career paths, career changers, or those with employment gaps.
- Emphasizes your skills, accomplishments, and qualifications, which can benefit career transitions or highlight specific abilities
- Helps downplay employment gaps or job changes that may be viewed negatively in a chronological format
- Allows you to showcase transferable skills and strengths that may not be evident in a traditional work history
When to use:
- When you have employment gaps or multiple job changes that may not align with the target job
- When you are changing careers and want to emphasize relevant skills and accomplishments
- When you want to showcase specific skills and qualifications crucial for the job, regardless of the work history
Example of a Functional Resume:
Seattle, WA | (206) 555-5555 | email@example.com
- Detail-oriented and results-driven Bookkeeper with a comprehensive understanding of financial management and proficiency in industry-standard accounting software, including QuickBooks and Xero.
- Adept at maintaining accurate and up-to-date financial records, bringing a strong commitment to compliance with accounting standards.
- Known for ensuring payroll accuracy and fostering positive employee relations.
- Committed to delivering meticulous financial management to support informed decision-making within an organization.
Accounting and Financial Reporting:
- Maintained accurate and up-to-date financial records using QuickBooks, ensuring compliance with accounting standards
- Generated comprehensive financial reports for management, facilitating informed decision-making
Accounts Payable and Receivable:
- Managed accounts payable and receivable processes, reducing overdue payments by 20%
- Streamlined invoicing procedures, resulting in a 15% improvement in billing accuracy
- Conducted monthly bank reconciliations, identifying and rectifying discrepancies in a timely manner
- Ensured the accuracy of financial statements by reconciling accounts and resolving any discrepancies
- Processed bi-weekly payroll for a team of 30 employees, ensuring timely and accurate payments
- Addressed payroll inquiries and discrepancies promptly, fostering positive employee relations
Bookkeeper, ABC Accounting Services, Seattle, WA | July 2018 – Present
Junior Bookkeeper, XYZ Financial Solutions, Seattle, WA | May 2017 – June 2018
Bachelor of Science in Accounting, XYZ University, Seattle, WA | May 2017
Combination Resume Format
As the name suggests, the combination resume format combines elements of both the chronological and functional formats. It includes a skills or qualifications summary section, followed by a reverse chronological listing of your work experience. This format allows you to highlight both your skills and relevant work history.
- Showcases your skills and qualifications upfront, capturing the attention of hiring managers
- Provides a comprehensive overview of your work experience, demonstrating your career progression and relevant accomplishments
- Offers flexibility in organizing and emphasizing the most important aspects of your resume
When to use:
- When you want to emphasize both your skills and work experience
- When you have a solid work history with relevant achievements that align with the desired job
- When you want to present a well-rounded picture of your qualifications and expertise
Throughout this course, we will explore each resume format in more detail, providing tips and strategies to optimize them for maximum impact.
Example of a Combination Resume:
(555) 444-0101 / firstname.lastname@example.org / Johns Road, NY
Passionate and innovative professional chef with over 10 years of experience in creating culinary delights. Proven track record of elevating restaurant offerings and leading kitchen teams. Adept at combining creativity with a strong understanding of culinary techniques to deliver memorable dining experiences.
- Conceptualized and executed a seasonal menu revamp, resulting in a 20% increase in customer satisfaction.
- Developed unique and signature dishes, contributing to a 15% growth in repeat business.
- Led a kitchen brigade of 15+ staff, fostering a positive and collaborative work environment.
- Implemented training programs that resulted in a 30% reduction in kitchen errors.
- Spearheaded the creation of a new menu featuring fusion cuisine, attracting a diverse customer base.
- Collaborated with suppliers to source high-quality, locally sourced ingredients.
- Gourmet Bistro, New York, NY | Jan 2018 – Present
- Orchestrated daily kitchen operations, ensuring the highest standards of food quality and presentation.
- Implemented cost-saving measures that resulted in a 10% reduction in food costs.
- Introduced a tasting menu, increasing overall revenue by 25%.
- Fine Dining Restaurant, Brooklyn, NY | Mar 2014 – Dec 2017
- Assisted in menu planning and execution of dishes, earning the restaurant a coveted Michelin star.
- Managed kitchen inventory, reducing waste by 15% through efficient ordering and storage practices.
- Trained and mentored junior kitchen staff, resulting in two promotions within the team.
Culinary Arts Degree, Culinary Institute of America
Hyde Park, NY | Aug 2010 – May 2013
- Certified Executive Chef (CEC) – American Culinary Federation
- ServSafe Food Handler Certification
- Fluent in English and French
Choosing the Right Resume Format
Choosing the right resume format and design elements can significantly influence what an employer thinks of you. From font selection to layout organization, every aspect is crucial in showing them why they can’t ignore you.
But how do you determine which format best suits your unique history?
Assessing Your Work History and Career Goals
Start by assessing your work history and career goals. Consider the following questions:
- Do you have a consistent work history with steady growth and progression in your field?
- Are you changing careers or transitioning into a different industry?
- Do you have any employment gaps or frequent job changes?
- What are your long-term career objectives?
This introspection will guide you toward the ideal resume format.
