How resume formats can make or break your job application

resume formats

“The goal is to turn data into information, and information into insight.” – Carly Fiorina

Simply put, a resume is an information presented in a meaningful way. The same information, when presented haphazardly, remains exactly that; information.

Resume formats play a central role in all this as it gives structure to your resume and presents information meaningfully. When you use the right resume format, it helps you get shortlisted. When you don’t, you do not get shortlisted. Thus, the resume format you choose is important as it has the power to make or break your job application. This is why you should choose an ideal resume format that is ideal for you.

Given below are the new resume formats that are used in the industry right now:

● Reverse Chronological Resume Format
● Combination Resume Format
● Functional Resume Format

We will be discussing them in detail to evaluate which resume format is ideal for you. But before we do, we will first discuss the ATS system and the importance of using a resume format that is ATS-compliant.

The Applicant Tracking System (ATS) and why you should use an ATS-compliant resume format:

ATS i.e. the applicant tracking system is a mechanism that most companies today have started to use to simplify their recruitment needs. The ATS assigns a rank to each resume. Based on this rank, you get shortlisted for an interview. The higher you rank in the ATS, the higher are your chances of a shortlist.

Long story short, your resume format should be ATS-compliant. If your resume format fails to do this, your chances of getting shortlisted will drastically dwindle, irrespective of your skills & capabilities.

This is why your choice of a resume format should meet the twin objectives that we have listed below:

1. It should best compliment your skills as a professional
2. It should get parsed by the ATS system

Now that we’ve got this covered, we will now cover the 3 resume formats that we have talked about before. Let’s get started.

Reverse Chronological Resume Format

The reverse-chronological resume format endorses your most recent work experience first and traces your work experience all the way back to its beginning.

It organizes information about a candidate such as their work experience, internships, volunteering experience, etc. by approaching them from a reverse-time order.

Given below are the benefits of using the reverse-chronological resume format:

● Extremely ATS friendly: This resume format has proved to be a winner of resume formats as it is the industry standard and extremely ATS-friendly. By using this resume format, you are guaranteeing that your resume will get parsed by almost any ATS system in the world. This means that using the reverse-chronological resume format, you are enhancing your chances of a shortlist.

● Easy to create: This is self-explanatory. Using this resume format helps you present your professional information in a coherent and comprehensive manner. All you have to do is create a time-line of the major events of your career and elaborate upon them.

● Highly relevant and recruiter-friendly: This format displays your most recent work experience in the beginning. Since your most recent experience is the most relevant experience, it helps you curate a highly relevant resume that is well-acknowledged by recruiters all over the world!

Wise men will advise you to play safe, and stick with this resume format as it has shown proven results. However, this is not applicable for all professionals. Given below is a list of who should and should not use the reverse-chronological resume format:

• Ideal for students, fresh graduates & entry-level professionals: The reverse-chronological resume format is ideal for people who fall in this category as it helps them endorse their extra-curricular and co-curricular achievements through this format. Moreover, voluntary work or internships can be a great substitute for professional experience. This is ideal for these categories of job applicants as they don’t have much work experience to talk about.

• Not ideal for professionals with gaps in their career: While this resume format is ideal for professionals with no evident pause in their career, it isn’t so for people with career gaps. By focusing on the timeline of your work experience, this resume format makes career gaps more visible. This ends up sabotaging your job application if you took a couple of years off for whatever reasons as you are left with no room to explain why you were on a sabbatical away from the high-in-pressure job environment.

• Not ideal for frequent job switchers: This point branches out from the above point. If you have switched a lot of jobs in a short time period, many companies will be listed on your reverse chronological resume. This is seen negatively as it will project to a potential recruiter that you are a job-absconder. Thus, if you have switched jobs frequently for whatever reasons, you should not use this resume format.

Functional Resume Format (skill-based resume)

A functional resume format focuses on your skills and abilities. It does not put much emphasis on the timeline of your work experience.

It lists professional experience by displaying headers without talking about the details of the actual work done. Here, a separate section is designed to register relevant skills, and points are grouped under these relevant skills which showcases your work experience.

