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How to Choose a Resume Format and Template

Resume sitting on a table with reading glasses and a pen on top of it.
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A resume is not a creative document—in fact, it might be one of the most formulaic things you ever write. The very thing that makes resumes dull is also what makes them easy to create: you follow a formula.

With that in mind, there’s no reason not to use a template to create your resume. Formatting and organizing your work history, education, and skills might seem complicated, but templates do most of the work for you. All you have to do is add your specific details, making the process of writing or updating your resume much faster.

The key is to find a template that suits your experience, so you don’t have to make too many changes. In this deep dive, we’ll show you exactly how to choose both the right resume format and template for your needs.

Resume Formats

A resume template is a sample resume that shows you how to organize your information. You replace the sample info with your own and make some small adjustments, so it fits the job you’re applying for.

Each resume template comes in one of three formats. Before you can choose the right template, you need to narrow it and decide which format works best for your work history.

Chronological

The vast majority of resumes use a chronological format. This arranges your work and other experience (like volunteering or school projects) in reverse-chronological order, so the most recent is first. It highlights the most relevant information since most employers are more interested in what you’re doing now than what you did five years ago.

You should use a chronological resume format unless there’s a compelling reason not to. If you have limited work experience, either in general or in the field you’re applying to, another format might suit you better. Or, if you have highly relevant skills or accomplishments, you might choose a format that highlights those.

Functional

Functional resumes don’t rely on chronological information. Instead, they highlight skills, accomplishments, and other relevant information that’s not time-specific. You can organize this kind of resume by subject (like “customer service skills” and “computer skills”) instead of by timeline.

If you don’t have much work (or relevant) experience, you might choose this format. It works well for a first resume or career transition.

A functional resume should still include a work history section, but it will be at the bottom, and it will be shorter and less detailed than on a chronological resume. You might even forgo including the dates on your work history.

Although a functional resume might be the best fit for your experience, hiring departments aren’t always very receptive to this format. Functional resumes list skills without the context of when and where you learned them, so recruiters sometimes see that information as irrelevant.

Hybrid

Hybrid resume formats combine elements of the functional and chronological designs. This format can be beneficial when you have a bit of relevant work experience.

Hybrid resumes are also ideal if you have gaps in your work history. If you weren’t working at all (or in a relevant field) for several years, this format draws attention away from that gap and toward your valuable skills. Hybrid resumes place your skills, accomplishments, and qualifications at the top of the page, followed by a short chronological work history section.

You might start with a functional resume when you have minimal work experience, but as you get more, you can transition to a hybrid format. Eventually, you’ll have enough work experience to turn your resume into a chronological one. Hiring managers tend to view chronological resumes in the most favorable light, but it can take time to build up the necessary experience to make one.

Functional and hybrid resumes give you something to show recruiters, but a chronological resume should typically be your end goal. However, if skills and qualifications are crucial for your dream job, you might stick with a hybrid resume that highlights those.

Choosing the Best Template

Man's hands holding his resume and a red editing pencil over his laptop.
jamesteohart/Shutterstock

Now, it’s time to select a specific template in your preferred resume format that also suits your experience.

There are many free templates online, so there’s no need to pay for one. But do take plenty of time to browse the options so you can pick the best one.

Before you browse templates, it’s good to have a general idea of what you want to include on your resume. For example, maybe you want to include sections for education, work history, accomplishments, and awards. If you find a template with most or all of those sections, filling it out will be much easier. Of course, you can also edit a template, and rename or rearrange sections to better fit your experience.

You should make at least a few changes. You don’t want it to be too obvious that you used a template (even though most people do). Pay close attention to the job you’re applying for, as well as your own experience. Customize the template to show off your experience. For example, you could add keywords from the job listing to your headers or descriptions to increase your chances of getting an interview.

It’s All in the Details

Now that you’ve chosen your template, you’re ready to add your information. When you take the time to pick just the right resume template, filling it out is easy.

However, there are a few details you need to pay attention to, so your resume is taken seriously. These small things can have a significant impact on how your resume is received.

Formatting and Spacing

When you make changes to a template, the format can start to look funny. For example, cutting and pasting a section might affect the spacing. Consistent spacing makes your resume look neat and organized, while random spacing is distracting.

Headers are another place where formatting tends to get inconsistent. Make sure all your headers use the same format, such as a bold, 14-point font. If you forget to bold one header, recruiters will think you’re inattentive to details.

Be on the lookout for any other formatting errors that might pop up when you make changes and correct them, so the format stays consistent.

Fonts

Make sure your resume uses just one professional-looking font. Sans-serif fonts, like Helvetica, look sleek and modern, while serif fonts, like Times New Roman, look elegant and classic. You might even change the font accordingly for the job you’re applying for. Serif fonts suit old-fashioned industries, like publishing, while sans-serif fonts suit newer industries, like tech.

Keep your primary font size between 10 and 12 points, so it’s readable. Headers can be a little bigger, but avoid making them massive—it will look like you’re just trying to fill space. You can also use bold or all caps to make your headers stand out.

Color

Black and white is always a safe choice for resumes. However, if you’re applying in a creative field, you might add a little bit of color (or look for a template that already includes it). For an example of how to use color in a creative, yet professional way, check out this sample resume for famous entrepreneur Elon Musk.

Resume templates can save you a lot of time and effort by helping you organize your information quickly and professionally. Just make sure to choose your format and template wisely, and adjust it, so it’s unique to you.

If you’re having a hard time getting started on your resume, don’t miss the useful tips in our productivity guide!

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a Seattle-based writer and editor with a Master's in Writing Studies from Saint Joseph's University. Her work has appeared in publications like Racked, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and Rum Punch Press. She was awarded a 2017 Writing Between the Vines residency.  Read Full Bio »

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