It’s hardly surprising. A resume has got to convey meaning, facts, and personality, boiling down the essence of a working lifetime into just one or two pages. The sheer number of choices — about the best format, style, tone, and content — can overwhelm us. One wrong decision, it would seem, can render our efforts futile, as that uninspiring resume means that our applications are filed in the trash can.
And then the paralysis that results leaves us staring at that blank screen until we go cross-eyed.
If putting together your resume has proved a challenge, then don’t panic. Get started on the right foot with the best format to suit your situation, and you’re well on the way.
Here’s how to choose, and nail, your knockout resume:
Table of Contents:
Understanding resume types
The chronological format is the archetypal ‘traditional’ resume. The main part of the document will run through your work experience in reverse chronological order, giving the key details of the roles you have held and the major successes achieved along the way.
This style works perfectly if you are looking to progress within a similar field, and have a few years of work history under your belt.
Be aware, though: if your work history includes gaps, or you have actively moved positions many times, this format might inadvertently create the impression of job hopping — something you should avoid.
As the name suggests, in a skills-based resume the focus is on the skills you have acquired, rather than demonstrating a record of your work history. By listing out qualifications, skills, and experiences in the first part of the document, you draw the reader’s attention. Capitalize by tailoring the examples you choose to the role for which you’re applying.
This format will suit you if you are relatively new to the workplace, and therefore have little work history to show. It’s also ideal if you have been changing jobs frequently to find your perfect fit. In that case, you are likely to have developed a breadth of skills you can showcase here, increasing your chances of catching a recruiter’s eye.
A mixed resume format combines the two traditional styles outlined above. Usually a listing of skills and qualifications — or career highlights — comes at the top, before a brief rundown of positions held.
Because it combines both role history and an easily digestible summary of skills, this style is popular with job seekers at all career stages. It works especially well if you are looking to change sectors and want to showcase the transferable skills you’ve gained in previous work, without pigeonholing yourself.
Resumes used to be fairly standardized, ‘flat’ documents, which all followed roughly the same layout. Today there is far more variety in the types and formats that are used. Visual resumes present work history in a more visually-pleasing fashion, often using images, graphs, and pictures to highlight skills and experiences.
These resumes are perfect for those working in creative industries, and looking to bring their personality to life through their resume. The options available run from an ‘off the shelf’ template package, which allows you to insert simple-but-effective graphics into a fairly traditional style of document, to creating a fully customized resume using your own design skills.
Videos, graphics and personalized websites
Finally, there are a range of non-standard resume types, which have become increasingly popular, especially in tech-based and start up companies. They work well anywhere that catching the eye of a recruiter with something witty and personable is a lot more important than a lengthy career history.
You might find that you are specifically asked to create a video resume if you are applying for a remote working position, as this is a great way for employers to ‘get to know you’ through your application.
Otherwise, these resumes really allow the maker to flex their creative muscles. From this video game themed resume to innovative personal resumes based on popular websites like Google and Amazon, these resumes cover pretty much everything you can imagine.
How to get started
Perhaps you’re already sure of the style resume that would suit you. If that is the case, then you’re on a roll. If you’re still not quite sure, then try a Google search for the specific title you’re seeking plus the word ‘resume’. So, if you’re looking for a role as a web developer, then search ‘web developer resume’. This will throw up thousands of resume samples, and also (often more useful) live resumes which other job seekers have chosen to host online.
This gives you a great insight into what others in your industry are doing, and what a recruiter will see from the competition. Pick a few resumes you like and think about the features that appeal to you. Then, you can echo the style and emulate the features in your own finished product.
By now, you should have a format in mind, and can start to create. The easiest way by far is to use a template to guide your writing. This could just be a freebie template — many of which are available from Microsoft Word, Google Docs — or whichever software package you’re already using. Basing your work on a simple template like this will produce a clean finished product, but might mean that your resume is strikingly similar to many other applicants.
A better option could be to use a free online resource, or a purchased template. Hundreds of free template styles can be found and downloaded — try this selection for ideas. Alternatively, you can buy a professionally designed template which gives you a broad choice and allows you to get the look of a graphic designer, at a very low cost. For ideas, have a look at the templates available here and here.
Getting started is the most difficult part. By using a template, you have a leg up, as the structure is already outlined for you. Populate the basics of the template first, such as contact details and and dates of your work history, and you will feel like you’re on the way. For a step-by-step guide to putting together your knockout resume, try this free guide.
Before you know it, you’ll have a resume that has recruiters picking up the phone. Good luck!