Before you begin writing your resume, it helps to be familiar with different types of resumes and approaches, and how each is used. Then you can make an informed choice about how to best present your information. Keep in mind that how you present your work history, and show how you are ready to move forward, will be determined by where you want to go—that is, write for the position you are aiming for, rather than simply showing where you have been. The information that will best position you as the ideal candidate depends on your unique circumstances. As such, there is no "right" or "wrong" way to create your resume—it will be as unique as you are. That said, there are some general guidelines to help avoid resume writing pitfalls. Understanding these “big picture” issues going in will let you create a plan for your resume, and help avoid having to start over. Additionally, depending on your goals and job targets, you may need or want more than one version, each tailored to a specific type of position or goal.
In basic terms, there are three general formats: functional, chronological, and a combination of the two. There are other formats, but these are the most common and the most likely to be used by most.
The chronological resume is formatted how it sounds—by chronological order, typically listing the most recent position held first. This type of format will often list education toward the bottom of the resume, but not always. It is a straightforward approach that shows a complete career progression, and can be useful for those who have had longer-term positions and a career path that shows steady growth, a series of promotions, etc.
For those who have a steady work history, this format can work very well. Employers tend to like this format because it is straightforward, easy to understand, and does not leave any timeframe unaccounted for. For the same reasons, however, this format may not be suited for those who have little or no work history, an inconsistent work history, gaps in employment, or a trend of job-hopping. These "red flag" issues will stand out immediately in a chronological format.
What about those with little or no paid work history? The chronological format can be designed to work with situations challenging for new grads. Volunteer work, internships, and work study programs can all be presented as legitimate work experience in a chronological format. The difficulty with this format for new grads is, of course, that many do not have much work experience, that what they do have is inconsistent (such as seasonal work or various part-time jobs throughout college), or that their work history is very limited. For those people, the functional or combination format may work best.
A straight, “true” chronological format is rarely used; however, a version of it may be more appropriate for certain situations, such as more conservative positions, or when submitted in conjunction with more in-depth applications.
In the functional format, skills, achievements, and other important highlights are given priority, and work history, if any, is either listed toward the bottom or, in some cases, not listed at all. Headings vary according to what the person has done. Possible headings include education and coursework, volunteer work, and related organizational memberships. Education is often listed near the top of the resume in the functional format because it can be the applicant's best selling point. This is often the case for new graduates, for those with little work history, or for those whose work history is unrelated to the target position, but the educational background is a good fit.
Because work experience is not highlighted in direct relation to an accompanying position, many employers are wary of the functional format. However, in the case of a new graduate, employers also realize that this population often has little or no paid work experience or that work history may not be directly related to the applicant's college major or current job target. In this case, it would be silly to not highlight one's education, relevant coursework, and affiliations, because these are the items directly related to the current job search. Listing unrelated part-time jobs in a chronological format could actually work against the applicant, even for an employer that typically prefers a chronological format.
This format uses elements from both the chronological and functional formats and combines them in the document. For recent grads who have both relevant paid or nonpaid work experience in addition to education, this format could work, although it is best suited for someone with a lengthy career history. The first part of the résumé is dedicated to showing-off career highlights and accomplishments; the following sections outline the candidate's work history. For most recent graduates and people new to the workforce, a variation of the chronological or functional formats will usually suffice. As you will see in the sample résumés provided, there is much room for creativity and tailoring basic résumé styles into documents that work very well for each candidate. The benefits of a combined resume are that it allows the candidate to present information in a format and order that works best for that individual. There is more “room” for showcasing specific areas of expertise, talents, and experience, without the restrictions of a traditional format (and one reason why it is better to create your resume from “scratch” than to use a pre-set format in a Word program, for example). A lot can be done with formatting and “borrowing” from various, more traditional formats, and in-depth guides to doing this, such as Résumé Magic by Susan Britton Whitcomb, can help.
Newsletter résumés, though not one of the primary formats, are exactly as they sound; formatted to look similar to a newsletter. Typically two or three columns, information is presented in an eye-catching manner and is best suited to more creative-oriented jobs. When used appropriately, it can be very effective and help the applicant stand out from the crowd.
Curriculum Vitae (CV)
The CV, or curriculum vitae, is a style used primarily by those in the education and medical fields. It is a straightforward listing of education, work history, publications, and other relevant material. College graduates with doctorate and possibly master's degrees will sometimes need a CV depending on the position being sought. This is one style that can be visually appealing, but traditionally remains straightforward without much embellishment. It is a more conservative document, contains specific types of information, and is generally much longer than a traditional resume.
Choosing a Format
Many positions are best suited for a résumé that leans more toward the conservative side using a well-known format, and if you are unsure, it is typically better to lean toward a more conservative approach. There are cases that warrant a more creative format, but these are typically reserved for those seeking positions in creative fields. Artists and designers, for example, are better suited to using a more creative and riskier approach than someone with an M.B.A. looking for a position on Wall Street. Similarly, those seeking positions in advertising or sales may take a more assertive approach in their resume and cover letter than would someone in accounting.
While it can be tempting to create a flashy resume or presentation, in most cases it is best to err on the conservative side. Even artists can deliver a "traditional" resume to accompany a portfolio or Web site, leaving the latter to showcase the artist's talent, and the former to highlight information related to the job target.