Not sure what your resume should look like to impress recruiters and land you that dream interview? You’ve come to the right place to find out. See for yourself.
The perfect resume format for 2021 has to pass applicant tracking systems. Show off your value as a future employee. And help recruiters make the right decision—invite you to the interview.
Pick the wrong one, and you’ll annoy those little bots and their human overlords—
But which resume format is best?
Most importantly, how to pick the proper resume format for you?
Don’t worry. In 5 minutes, you’ll learn all you need to know about formatting a resume.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Resume Formatting
- Examples of Well-Formatted Resumes You Can Use
- The Three Main Resume Formats
- Skills-Based / Functional
- Hybrid / Combination
- Recap: How to Pick the Best Resume Format for You
- Make Sure Your Resume Format Beats the ATS Resume Test
- Bonus Resources (Templates, Layouts, Examples, and Extra Tips)
Here are the simple, standard rules you have to follow when formatting a resume.
(Feel free to skip this section if you simply want to pick a format and start working on your resume.)
For a professional resume, follow these 10 resume formatting steps:
How to format a resume?
- Set one-inch margins on all four sides.
- Pick a 11 or 12pt resume font and stick to it.
- Create a proper resume header format for your contact details.
- Divide your resume into legible resume sections: Contact Information, Resume Summary, Work Experience, Education, Skills.
- Use bullet points to talk about past jobs.
- Be consistent with your resume formatting (e.g., stick to the same date format: for example 11–2018, or November 2018.)
- Use single or 1.15 line spacing.
- Add an extra space before and after each section heading.
- Make your resume as long as it needs to be.
- Don’t use photos on your resume. Unless the job description specifically asks for them. You’re looking for a job, not a date!
What about the proper file format?
- Usually, a PDF is your best bet: it makes sure your resume layout stays intact across all devices.
- Some companies require resumes sent as MS Word (DOC or DOCX) files. Pay attention to the job ad, if they want you to send a DOC resume, you have to play by their rules.
- To stay on the safe side, have your resume available in both PDF and DOC file formats.
- Avoid file formats with no text layer, such as JPG or PNG, or files dedicated to graphic software (PSD, INDD, or AI).
To learn more about ideal file formats for resumes, see: PDF? DOC? What's the Best File Format for a Resume
Enough theory, though. Here are two examples of the bad vs the good way of how to format a resume. We’ve created the sample resume format on the right in our builder.
Want to save time and have your resume ready in 5 minutes? Try our resume builder. It’s fast and easy to use. Plus, you’ll get ready-made content to add with one click. See 20+ resume templates and create your resume here.
An example of a well-formatted resume made in our builder—See more templates and create your resume here.
Examples of Well-Formatted Resumes You Can Use
Resume formatting isn't that hard. But, truth is, whatever word processing software you use, it takes time and effort to create a neat, polished document that looks the way you want it to. So why not let Zety guide you through the process? With our resume builder, you don't need to worry about formatting your job application—just type up the contents and our software will make sure your resume always looks professional.
See some sample resume formats from our builder, pick the one you like best, and make it yours with a few clicks.
Nanica is one of the all-time favorites among our users, despite being a super simple resume format. The best thing about it? A very universal design with lots of white space. Highly recommended for job applications in conservative fields: law, finance, general business.
Another uncluttered resume format available in our builder. Simple and elegant yet with a modern touch. Primo uses a timeline on the left-hand side to make your work experience and education dates easier to track. A sidebar for your skills and extra sections lets you save space and fit more information onto a single page.
If you care for my personal opinion, I'd say Cubic is the prettiest resume format available in our builder. A perfect combination of classical elegance and modern creativity. Subtle shading helps guide the reader's eyes across different sections, the side column for contact details and skills adds a dynamic twist to the design. A great choice for applicants hunting jobs in IT, marketing, or sales.
As the name of this format implies, diamonds highlight the key areas: section headings, skill levels, and bullets in the work history section. This resume is full-width from top to bottom (no side column featured), making it very easy to go through your work history, chronologically. A great pick for candidates with many years of experience under their belts.
A very minimalist template for everyone who likes to keep things simple and clear. With Newcast, you get a traditional resume with a few details that help your application stand out, like the tasteful icons for section headings and bar charts to indicate skill levels. If you're applying for a job at a company with conservative culture, Newcast will be a great bet!
The Three Main Resume Formats
Applying for jobs is a tough game. To win, you have to be creative and think out of the box to some extent. But—
You also have to play by the rules.
