Choose a Resume Format that Helps Sell Your Story

Man writing notes in notebook
What comes first, the content or the format?

When writing or updating your resume, you may find yourself stuck in this “chicken or the egg” conundrum. Should I write down all my experience and then start arranging it, or should I choose a format and then plug in my content?

The answer is – it depends! Resumes are not “one size fits all” which is good because you want yours to be a reflection of your personal brand. That doesn’t mean you should go wild with an orange cursive font, but it does mean you should pay attention to how well your skill set aligns with the roles for which you’re applying.

Brainstorm your Content

When working with clients, I recommend starting with a content brainstorm. Write down all of your positions, projects you worked on, measurable results, technology used, etc. Don’t worry about limiting this brainstorm to the requisite 1-2 pages. It’s best to start with a plethora of content and then scale back as needed. Once you have everything down, consider the story it tells.

If you’re looking for a similar role to the one you’re in now, this should be a fairly easy process. However, if you’re changing fields or reentering the workforce, your story might feel choppy or unimpressive.

Luckily, there are different resume formats to choose from to help you clearly convey why you’re a good fit for the position.

Resume Formats
  • Chronological – Arguably the most common format, this organizes work experience in reverse chronological order meaning your most recent role is listed first. This is a good option when you are staying in the same industry or when your work history shows a clear progression of title and/or responsibility.
  • Functional – This format emphasizes your overall competencies rather than listing work experience chronologically. You identify core competency headings such as “Marketing” or “Program Management” and then list relevant accomplishments from across your career underneath. This style works well if you are switching careers or if you’ve had a variety of different roles in different industries.
  • Combined – A little bit of this and a little bit of that! You list experience in reverse chronological order, but also add a few competency headings (typically within your most recent role). This is helpful if you’ve held a position for multiple years and want to call attention to the various “buckets” of work.

In the end, your goal is to create a resume that is easy to read and clearly showcases what you bring to the table as an applicant. Whenever possible, find organic ways to incorporate keywords from the job description. Recruiters should be able to quickly find the information they’re looking for so they can fast track you to the interview process.

Not sure how to proceed?

The resume writing process can be daunting, but there’s no reason to have that delay (or hinder) your search efforts. If you’d like another set of eyes on your resume or need help writing one from scratch, let’s work together!