Your Resume Format Matters: Make It Count

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Improve Your Resume or CV

One of the first things hiring managers check on a resume is its formatting. If they spot a formatting issue, they’ll probably toss your resume aside without even looking at the content. This may sound unfair, but they want to see that you can pay attention to details and perform as expected, and resume formatting is a good test for that. Recruiters also want to know that you’re professional, organized, and capable of communicating effectively, including in your visual and logical presentation of information. 

Therefore, formatting is crucial in creating a perfect resume. Since hiring managers are flooded with way more job applications than they can handle, they’ll jump at any excuse to shrink the pool. When it comes to the little details of your resume, let our resume experts handle them for you—they can help you decide what style works best for you. 

If you want to try your hand at it, let’s consider different formatting options that will help you improve your resume.

Formatting style

Choosing your formatting style largely depends on the type of job you’re applying for and the amount of experience you have in that field. Every candidate is different, so what works for someone else may not work for you; therefore, choose the style that best fits you. 

The most common type of resume—the one you’re most likely familiar with—is the chronological resume, which focuses on your employment history, presenting your previous jobs in descending chronological order. Since this is the “default” style, we won’t get into details here.

Functional resume

This type of resume is not used very often but can be highly effective for those with a spotty employment history. The functional resume places the entire focus on your skills and qualifications to distract from your sparse work history or lack of relevant education. It is commonly used when you’re switching careers, have been out of the workforce for a lengthy period (perhaps to raise children or care for a loved one), have been laid off, or simply don’t have any previous work experience in the field you’re looking to enter. 

This type of resume is also beneficial for those who don’t meet education requirements. Even if you don’t, you can still apply for the job—just use a functional resume so your skills eclipse your lack of education.

If you use a functional resume, make your skills the primary focus. This means your skills section should be longer and include as many keywords and requirements from the job description as possible. If you can use your skills to sell yourself to the hiring manager, the functional resume is the perfect fit for you!

Hybrid resume

This is the most popular and most effective resume format because it incorporates elements from the functional resume while also highlighting your previous experience in the field. A hybrid resume includes a career summary that briefly explains your qualifications, with more detailed explanations in the skills, work experience, and education sections. The best part about the hybrid resume is that it proves to the hiring manager you have both the skills and the experience and education needed to meet the job requirements.

Another merit of the hybrid resume is that it can easily pass through applicant tracking systems (ATSs). These programs scan resumes for keywords and requirements set by the employer and filter them accordingly. If formatted correctly, a hybrid resume can easily bypass the ATS and land on the hiring manager’s desk—it sports all the right keywords but elaborates on your skills in the work history section, allowing the program to assign a time period to each skill.

A hybrid resume also lets you demonstrate your skills by proving them through quantifiable results included in your work history section. You want to show that you’re qualified for the job by showcasing your best achievements, using numbers and percentages wherever possible. If you do this, your hybrid resume will be extremely effective.

Formatting techniques

Regardless of what formatting style you use, the formatting techniques are pretty much the same. Poor formatting can cost you the job even if your qualifications are excellent. Here are some techniques to consider before hitting the submit button.

Include all content

This may not be a formatting technique per se, but it’s certainly a formatting issue that can have a major impact on your resume. If a hiring manager sees that you’ve left out a section, they’ll immediately move your resume to the trash can. Go through your resume and make sure it has all the necessary content and that your content is consistent throughout. Stylistic inconsistencies in a resume are indicative of a chaotic and disorganized work style, which puts employers off. 

You’ll also want to make sure your lists are parallel and easy to read. Begin each bullet point with the same part of speech (e.g., noun, verb, adjective). If you start with verbs, make sure they’re all in the same form. This helps with readability and demonstrates your ability to communicate effectively. 

Use lists sparingly

You might think the most effective way to display your achievements is to present them in list form, but if you use a list for everything, the power of this technique will be lost. Instead, only use lists for major accomplishments. It’s acceptable and even recommended to communicate less important information through sentences and phrases. Just step back and look at your resume when you’re finished, then decide what needs to be in a list and what can be a regular sentence. Also, you can hand your resume to a friend or a family member for a second opinion.

Don’t crowd your resume

Since there’s so much information to include but limited space, many people end up crowding their resumes. After all, all information is important, right? Not necessarily. Typically, hiring managers only spend about seven seconds scanning a resume. If yours is crowded, it can appear overwhelming, and the hiring manager may just chuck it aside. Therefore, you want to format your resume professionally and in a way that effectively conveys the most important information.

Most resumes should be no longer than two pages, so use those two pages wisely. Create space by including section headers and lines that divide the sections. Also, take out anything irrelevant to the job you’re applying for. Use standard margins and a standard 10 pt or 12 pt font (hiring managers won’t be fooled by tricks to manipulate the margin or font size to add space). Don’t crowd your resume by trying to include every detail about every point in your career. 

Read, reread, and reread again

The best resume-writing technique is to read the document over and over again until you’re certain you can’t improve upon it. If you don’t go through your resume numerous times, it’s likely to end up containing multiple errors, such as spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and grammar mistakes. Take the time to zero in on the small details that could keep you from getting the job. Ask a friend to read it, then consult a professional resume writer. Even if you’re a grammar expert, proofreading your own work effectively is nearly impossible because you’re too familiar with the text. Having a professional edit your resume is the best investment you can make in your job search.

Your resume is not only about the content—it’s also about the format. You can include all the right content, but if it’s not presented in a logical and accurate way, it is pointless. Don’t settle for a sloppy resume—organize it in a way that makes the hiring manager want to read it all the way through. Need another pair of eyes on your resume? Reach out to our resume experts for whatever assistance you require.

Improve Your Resume or CV