A traditional chronological format effectively highlights your career trajectory if you have a solid work history with consistent growth and progress in your field.
But if you are changing careers or transitioning into a different industry, a functional or combination format might be more suitable to emphasize your transferable skills and relevant accomplishments.
Analyzing the Job Requirements
Carefully review the job description and analyze the specific requirements outlined by the employer. Pay attention to the desired skills, qualifications, and experiences. This analysis will help you choose a format highlighting the most relevant aspects of your background.
For example, if the job description emphasizes technical expertise and specific certifications, you may opt for a skills-based format that prominently showcases these.
On the other hand, if the position requires a strong work history and notable accomplishments, a chronological format highlighting your professional progression would be your best bet.
Highlighting Your Strengths
Consider your strengths and which resume format will best showcase them. If you’re just starting your career and want to avoid the “first job” label, you may want to avoid the chronological format. It will emphasize your lack of experience–which you do not want.
A functional or combination format can be your secret weapon in highlighting your strengths without solely relying on your work experience. These formats provide the flexibility to showcase relevant skills, education, certifications, internships, or volunteer work demonstrating your abilities and potential.
Addressing Employment Gaps and Job Changes
If you have employment gaps or frequent job changes, choose a resume format that appropriately addresses these aspects (and professionally camouflages them). The functional format lets you focus on your skills and accomplishments while downplaying specific dates and job titles. It can be an effective way to overcome potential concerns related to employment gaps or job changes.
Job hopping is increasingly common; however, it’s still seen by employers as a red flag if you have numerous short-term jobs on your resume. Learn how to frame your job-hopping in a positive manner.
Considering Industry and Company Culture
Your decision should also be influenced by your industry and company culture. Some industries and organizations have specific expectations regarding resume formats.
For example, creative industries may appreciate more visually appealing resumes, while traditional industries prefer a more conservative approach. Research the norms and expectations within your target industry to ensure your resume aligns with their preferences.
Don’t forget about the business itself. A mom-and-pop shop is likely looking for a hand-delivered 1-page resume, whereas Fortune 500 companies will use ATS and multiple recruiters.
Combination Format Flexibility
The combination format offers flexibility and is often a safe choice. It lets you showcase your skills and work history in a way that employers expect, providing a comprehensive overview of your qualifications. This format works well whether you have a solid work history and relevant accomplishments or want to emphasize your skills and achievements upfront.
Seeking Professional Advice
If you need help deciding which resume format to choose or need additional guidance, consider seeking professional advice. Career counselors, resume writers, or industry-specific experts can provide valuable insights and help you make an informed decision based on your unique circumstances.
Making an effective resume can feel complex, but it doesn’t have to be. There are many different ways you can get assisted, professional help with your resume and job hunting for free.
The goal of choosing the right resume format is to effectively communicate your qualifications and increase your chances of securing job opportunities.
By reflecting on your work history, analyzing job requirements, and considering your strengths and goals, you can select the format that best showcases your abilities and resonates with potential employers. Choose wisely!
Based on your self-reflection and research, which resume format aligns best with your background and career goals? Choose the format that will showcase your extraordinary skills, unforgettable experiences, and awe-inspiring achievements.
Take some time to try out different resume styles. Don’t be afraid to mix and match elements from various formats to create a resume that is uniquely yours.
For now, don’t worry about making a perfect resume. Focus on getting your information together and organized in a logical way that you can later pick and choose from, depending on the role’s requirements.
Remember, this is a draft! You haven’t committed to anything until you’ve hit “send.”
Essential Sections of a Resume
Imagine your resume as a puzzle, with each section (like work experience, skills, and education) representing a vital piece. When strategically placed, these pieces create an awe-inspiring picture of your professional ability.
Recruiters are looking for the full puzzle to assess your suitability for a position. Without all the necessary pieces, your resume may fail to make a lasting impression.
So, take the time to carefully construct and organize your resume, ensuring that each piece fits perfectly and recruiters aren’t left puzzled.
(Okay, I’ll stop with this metaphor now, I promise.)
How to Order Your Resume Sections
When it comes to ordering your resume sections, strategic placement can make all the difference.
One study claims that hiring managers only look at resumes for 6 seconds before deciding whether it’s worth a closer look or not. So if your best attributes are not the first thing they see, unfortunately, your resume will be a “not.”
A well-structured resume effectively presents your qualifications and experiences and seamlessly guides the reader through your professional history.
Always begin with your name and contact information. Then, let your qualifications take the spotlight by strategically prioritizing key sections.
The most common sections include work experience, education, skills, and additional areas such as certifications, volunteer work, or professional affiliations. You can be flexible with how you title these sections, but don’t try to be witty or clever—keep them simple.
You will arrange (and re-arrange) these sections based on their relevance to the job you’re applying for. You will also arrange (and re-arrange) the bullet points under each section.
If your resume is more than one page, make sure the good stuff is on the first page. I know it sounds absurd, but some people won’t bother flipping the page over, so you don’t want that to work against you.
The contact information section should always be at the top of your resume. Include your full name, professional email address, phone number, and professional links, such as your LinkedIn profile (if appropriate).
