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It's easy to find advice on how to format resumes--just Google "proper resume format."
Just because it's easy to find doesn't make such advice correct or up to date, however.
One example that crops up in many resume advice sites and gets passed along by well-meaning friends, family members and colleagues is to use a reverse-chronological format, i.e. the most-recent jobs listed first, instead of a functional resume structure, which describes your skills and experience without necessarily linking those elements to dates or even employers.
Which one is right? Both and neither, said Steve Burdan, a certified professional resume writer who works with TheLadders. The most effective resume is a hybrid that combines both functional and chronological information, with a summary section that outlines career highlights and key qualities and accomplishments, and a chronological section that puts those elements into context in well supported blurbs for each job title that not only state where you worked and when but also the nature of your top achievements and details of your job responsibilities.
Burdan recently used the hybrid approach to overhaul the resume of a sales professional. The salesperson's original resume used only the functional approach, which Burdan called the "least effective" format.
"The first thing I knew when I looked at the [original] version of his resume, I saw it and said 'Man, we got to melt it down and recast it,' so to speak," he said. "The primary drawback of the functional resume is it takes all these neat accomplishments out of chronological sequence. You don't know if the guy did something last week or 20 weeks ago."
The Hybrid model
But a chronological resume doesn't stand alone, Burdan said.
While a reverse-chronological resume clearly presents how recently in your career you accomplished a given achievement, it doesn't necessarily focus the reader's attention on the job seeker's strengths.
Burdan compares the job search to online dating, and he extends the metaphor to liken the hybrid resume to a well-positioned suitor in a speed-dating scene.
"You really want to put your best foot forward," he said. "In speed dating, you have 3 minutes to make that chemical connection. It's the same with your resume: At the beginning of the resume, you insert a strong profile and areas of expertise section. [The job seeker in question] didn't have that on his old resume. With the new hybrid resume, right at the beginning of the resume, I'm focusing the reader's attention immediately on what he's capable of doing. I wanted to make a big splash right up front."
In a hybrid resume, build up separate sections that cover both chronological information and functional information.
With the sales professional's resume, Burdan first built a branding statement area to encapsulate exactly what an employer would get were it to hire the candidate. The title of the revamped resume reads "Management -- Business Development," followed by a profile that begins: "Entrepreneurial leadership experience in new business development, territory management, branding strategies and industry networking initiatives in consumer-oriented and start-up business environments."
This branding section should also include a bulleted list with such items as "Profitably develop and implement successful business plans and high-impact product launches with a creative, visionary approach; ensure delivery of high-growth revenue results."
The hybrid resume then lists "Areas of Expertise" in its own section that includes such keywords as Strategic Planning, Relationship Building and Performance Metrics. Finally, the hybrid format details the job seeker's employment history in reverse-chronological order, with achievements highlighted in bulleted lists preceded by job-function descriptions in brief paragraphs.
In all the sections each sentence and key phrase are like nails in a strong buliding, Burdan said. "I'm nailing home what I want the reader to understand about what [a job seeker] is capable of doing."