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The Top 10 Blunders of Online Job Hunters: Choose the Best Format For Your Resume

By John J. Marcus

Job hunters are inundated with advice on how to describe their background so they can land interviews in this tight job market. They're offered a slew of resume formats, which makes the choice especially difficult.

Don't be discouraged. The list of formats can be narrowed to three that most job seekers use to present their credentials. They are:

  1. The chronological resume,
  2. The functional resume and
  3. The hybrid (a combination of the above)

Each format has advantages and disadvantages. Which you choose should depend on the circumstances of your search. These will determine the purpose of your document and dictate how you should organize your credentials. Regardless of the type of format you select, your goal is the same: to win a job interview. To effectively market your candidacy to hiring managers, review the following rationale for using each of the three formats and tips on how to construct them.

The Chronological Resume

Its name a misnomer, the chronological resume actually presents work experience in reverse-chronological order, so that your current or most recent employer is listed first.

This type of presentation is the top choice of almost all recruiters, hiring managers and human-resources professionals because it's so easy to read. Information is organized in such a way that a reviewer can scan the document and quickly gain a good understanding of your career progression, including the types of companies you've worked for, dates of employment, job titles and, most important, your responsibilities and accomplishments. It's the format most professionals should plan on using in their job searches.

When writing a chronological resume, here's how to describe your background so you'll set up multiple interviews.

Start at the top of the resume with an introductory section that briefly summarizes your key strengths and contributions. Two to four sentences will suffice. Effective headers for this section are Profile, Summary, Career Summary and Summary of Qualifications.

Use the next section to discuss your work experience. Begin with the name of your current or most recent employer, followed by the city and state where it's located, and your dates of employment. Provide a short description of the company's business, including, if possible, its annual revenues (for instance, "$100 million commercial PVC pipe maker").

Follow this with your job title and a brief summary of your responsibilities. Include the total number of people you oversee, the total who report directly to you and the size of your budget.

Next comes the most critical information on your resume: your accomplishments, listed by each position you held. Cite these successes by their importance to the type of position you're seeking. Begin each statement with a past-tense verb (e.g., "initiated"), preceded by a bullet. Also be sure to quantify your achievements so readers will understand their scope. Numbers provide impact and credibility. Additionally, discuss anything new or different you did. Nothing is more important than demonstrating innovation.

Be succinct when wording your accomplishments. The less you say, the greater the impact of what you do say.

The advantage of the chronological format (in addition to it being the preferred type of presentation) is that it automatically showcases progressive growth when you've held increasingly responsible positions. The chronological approach is especially effective if your current or most recent position indicates you have outstanding qualifications to perform the job you seek.

But a chronological resume will be less successful in generating interviews if your most recent position is unrelated to the type of job you're pursuing or you have held a string of unrelated positions. Job hunters who have such a background often use a functional resume format to present their credentials.

The Functional Resume

Functional resumes discuss work experience according to functional strengths, not employers. The emphasis is on what someone has done, not where and when the work was done. This enables a job hunter to immediately highlight certain talents and accomplishments, while concealing the types of liabilities that the chronological format would automatically showcase. When constructing a functional resume, you would:

Begin with a short introductory section, as described in the chronological-resume section.

Then discuss your successes, grouping them in three to five functions.

For example, a financial executive could detail achievements in "Corporate Finance," "Mergers & Acquisitions," "Cost Reduction," and "IPOs."

A human-resources executive could list accomplishments in "Organizational Development," "Training," "Compensation & Benefits," "Recruitment," and "Labor Relations."

A sales-and-marketing executive could discuss achievements in "Strategic Planning," "Key Account Growth," "New Market Penetration," "New Product Development & Launch," and "Advertising & Sales Promotion."

The format also allows you to present strengths in completely different functions, such as "General Management" and "Finance."

To discuss successes in this format, briefly describe and quantify your accomplishments, as described above.

Conclude with a section entitled Employment History. Here, list the names of your employers, their locations, and your dates of employment. Stating job titles is optional, depending on whether this information would be beneficial.

While the functional resume does a superb job of immediately drawing attention to key strengths and achievements, it's at a potentially huge cost. Many executive recruiters and employers won't read this type of resume, because they're familiar with the format and know that they won't be able to find out when and where an applicant's accomplishments occurred. Equally important, many employers and recruiters are aware that applicants who are trying to conceal serious liabilities in their backgrounds sometimes use functional resumes, thus giving them another reason to set such documents aside.

Functional formats are especially ineffective nowadays because there's an abundance of talented executives presenting their experience in the highly preferred chronological style. Recruiters and employers have the luxury of reading only those resumes that immediately appeal to them and discarding the rest.

The Hybrid

The hybrid resume compensates for the functional resume's deficiency in explaining when and where successes occurred.

Begin the document as you would a functional resume, with an introductory section followed by a discussion of accomplishments grouped by job functions.

Next, add an experience section similar to that on a chronological resume.

In this way, you highlight key successes, while also showing when and where they occurred, so you don't appear to be trying to disguise your background.

Unfortunately, most resumes get only an initial glance and aren't read in their entirety. Since the hybrid resume begins with the functional approach, many people won't read it all the way through.

Consider Your Circumstances

Unless you have an unblemished background, a resume isn't the perfect device for presenting work experience. In fact, the greater the number of liabilities a job hunter has, the less this document can be relied upon for producing interviews. This is especially the case when responding to Internet postings, answering print ads, or conducting a mass mailing to prospective employers or recruiters. In these cases, you'll always face formidable competition from job hunters whose resumes contain no background deficiencies.

If your resume highlights serious liabilities in your work experience, you'll need to spend much more time networking. If you develop leads for interviews through networking contacts, your resume will be less important in gaining access to prospective employers and recruiters. Instead, these people will want to meet you because of the glowing comments from your referrals. Their remarks will give you immediate credibility and minimize the deficiencies in your background.

When deciding which of these formats to use, consider your target audience and which type presents the strongest case for your candidacy. One approach may help in some situations but not in others. Consequently, having two versions of your resume may best meet your needs.

-- Mr. Marcus is a career counselor and resume writer in Sarasota, Fla. He's the author of "The Resume Makeover: 50 Common Problems with Resumes and How to Correct Them" (McGraw-Hill Trade, 2003).

Article from CareerJournal. September 2004