Rule one: there are three main types of resumes you can choose from—chronological, functional, and combination. There's no one best format for resumes. You have to pick a resume type right for your career path so far and the job you're applying for.
Those 3 resume formats are the most common:
- Functional (or skills-based)
- Combination (or hybrid or chrono-functional)
The main difference between them is the chief focus.
What does it mean for you?
That you have to know the correct order of sections on each of the standard resume formats.
Have a look:
3 Resume Format Examples
The Three Standard Resume Formats: Resume Structure
As you can see:
- The chronological resume format focuses on work experience.
- The skills-based resume format is based on, well, skills.
- The hybrid / combination resume format highlights both your experience and skills, linking the skills in the skills summary to real-life experience that shows how you gained them.
What’s the best format for your resume?
That depends on your career path so far.
- Looking for a job in your industry in which you have lots of experience? Go for the reverse-chronological resume format.
- Eying a creative gig where your portfolio of projects and broad skills set are more important than the work history? Pick a functional resume format.
- Applying for a highly specialized position for very experienced senior candidates? A combination resume format will be perfect for you.
Let’s discuss that on some real-life examples.
Meet three job seekers: Frank, Thomas, and Christian.
Their resumes and how these correspond with their careers will guide you through the process of picking a good resume format for your situation.
Frank is an electrician. He’s been working in his field for over 15 years.
He’s been with the same company (having gotten promoted from journeyman to master) since 2007.
Frank found an interesting opening for a master electrician position with a big, international corporation. The responsibilities listed in the job ad are very similar to his current duties and tasks.
To get recruiters’ attention, he needs to highlight his career progression and proudest professional wins. That’s why Frank wrote a reverse-chronological resume. Scroll down to see it!
Thomas is an entry-level PR specialist. He’s been doing a lot of freelancing and participating in minor projects but has little full-time experience.
He graduated in 2017. He’s worked as a part-time PR Intern since then and done a lot of side gigs and non-profit projects to build his portfolio. He’s also a prolific blogger.
Thomas wants to apply for a full-blown role as a Content Marketing and PR Specialist with a tech company with a relaxed culture. He’s never done a similar job before, but he has all the necessary skills.
If Thomas wants to get the job, he needs to showcase his portfolio and present the wide variety of his skills. The functional resume format is a great pick for him. Scroll down to check his resume out.
Christian is a Senior IT manager. He’s held leadership positions with the biggest IT companies in the world.
Not only is Christian a master programmer, but also an effective leader.
Someone from Christian’s professional network let him know about an unlisted, highly-specialized position as the Head of IT with a huge IT company that designs mobile apps.
To get there, Christian needs to prove that he has comprehensive technical knowledge, as well as team-building and leadership skills. Christian went for a combination resume format.
Now, it’s time to see their actual resumes and explain how different job seekers can make the most of each of the most common resume formats.
For starters, here’s a sample reverse-chronological resume format created in our builder.
Reverse-Chronological Resume Example
Want to save time and have your reverse-chronological resume ready in 5 minutes? Access a pre-formatted reverse-chronological resume in our builder. Pick from 20+ templates, adjust, customize, and have a stunning chronological resume in no time.
The reverse chronological resume format is useful to virtually all job seekers. That’s why this is the most popular US resume format.
Recruiters are familiar with it so it makes their job easier: helps them spot all relevant information in a flash. It’s also a really simple resume format to use.
Here’s how to structure a resume in reverse-chronological order.
Reverse-Chronological Resume Order of Sections
- Contact information
- Resume Summary or Resume Objective
- Work Experience
- Additional Sections
The reverse chronological resume format puts emphasis on your work history because that’s what’s most relevant for hiring managers. It's considered the traditional resume template.
Its key part is the work experience section. Here’s how to write it:
Reverse-Chronological Resume: Work Experience
- Start with your current or most recent job.
- Follow it with the one before it, then the one before and so on.
- In each entry list: your position, the name of the company, and the dates worked.
- Under each job, put up to 5 bullet points. But don’t just list duties. Focus on achievements.
- Use action words. “Supervised” instead of “responsible for supervising.”
- Quantify whenever possible. Numbers pop!
- At the bottom, add a “Key Achievement” subsection. Describe your proudest professional win.
- Don’t list all your professional responsibilities and accomplishments. Focus on what’s important for this particular position. Tailor your resume to the job description.