Ensure the information is accurate and up-to-date so prospective employers can easily reach you.
Even your contact information (which seems like the most straightforward part of writing a resume) might need a little more attention than you thought. Learn the reasons for and against adding your address to your resume.
Qualifications Summary or Professional Profile
Are you familiar with the elevator pitch? It’s the idea that you find yourself in an elevator with your dream employer and have only a few floors to give them your pitch. In those precious seconds, you have the power to spark their curiosity, ignite interest, and leave them wanting to learn more about you.
(Or you could completely freeze up and say nothing more than a dumb comment about the weather…)
Your professional summary or profile is the resume equivalent of the elevator pitch. It’s a brief and captivating introduction that overviews your skills, experiences, and career goals.
Thankfully, when it comes to your resume, you can make sure employers get to know your pitch by placing it next, directly below your contact information.
Tailor this section to the specific job you are applying for, highlighting your most relevant qualifications and achievements. Keep it brief, impactful, and focused on what you can do for them.
Have you ever watched the TV shows Shark Tank or Dagon’s Den? If so, you are already familiar with what a pitch is. But unlike the show, you are not pitching a business idea – you are pitching yourself.
Imagine that this summary is the only thing a hiring manager will read about you. Consider the following questions:
- Does it effectively showcase a snapshot of your skills, experiences, and career goals?
- Is it engaging and attention-grabbing? Does it make the hiring manager want to read further?
- Does it convey the unique value you can bring to a potential employer? In other words, is it clear why they should hire you over someone else?
- Is the information concise and to the point, avoiding unnecessary jargon or vague statements?
- Have you highlighted your most impressive accomplishments and relevant qualifications?
- Does the summary align with the specific job or industry you are targeting?
If it doesn’t accomplish these things, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and try again. Experiment with different wording, sentence structures, and formats until you uncover the perfect combination that captures attention, intrigues readers, and sets you apart.
If you’re struggling to create a powerful summary, try creating your elevator pitch first. It may be easier to think of it as a conversation. Once you have a persuasive elevator pitch, you can rework it to use on your resume.
For those with substantial experience, the work experience section typically takes center stage. It showcases your professional history, including job titles, company names, dates of employment, and a description of your responsibilities and achievements.
Start with your most recent position and work backward.
But don’t just tell employers what you did.
Include bullet points to show them the tangible results and contributions you made. This adds credibility to your resume and helps employers understand the scope and impact of your achievements.
Instead of simply stating responsibilities, highlight how you exceeded targets, improved processes, or contributed to the success of projects.
By focusing on the outcomes and showcasing your ability to deliver measurable results, you demonstrate your value and stand out as a strong candidate.
If you mention all of these wonderful things you’ve accomplished for another company, employers will want you on their team so you can do the same for them.
Oh, and keep in mind that “work experience” doesn’t only mean paid work. Those (awful) unpaid internships and hours spent side-hustling count for something, too.
Learn more about Experience in Lesson 3.
The skills section is where you highlight your relevant core competencies and abilities. Include a combination of hard skills (technical, software proficiency) and soft skills (people skills) that demonstrate your suitability for the position.
Use bullet points and columns to make the skills section easy to read and scan.
Learn more about Skills in Lesson 4.
In the education section, list your highest level of education, such as degrees, certifications, or diplomas, and include the institution’s name, location, and, perhaps, graduation dates.
If you have additional certifications, honors, or relevant coursework, create a separate subsection highlighting those achievements.
For recent grads or roles where education is highly relevant and regarded, education should be prioritized and near the top of your resume.
But for most of us, employers want to know about your education, but it isn’t their main focus. Sometimes, just having a college diploma or university degree is good enough, even if you majored in the Quantum Philosophy of Unicorns.
Putting your practical skills, work experience, and professional accomplishments first is usually better.
We all know that passing tests and writing exams isn’t the same as putting theory into action in a real-world setting. I can comprehend how to cook a gourmet meal by reading the recipe, but I can assure you that we will end up eating takeout or calling the fire department if I try to make it.
Learn more about Education in Lesson 5.
Depending on your background and job requirements, you may include additional sections to highlight relevant information. Some examples include:
- Certifications and training
- Projects or portfolios
- Volunteer experience
- Publications (e.g., published articles, books, or research papers)
- Presentations (e.g., guest lecturer or keynote speaker)
- Professional affiliations
- Awards and honors
Adding these sections can strengthen your candidacy further if you have something relevant to add.
Learn more about Additional Sections in Lesson 5.
Including references with your resume used to be expected, but that’s not typically the case anymore. (Although there’s really no harm if you do! It could be a great way to name-drop if you have a notable reference.)
Most employers will ask for references on the application (if there is one) or during the interview stage. So, prepare a separate document with a list of references and have it ready if the employer requests it.
Learn more about References in Lesson 9.
Including these key sections in your resume isn’t just about checking boxes – it’s about giving employers the full picture of what you bring to the table. Ensure that each section is clear, concise, and relevant to the job you are applying for.
Now, let’s look into each of these resume sections in greater detail.