Wrong Resume Format Can Hurt You
Your resume is a relatively straightforward document highlighting your accomplishments. But what if you are making a career change, or there are gaps in your job history? What if you are applying for jobs in a conservative field such as engineering or law? In such cases, might one resume format be better than another? Which resume format best accentuates your accomplishments, fits your objective and gives you the greatest shot at getting your foot in the door?
Although there are several ways to present your resume, the most common are chronological, functional and a combination of both (“chrono-functional”). All have their uses, but there is one preferred format among hiring personnel and recruiters and your FPC recruiter can walk you through that format, making it work for you.
Hiring managers and recruiters are inundated by resumes. One ad can yield 1,000 responses within a week. Your resume will only get a quick review before a decision is made whether to consider you for the job and to read further. This is why how you present your resume can be just as vital as what it actually says. (For more information on crafting a high-impact resume, see FPC’s article “Writing an Effective Resume.”)
What Format Should I Choose?
What It Is: The most common format and the one most preferred by hiring professionals and recruiters. Your experience is presented in reverse chronological order: your most recent position and accomplishments go first, followed by the next most recent and so forth.
Pros: It’s easy to read. It clearly demonstrates the progression of your career, responsibilities, and accomplishments. It is also the most effective format for jobs in such conservative fields as engineering or legal. And, as stated earlier, it is the most preferred format among hiring professionals and recruiters.
Cons: Those with large gaps in their job history or transitioning to a new industry may not find this format so straightforward; generally though, such situations can be addressed by inserting a succinct sentence explaining the gap or by targeting your resume if you are switching industries (see below for a more detailed explanation).
The chronological format is by far the favorite among hiring professionals and recruiters. It is also the most common format used by job candidates: over 60% use this layout. “This is the preferred format for everyone,” says Ron Herzog, President of FPC. “You can’t go wrong with it. It’s very quick and to the point. People who are searching for the right person to hire want to know the tangibles: what you accomplished and how you did it. The chronological format best conveys this.”
The beauty of this layout is that it presents an easy-to-grasp visual progression of your career. “To be able to visualize this progression—and how you can come into a potential company and continue that growth—is invaluable to a hiring company,” says Herzog.
An advantage of using this format is it allows you to explain any gaps in your job history. Since a gap that appears on your resume without any explanation immediately raises questions, you should insert a concise, succinct explanation—something as simple as “Took leave from 1998-2000 to take care of the family member.”
The chronological format is also flexible in that you can target it toward a specific company or industry if you don’t have sufficient or any experience in that industry. Targeting can be something as simple as bringing up a bullet point on one resume that may not need to be so prominently emphasized on another. Herzog suggests the jobseeker to step back and think, “' What in my background that may not currently be on my resume would be appealing to the company I’m applying for?’ It’s a matter of adding and subtracting certain pieces in your resume to properly present your background and customizing the language so it makes sense to a particular reader.” Your FPC recruiter can work with you to make sure that the specific points you choose to highlight are the right points for the industry or job you’re applying for.
While job candidates should look at their specific niche to see what is the customary resume presentation format—for example, a graphic designer’s resume can look substantially different from an engineer’s resume—when in doubt, use the chronological format. “I think that virtually all industries and niches are familiar with this format and prefer it,” says Herzog.
What It Is: The functional resume groups skills together under such headers as “Management and Supervision” or “Cost Reduction.” The emphasis is on the skills accumulated as opposed to dates of employment, the companies you worked for and your specific achievements for each position held; a purely functional resume doesn’t even include this kind of information.
Pros: Since its main focus is on one’s functional strengths, it immediately draws attention to those skills and talents that might be appropriate for a new position.
Cons: This format elicits strong suspicions that the jobseeker is attempting to hide something unsavory in his job history: for example, they’re a frequent job-hopper or other potential serious weaknesses. Because of this, it gets a thumbs-down from most hiring professionals and recruiters, and job seekers are advised to avoid using this format whenever possible.