Like Frank, the candidate from our example did:
Work Experience Entry Example
Not sure if the rev-chron resume format is your best shot? See the handy table below.
Chronological Resume Format Pros and Cons
Recruiters are familiar with it. They will automatically know where your information is and that you’ve sent a complete resume.
It will require tweaking. You will need to make some extra effort to catch the recruiter’s eye.
It’s guaranteed to go through an Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) resume test.
If you have large gaps in your work history, the recruiters will notice them immediately.
The reverse chronological resume format highlights the peak of your career.
It’s not an ideal format of a resume for career changers.
For more information on how to make the most of the standard reverse-chronological format of a resume, go here: Reverse-Chronological Resume Examples That Get Jobs
2. Skills-Based / Functional
Here’s a functional resume example created in our resume builder.
Functional Resume Example
Want to save time and have your skills-based (functional) resume ready in 5 minutes? Access a pre-formatted functional resume in our builder. Pick from 20+ templates, adjust, customize, and have a stunning chronological resume in no time.
A functional resume format focuses on your skills and abilities. That’s why it’s also called the skills-based resume format.
It lets you emphasize what you’re good at and takes the pressure off of your work experience.
Here’s how to structure a functional resume:
Functional Resume Order of Sections
- Contact information
- Resume Objective
- Skills Summary
- Additional Skills
- Work Experience
The two crucial components of a functional resume are the resume objective at the very top and the skills summary. This is how to write them step by step:
Functional Resume: Resume Objective and Skills Summary
- In the resume objective at the top, briefly explain your motivation for pursuing a given career and discuss the most important skills you’ve mastered so far.
- If you have one, add a link to your online portfolio, a blog, or a personal website to the resume objective.
- For the skills summary, pick 4 to 5 skills that are most relevant to the job you’re applying for.
- Don’t just list your skills. Be specific. Give examples of when and how you applied them. Mention software you’re proficient in and quantify whenever you can.
- Use bullet points or go for plain paragraphs.
Have another look at how Thomas did it:
Example of a Resume Objective + Skills Summary
Results-driven Penn graduate in Journalism and Social Communication seeking to leverage two years of internship and freelancing PR experience with Newton Software Communications Team. Experienced in producing engaging online content (see my portfolio here) and press releases for tech start-ups and local IT companies. Non-profit blogger at www.pr-matters.wordpress.com. Interested in new digital PR solutions including the automatization of customer relations via AI-based email campaigns and chatbots.
Able to work with many kinds of clients in a wide variety of fields. Excellent at researching clients' brands, industries, and markets very quickly and efficiently.
Skilled at writing all types of Public Relations texts: press releases, blog posts, bulletins, emailing campaigns (outreach emails, sales emails, engagement emails). Able to produce up to 1,500 words of great, unique content on a daily basis.
SOCIAL MEDIA RELATIONS
Proficient at managing social media relations across all major social media platforms:
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Tumblr, Google+.
A functional resume format most likely won’t get you far.
In short, because recruiters and hiring managers hate it.
According to a Jobvite Recruiter Nation Report, the most important thing to recruiters is your job experience. This means:
- Your job titles
- The highest level of responsibility you reached
- Your career progression.
And what does a functional resume do? It throws all of the above out of the window.
For most candidates, using a functional, “skills” resume format is against any sort of logic.
The only groups of job seekers who might entertain using this resume format are:
- Professionals in creative industries.
- Freelancers without a clear career progression, but with a very solid portfolio.
- Military veterans transmitting into a civilian role.
- Ex-CEOs or high-level execs who don’t want to seem overqualified for a lower-level position they need to apply for.
To recap, then:
Pros and Cons of a Functional Resume Format
It takes the focus off of your work history and places it on your skills. If you’ve gained your skills through various freelance projects, not full-time employment, this format will let you emphasize those skills.
Most recruiters hate the functional resume format because it’s not easy to scan in quickly.
It’s a good creative resume format for non-traditional industries.
It’s an instant red flag—suggesting that you’re trying to hide something.
It can be used by military transitioners whose detailed job descriptions might be too difficult to understand for non-military recruiters.
It’s very likely to fail the ATS resume scan.
For more information on the only strategy to make the functional resume work for you, see: Functional Resume Template and Writing Tips
3. Hybrid / Combination
Here’s a combination resume example created in our resume builder.
