The Resume Format You Should Never Use

crumpled resume

Crumpled resume | iStock.com/ragsac

You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. When you’re hunting for a new job, your resume is the first thing hiring managers see. Make a mistake, and your application will never make it to the next round of consideration.

What kind of resume bloopers turn off employers? Typos, unprofessional email addresses, wordy job descriptions, and clichéd language won’t do you any favors. But one of the biggest errors you can make is choosing the wrong resume format.

Most people organize their resume chronologically, listing their most recent position first and working backward through time. Employers like this format because it’s predictable and easy to scan. A quick glance gives them an idea of a candidate’s skills and depth of experience. Three-quarters of HR managers surveyed by Accountemps said they prefer to see a resume organized in this way.

“A traditional chronological format showcases your marketable skills by describing how you leveraged them with each role, as well as your accomplishments. In other words, it contextualizes your qualifications for the reader,” Amanda Augustine, career advice expert for TopResume, told The Cheat Sheet.

But what if your skills and experience don’t fit neatly into the chronological format? Perhaps you’ve been out of the workforce for a while, had to take a career detour because of a layoff, or are trying to land a job in a different field. In those cases, some people gravitate toward a functional resume, which highlights your skills and expertise rather than focusing on job titles.

Online job searching on tablet

Online job application | iStock.com

“This type of format will chronologically summarize your employment history, but the brief information is placed at the end of the resume, so the focus remains on the skills directly related to your target job,” Augustine explained. Job descriptions are typically omitted in this resume format, and some people will leave off employment dates.

“A functional resume is a strategic way to draw attention away from a bumpy career history, and refocus on skills gained along the way,” Augustine said. In theory, it sounds like a great way to highlight your strengths and downplay your weaknesses. But you could be setting yourself up for failure by choosing this resume format. Employers often see a functional resume as a red flag, Augustine said. Others career experts agree.

“[I]n my experience, more hiring managers than not do think functional resumes are frustrating and possibly hiding something,” HR expert Alison Green of Ask a Manager wrote. Only 17% of hiring managers in the Accountemps survey said they preferred functional resumes.

Using a functional resume can be a particularly big problem if you’re applying for jobs online. Applicant tracking software (ATS) searches for keywords in your work history to filter out candidates, Augustine explained. If you don’t have keyword-rich job descriptions for each of your past positions, you may not make it past the initial screening process. “In some ATS systems, a functional resume practically guarantees that your application will land in the rejection pile,” Augustine said.

The bias – both human and technical – against functional resumes is so great Augustine says she strongly recommends against them and will only use such a format “if the client demands it” or is trying to reenter the workforce after an absence of a decade or more.

career coach and job seeker

A career coach reviews a job seeker’s resume | PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

What should you do if you have resume gaps or other work history issues? Augustine suggests a hybrid resume format, which combines elements of both the chronological and functional resume. Start with a professional summary and then explain your key qualifications, relevant skills, and past achievements. Then, list your past jobs in the traditional, chronological format, reframing the job descriptions so they show how each position prepared you for the job you want.

“Describe each of your previous roles with your current job goal in mind,” Augustine said. “For instance, if you’re pursuing a marketing role, but only have worked in retail, consider the tasks you’ve performed or experience you’ve gained that will help you become a good marketer. It could relate to your experience with sales promotions, merchandise displays, or even your customer interactions.”

Volunteer work can also help fill in employment gaps, particularly if it’s relevant to your career. Forty-one percent of LinkedIn members said they thought volunteer experience was just as valuable as traditional work experience when evaluating candidates, and 20% of hiring managers said they’d hired someone based on their volunteer experience.

“People are wondering whether it’s considered as legitimate as paid work experience,” Carol Fishman Cohen, co-founder of career reentry programming company iRelaunch.com, told Fortune. “What we’re hearing on the employer side is that if the volunteer experience is relevant to your career goal, include it.”

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