Given below are the benefits of using a functional resume format:

• Hides employment gaps: The functional resume is a skill-based resume format. It helps you endorse your skills without having to explicitly get into the details of the timeline of your work history. This helps you conveniently conceal the gaps in your employment while emphasizing on your skill-set.

• Best for job-switchers: Given that the focus of this resume format is on skills rather than work, it helps hide the job-switching tendencies of frequent job switchers and gives them a fair chance of making an impact based on their skills alone.

Given below is a list of who should and shouldn’t use the functional resume format:

• Ideal for people with career gaps and frequent job-switchers: This resume format is recommended by experts for people who have gaps in their employment history or for people who frequently change their jobs as it hides employment gaps.

• Not ideal for most professionals: Though this resume format hides career gaps, at the end of the day, it is not an ideal format for most professionals (including job jumpers and professionals with career gaps) as it is not ATS-friendly. This means that your resume will not rank in the ATS, which further means that you don’t stand a chance at getting shortlisted.

There is no point in hiding career gaps if it does nothing to help you land a job. Thus, even if you’re a frequent job switcher, or are someone with gaps in their work-ex, it is best that you don’t use this resume format. It will hamper your job application and thus, in reality it is not ideal for any professional.

Combination Resume Format

The combination resume format, also frequently known as the hybrid resume format is a combination of the reverse chronological resume format and the functional resume format. This format presents your skills in the form of points which are grouped under unique skill-based headings while simultaneously showcasing the timeline of your work experience.

The combination format can further be divided into two formats:

● Combination Resume Format-1 (Grouping inside Professional Experience): This format does everything exactly like the reverse chronological resume format. The only difference is in the professional experience section, where the points are grouped by the skills that they represent. The biggest advantage of using this format is that it gives equal weightage to your skills and work experience, thus giving you a fair chance at landing gold with both.

● Combination Resume Format-2 (Grouping in Summary of Skills section): In this format, you have to make a completely different section for your achievements in the form of “Summary of Skills”. Here, the points exhibiting your career’s achievements and roles & responsibilities are bucketed under their respective key skills.

Given below is a list of who should and shouldn’t use this resume format:

• Highly recommended for frequent job switchers: The combination resume format is highly ATS friendly and recruiter friendly. And here’s the best part: it hides gaps in employment by drawing the recruiter’s attention to skill-based achievements rather than the timeline. This is why this resume format is ideal for frequent job-switchers.

• Highly recommended for mid-level & highly experienced professionals: People with a lot of experience and skills have the best opportunity to endorse them in a meaningful way using this resume format. This is why this resume format is ideal for them: it helps them present their skills & capabilities without seeming show-offish.

• Not recommended for fresh graduates and people with no work experience: This resume format, as ideal as it may be, is not suitable for freshers and early-stage professionals as they might not have enough points to group under relevant skills.

• It is not recommended for people with deadlines: The only downside of the functional resume format is that it is very time-consuming to draft a resume using this format. So, this resume format is a far out-cry for people with limited time on their hands.


To conclude, now that know the importance of resume formats in making or breaking your job application, all you have to do now is pick the ideal resume format for you. Here’s a brief guideline on the resume format that you should pick based on the category you fall under:

● Students, fresh graduates & entry-level professionals: You should use the reverse-chronological resume format as you don’t have much work experience to talk about in your resume.
● Professionals who worked on a specific area: If you fall in this category, you should ideally choose the reverse-chronological format.
● Mid-level professionals and highly experienced professionals: Since you have many years of work experience, you should choose the combination resume format as you have a high number of acquired skills vis-à-vis other professionals.
● Frequent job-switchers & people with employment gaps: The combination format is the ideal format if you fall in either of these categories.

About the Author:

On a quest to help professionals across the world land their dream jobs, Aditya lives and breathes Hiration — a platform to help job-seekers find their way in the treacherous job market — where he’s a Co-Founder and the unofficial CPO (Chief Problem-solving Officer). He likes to code away his days and nights when he’s not busy disrupting the career space.

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