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Grace Chiu

SFU Co-op Student
Communication, Art + Technology › Communication

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As long as your resume can communicate your education, work and volunteer experiences, relevant skills, and interests effectively to hiring managers, don’t feel pressured to have to switch to a format you are not familiar with just because your friends are doing it!

It is very important to choose a resume format that best suits your background, the position you are applying for and the industry you are in. The ideal format is one that best presents your work experiences, personal attributes, and the skills that a prospective employer is looking for. Amongst many, there are three basic formats: chronological, functional, and combination.

Chronological Resume

A resume formatted chronologically cites your relevant experiences by date in reverse chronological order – most current experience to oldest experience. This format is the most common resume format and is one that many employers prefer and are familiar with. It shows dates as well as your schooling history and works all at one glance.

There are several advantages of doing your resume in a chronological format. It provides a clear and concise history of work, education, and volunteer work and reflects your growth and progress in your industry through the positions you have held. This format, however, is not the best if you do not have current relevant employment history or steady work history in the industry you are hoping to enter. Gaps in your work history, in particular, are easily observed in this format.

In some cases, your most relevant work experience is not always the most current. In a chronological resume format, you run the risk of listing your most relevant experience farther down the page or possibly on the second page, simply because it is older. Knowing that employers spend approximately 10 seconds scanning your resume, listing relevant information lower on the page or on the second page could bury it too far for an employer to find at first glance.

Functional Resume

A functional resume highlights your abilities, skills, and accomplishments rather than strictly chronological work history. A functional resume could be suitable for people with some work history gaps or a lack of steady work experience. A functional resume also offers a lot of flexibility as to how you want to organize and highlight your relevant experiences from a range of positions you’ve held, including paid, volunteer, and other work you’ve done, such as clubs on campus.

Although a functional resume offers you much more flexibility, there are two disadvantages that could come with this format. Some employers may make the assumption that you are trying to cover up certain aspects of your work history. Using a strictly functional resume format could also make it harder for employers to compare you to other candidates, particularly those with a chronological resume.

Combination Resume

As you may have already figured out, the combination resume is a hybrid of the chronological and functional formats. This format showcases your most impressive accomplishments and skills and at the same time, lists the work history that many employers may be looking for.

When laying out your resume in a combination format, you have much more flexibility with regards to the headings you use and how to group your experiences. For example, let’s say you are a Computing Science student applying for a job as a Quality Assurance Tester. Instead of using a heading such as “work experience”, you can group your most relevant experiences into headings such as “programming experience” and “quality assurance testing experience” and list all your volunteer, work and classroom experiences chronologically within those sections. But the key is that you are not restricted as to which heading you place higher up on the page. Applying for a job that is focused more on quality assurance testing? Even if your quality assurance testing experiences are slightly older than your other experience, you can place that section nearer to the top to show the employer that you have the relevant skills and experiences that they are looking for.

Now, you may still be wondering which format you should use, but the best advice that anyone can give you is: choose one that you are most comfortable with! Your ultimate goal is to market yourself and what you can offer to prospective employers. As long as your resume can communicate your education, work and volunteer experiences, relevant skills, and interests effectively to hiring managers, don’t feel pressured to have to switch to a format you are not familiar with just because your friends are doing it! But if you do feel that a different format can convey your skills and accomplishments better, by all means, do not feel afraid to try it! As the old saying goes: practice makes perfect!

For additional help, check out the book collection at Career Services Student Resources Lounge for resume samples of each format. Also, make an appointment with one of the Career Services Career Peer Educators to help you give your resume the extreme makeover it deserves!

Beyond the Blog

  • Grace Chiu Jan 14, 2013
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About the Author

a portrait of Grace

Grace Chiu

SFU Co-op Student
Communication, Art + Technology › Communication
Grace is a 4th year Communications major who enjoys volunteering, writing and mentoring people. She has worked at BCNET and SFU Volunteer Services prior to her fourth and fifth co-op placement with HSBC. She is currently interning at SAP and working part-time at SFU OLC as the Volunteer Recruiting & Project Coordinator. In her spare time, she loves watching drama and movies.

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