The verdict is virtually unanimous: the functional resume format is perhaps the least preferred among hiring professionals and recruiters. It immediately raises doubts and concerns: is the job seeker trying to cover up something? Another disadvantage to this format is that those reading your resume may have to work to figure out what you have done and when. And hiring professionals don’t have that kind of time. “Consider how much time is invested in a hiring process and the number of people involved,” reminds Herzog “These individuals’ daily responsibilities include more than just reading resumes, so if your resume is not clear and easily digestible, it may be passed over.” That is one reason why a functional resume can hurt more than it can help. And while it may contain important things about one’s functions and abilities, as Herzog notes, “it doesn’t tie them directly to tangible accomplishments for a specific company, and it will leave the readers skeptical.”
What It Is: As its name indicates, this is a combination of both the chronological and the functional format. Like the functional resume, your most relevant achievements are listed upfront under certain functions (e.g., “Sales,” “Training,” etc.). The work history section typically includes only the companies you’ve worked for, your job titles and dates of employment.
Pros: While it highlights your key achievements, it also shows when and where you have worked, so you don’t come across as trying to conceal something.
Cons: It can be confusing to many hiring personnel and recruiters. And if you’re applying for positions in conservative fields, it is best to avoid this and go with the chronological format instead.
While it may sound like an ideal compromise, and it is more acceptable than the purely functional format, most hiring professionals and recruiters are not in favor of this method. Also, because it resembles a functional resume, in the beginning, many hiring personnel will assume it is a functional resume and read no further. So while it is a step above the functional format, the best method to go with is still the chronological format, the one that best shows the natural progression of your career and how you have contributed and grow in each of your jobs.
How Long Should My Resume Be?
Now that you have a clearer picture of the different resume formats, another thing to consider when crafting your resume is its length. As a rule, the one-page resume is still preferred by most hiring professionals and recruiters. Focus the resume on the last 5-10 years of your job history. You should consider trimming anything beyond the last 10 years.
“There’s a natural tendency when you’re constructing your resume to include just one more thing,” says Herzog “But it’s important to distill things down and ask yourself, bullet point by bullet point, what does this indicate? What does this accomplish? Most recruiters and hiring companies consider your last three positions and make a very quick decision based on that along with your dates of employment.”
Herzog recommends cutting out items such as an objective or summary statement. An objective is not really appropriate except for those who are just starting their careers (e.g., a college grad) or those who are transitioning from one industry to another. Short of that, your accomplishments should speak for themselves. Plus, you also run the risk of alienating potential employers by including such statements and cutting yourself off from potential opportunities you may not have considered. If the objective does not resonate with the reader, there is no need to read any further.
Other things to cut are your hobbies, sports and anything related to your age, marital status and salary. “These are all inappropriate,” Herzog points out, “and is information that should not be considered in the hiring process.”
Overall, a resume is not your biography. “Think about it as an appetizer,” suggests Herzog. “The purpose of an appetizer is to whet one’s appetite—not satiate it. In the same way, just reading your resume should make the reader want to pick up the phone to learn more.”
And the golden rule of resume writing will always remain the same regardless of format or length: be truthful and honest. Do not misrepresent. As Herzog stresses, “We cannot emphasize enough the importance of being honest and accurate on your resume. Even if you are a single credit short of a degree, you cannot put down on your resume as having earned it.”
The Final Word: How FPC Can Help
When you work with an FPC recruiter, you’ll get a clear and objective assessment of your resume format: is it working for you? Will it work against you? Will it accomplish your job search goals? Your FPC recruiter knows that it is often not easy to step outside of yourself to do this, and by helping you to shape your resume to what hiring companies are looking for while staying accurate, you can improve your results. An FPC recruiter can help you understand what information to highlight to get you noticed. A resume may not get you the job—but it will get you through the door. Armed with the knowledge to create a winning resume, your FPC recruiter is here to assist you to do exactly that.