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The Evolution of the Traditional Resume

A man is working on a laptop with a paper in front of him.

​Functional, chronological or something else—which is the best resume style for you and the job you want? Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column.  

Recently I was advised to create a functional resume so that employers and recruiters will see my knowledge and expertise prior to my work history and educational accomplishments. I am not interested in changing careers and have a good relationship with my current and previous organizations. (I have been with my current employer for over six years.) In my next job, I want to gain more responsibility and strategic involvement and, more importantly, I want to move out of state. 

I am not convinced that a functional resume is the answer to my job search challenges and was wondering if you have any guidance or insight on whether tenured HR professionals should use a functional or chronological resume. 


The advice you received was partly right and partly wrong, because it doesn't show a real understanding of how resumes have evolved and why. 

There used to be chronological and functional resumes, with the latter designed to emphasize the skills you bring to the job while de-emphasizing when, where or how you gained that experience—good for people with missteps in their work history. 

Make Your Resume Stand Out

In the last two decades, recruitment has steadily moved online, so job search tactics must likewise be Internet-savvy. Your resume will go into databases, which are so numerous that nobody knows how many there are. Some of them contain upward of half a billion resumes.

Here are the three hurdles your resume must clear to get you out of those databases and into conversation with an employer:

  1. It must be focused on a target job and be data-dense enough about that job to be discovered in a resume database search. For maximum effectiveness:
    • Make a copy of your formatted resume and save it as a .doc file.
    • Clear all formatting.
    • Left-justify everything.
      Even the most ancient applicant tracking systems (ATSs) used to scour the databases will pick up on resumes formatted in this way.
  2. It must pass an initial 5- to 60-second glance by a recruiter, so it needs to be easy to read in a font size big enough to be scanned.
  3. It must position you as a logical candidate for the job and speak intelligently to the needs of the hiring manager. Further target your already-job-targeted resume to the specifics of each particular job posting. 

Take a Step Back to Take a Step Forward

Print newspaper and magazine writers have always had to write in a manner that enabled editors and production to truncate the article at the end of any paragraph in order to fit the article within the page layout, yet still leaving an article that made complete sense. The opening paragraph shares the highlights of the story and each subsequent paragraph dives a little deeper into the topic. Subheads help a reader quickly navigate the information. 

How does this apply to resume formats? As resume writers became more used to the way resume databases worked, a new style of resume evolved that boosted discoverability in resume database searches and used frequent descriptive subheads to increase visual accessibility for harried recruiters. Resumes today follow a specific flow of information based on a couple of criteria we are familiar with:

  • The customer is always right.
  • Find out what the customer wants and give it to them. 

The New Resume Layout

With these considerations in mind, here's the layout and information your resume should always include: 

  • Use the target job title as the headline after your contact information. This helps because a job title is the first term a recruiter puts into the ATS dialogue boxes. Plus, that title gives the reader an immediate focus.
  • Next comes a Performance Summary subhead that addresses what experience you bring to meet the customer's stated needs for the job. Use the employer's phraseology and acronyms as much as possible. This section is not for information on what you want or think. Readers just want to know "Can she or he do this job?"
  • Next comes a Professional Skills section, listing all the skills you bring to the job as they relate to employer needs. This is most visually accessible when done in three columns. (See an example of how to format the columns.) 

Together, the target job title tells a recruiter that you have what the hiring manager is looking for; your Performance Summary then confirms that you fulfill the job's most critical needs; and the Professional Skills section supports this with the hard skills required for successful execution on the job's deliverables. 

Finally, create a Professional Experience section. Focus the information on what you have done as it relates to the employer's needs. It is important to include all the hard skills that the employer wants under each job where you applied these skills. Repeating them under each job increases your ranking and therefore discoverability in ATS searches.

To cut a long and complex story short, you can see that the modern resume is a hybrid of traditional chronological and functional resumes, evolved to meet the needs of the times. 

Have a question for Martin about advancing or managing your career? From big issues to small, please feel free to e-mail your queries to We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know. 


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