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Resume Basics: Chronological or Functional Style?

by Nancy Peterson

As you begin your job search process, one of the most important tasks you will do is to prepare a resume. The resume is a key marketing tool and should be prepared with great thought and care. This is the document that will first introduce you and your credentials to potential employers and, ultimately, to your next employer.

A good resume will set you apart from other applicants and maximize your appeal to the hiring manager. This is essential to make the first cut and get to the next step in the applicant process. But what makes a resume good when most resumes include the usual set of information - an objective, work experience, education, and perhaps, other credentials such as affiliations and awards? Your choice of resume type, or format, could be the first decision that helps or hinders your efforts to get noticed.

The chronological resume and the functional resume are the two basic styles of resumes with the combination resume somewhat of a hybrid between the two. There are distinct reasons to use one style over the others and there are advantages and disadvantages associated with all three.

Let's begin with the chronological resume. This is the most common style of resume and is just as its name implies. The chronological resume lists your work experience and education in a timeline beginning with the most recent and working backwards. The focus of the chronological resume is the progression of the positions you have held. The clear advantage to this resume style is that it is very easy format for a recruiter to scan and digest. However, this resume style will also highlight gaps in your employment history and your age.

The functional resume is a skill-based resume that presents your experience and education as it relates to your desired job. You may have a specific job or career objective and it is not uncommon to lead off your resume with that as a brief statement. The functional resume can then follow your objective with the skills and experience that you have that are directly related to that job. The functional resume works well to minimize age bias for older applicants.

The combination resume merges the approaches of the chronological and functional resumes by presenting your skills and experience in chronological order beginning with the most recent and working backwards. This style of resume emphasizes the skills and experience you have to offer but outlines them in an easy-to-follow chronology that many recruiters expect to see. This style of resume works well for those with a varied employment history but tends to be longer than the other styles.

The resume style that you choose should be driven by what you would like to emphasize to employers. Do you have a progressive employment history in a single field that nicely highlights a sequence of positions and companies? Or do you have a varied employment history that can be nicely packaged as a solid skills inventory? Do you prefer to de-emphasize your age? These are all considerations in determining how best to market you to potential employers. Choose the style appropriate for your history and the position for which you are applying.