Hybrid / Combination Resume Example
Want to save time and have your hybrid / combination resume ready in 5 minutes? Access a pre-formatted combination resume in our builder. Pick from 20+ templates, adjust, customize, and have a stunning chronological resume in no time.
The combination resume format combines the resume elements of a chronological resume and a skills-based resume.
Here’s how to structure a hybrid resume:
Hybrid (Combination) Resume Order of Sections
- Contact information
- Skills Summary
- Additional Skills
- Work Experience
The focal point is your skills summary. This section comes at the top of a hybrid resume, just below your contact information.
The skills summary lists skills relevant to the job and validates them by providing examples of past achievements and professional experience in bullet points.
This is how to write it:
- Start with listing skills that are most relevant to the job you want to land.
- Underneath each skill, add up to 4 bullet points describing your professional achievements that prove you actually have the skills.
- Focus on quantified and measurable accomplishments.
Remember our candidate, Christian?
In his skills summary, he needs to prove that he is:
- Great at programming and mobile app development.
- An inspired leader and mentor.
- A seasoned business executive.
Example of a Skills Summary for a Hybrid Resume
Programming and App Development
In a nutshell:
Pros and Cons of a Combination Resume Format
Showcases your most important skills and validates them with examples related to your work experience.
It’s suitable for very few candidates: only people with a lot of work experience targeting a very specific position.
A good format for people with gaps in their resume who, nonetheless, have many years of relevant work experience.
It’s the most difficult resume format to create properly.
As you can see, this is the hardest resume format to make. Learn all you need to know about it here: Combination Resume Template and Writing Tips
4. Recap: How to Pick the Best Resume Format for You
What format should your resume be in?
Here’s a recap of what you’ve learned so far:
Chronological vs Functional vs Combination Resume
Skills and work experience
Work experience section
At the top, relevant
At the bottom, irrelevant
In the middle, relevant
In the middle, relevant
At the top, relevant
At the top, relevant
Easy to read, universal
Conceals flaws in work history
Emphasizes and validates skills
Very common, might require tweaking
Suggests you’re hiding something
Suitable for few candidates
Virtually all candidates
candidates who don’t want to seem overqualified
Career changers, experienced professionals
Not ideal for
Career changers or employment-gappers with very complicated work histories
Students, experienced professionals, career changers, entry-level candidates
Entry-level candidates, students
Make Sure Your Resume Format Beats the ATS Resume Test
A disturbing thought:
According to research, 70% of resumes never reach a human eye.
Because as many as 7 out of 10 large companies use the ATS resume checker (short for “Applicant Tracking Software”).
Make sure your resume format is ATS-friendly.
How to Pass the ATS Scan:
- Place the contact details at the top of your resume
- Avoid fancy graphics
- Save your resume in the PDF format
- Copy all the contents of your resume
- Paste them into a TXT text editor (such as Notepad)
- If the text in the editor isn’t scrambled, your resume is scannable
For more information on how to beat the bots, see: Resume Keywords to Get You Past the ATS
Bonus Resources (Templates, Layouts, Examples, and Extra Tips)
Resume formatting is a complex issue. Even the term “resume format” itself has multiple meanings.
Whatever it is exactly that you’re looking for, here are the guides that will help you find it:
- Resume Layout Tips: Typography, Spacing, Margins, Fonts, and More
- Resume Design Inspirations and a Full How-to Guide
- Well-Formatted Resume Templates You Can Fill in in 5 Minutes
- One- or Two-Page? How Long Should a Resume Be?
- Infographic Resume Format: How to Make It Work?
- Tailored/Targeted Resume Format: How to Make a Resume Match the Job Ad
- Resume Examples for Every Profession (99+)
- US Resume Format (American Style Resume Template)
And, last but not least, our proud Ultimate Resume Checklist: 46 Things You Need To Do Before You Send Your Resume
To have a resume format that gets you the job, use these key strategies:
- Apply the standard resume formatting rules: one-inch margins, elegant font, 11–12pt font size, single line spacing, additional space before and after headings.
- Choose one of the standard types of resumes: reverse-chronological, combination, or functional resume format. Pick the proper resume format for your individual situation.
- The format of a resume is mostly about dividing it into proper sections. In this order: contact info, summary, work experience, education, skills, and extra sections.
- Save space using bullet points in your work experience and education sections.
All check? Then you can make any resume format template work for you.
Do you have any questions about choosing the best resume format for your position? Is there anything else about formatting a resume that you’d like to know? Give me a shout in the comments. Let’s chat!