There are many resume formats. You’ve probably heard of a few of them. But the chronological resume is the most common and most popular. That’s because it’s the easiest to create and the easiest for recruiters and machines to read. That said, you may hear “common” and think “boring.”
Boring, in this case, isn’t bad. There are lots of reasons to use a “boring” chronological resume. And a chronological resume doesn’t have to be boring. There are plenty of ways to spice it up.
Remember, a resume is your first introduction to a potential employer. It should be easy to scan by humans or machines so they can quickly figure out if you’re a potential match for the job. However, a poorly written or formatted resume will likely end you in the “no way” pile, even if you’re the perfect person for the job.
What is a Chronological Resume?
There’s more to any resume than just your work history. You also include your contact information, your education, and a few other relevant tidbits about yourself.
But, the important part of a chronological resume is that it’s a concise summary of your work history in reverse order. Most, if not all, of your skills and experiences are listed under each of your job titles as either job duties or relevant achievements.
On a chronological resume, the first job on your resume is your current or most recent job. Below that is the next most recent job, then the next most recent, and so on, until you reach the “beginning.” The “beginning” can be your first job, the most relevant job, or your first job after college.
Why Use a Chronological Resume
As a rule, a chronological resume is the “best” choice. It has many advantages over other resume styles, and those advantages can help you land in the interview pile.
Recruiters Like Them
Recruiters like chronological resumes because it follows a specific format that makes it easy for them to scan quickly and decide if you’re worth a second look. Given that a recruiter only looks at your resume for an average of six seconds before making a decision, using a chronological resume increases the odds that those six seconds work in your favor.
With a chronological resume, a recruiter knows exactly where to look to find out about your skills, experience, and education to figure out if you’re the right fit for a job. Use a different format, and the recruiter will waste those six seconds hunting down the relevant information, and you don’t want that, which leads to the next advantage.
The advantage of a chronological resume is it puts your skills into context, something recruiters want and need during those six seconds. For example, if you claim you’re really good with numbers, you need to prove that on your resume. If a recruiter scans your resume and sees that you have a degree in accounting, a job as an auditor, and volunteer experience as a bookkeeper at the animal shelter, the recruiter easily understands how you obtained your skills and how those skills might or might not be perfect for their job.
On the other hand, if you use a different format (say, a skills-based resume), you may not be able to easily show that you have the right skills in the right setting. While you may have a degree in accounting, on a skills-based resume, you won’t be able to demonstrate how you used those skills to benefit the employer.
For example, you might have skills that show off your bookkeeping abilities. But where did you keep the books? Was it a Fortune 500 company or for your mom’s Etsy business? That’s a big difference in terms of skills and experience. And, if your resume doesn’t demonstrate that easily, the recruiter may never know that you are the right person for the job.
Machines Like Them
Like it or not, a lot of companies are using applicant tracking systems (ATS). These programs scan resumes faster than a recruiter, allowing them to sort hundreds of applicants into two piles: yes and no.
No matter what resume format you use, you should always create a targeted resume for each position you apply for. That doesn’t mean rewrite your entire resume for every application. It does, however, mean that you should scan the job description and include relevant keywords in your skills and experiences.
But, you can’t take a bunch of keywords from the job description, throw it on your resume, and assume you’ll get an interview. The keywords you use have to have context.
Now, when we say “context” for an ATS, we’re not using “context” in the same way as for a human recruiter. An ATS isn’t capable of connecting the dots from job to skill. Yet. But, what an ATS can do is scan your resume in a specific pattern while it looks for certain keywords. And that pattern is based on a chronological resume.
The ATS is programmed to look for a job, a date, and specific keywords. Depending on the information parsed (that means “found”) from your resume, your resume is ranked based on whatever factors are programmed into the ATS.
However, when the ATS parses your resume, it may distort or even lose information from your resume. This can happen with any resume format, but it’s more likely to happen when you don’t use a chronological format simply because that’s what the ATS is most likely expecting.
Because you can never be certain whether it’s an ATS or a human scanning your resume, your safest bet is probably a chronological resume.
Why to Not Use a Chronological Resume
While the chronological resume is the “preferred” resume choice for many, that doesn’t make it right for everyone. There are, unfortunately, two times you may not want to use a chronological resume.
First, because a chronological resume is in date order, large gaps in your employment history are glaringly obvious. And, there’s really no way to hide it. While you may have a perfectly valid reason for sitting out of the job market for a while, many employers see employment gaps as a red flag and put you in the no pile.
Secondly, for career changers, a chronological resume isn’t your best bet. It’s hard to explain how skills from your old career will transfer to your new one. Of course, you can address this in a cover letter, but that may not be enough to get you the interview.
For career changers or those with employment gaps, a hybrid resume (also called a combination resume) may be the best bet.
Chronological Resume Format
Chronological resumes are probably the easiest resume to write. When you summarize your work history by job, you can focus on each position and the specific duties of the position. From those duties, you’re better able to explain how your skills and experiences are exactly what the employer needs in their next hire.
However, writing a resume and formatting a resume are two different things. Brie Reynolds, Career Development Manager and Career Coach at FlexJobs, advises job seekers not to spend a lot of time formatting a resume. “Your time is much better spent crafting the content of your resume for each application, so it’s tailored and specific to that one job.” She also advises job seekers to skip the fancy features because “they often can’t be read by applicant tracking systems. And recruiters tend to prefer a simple resume format.”
The only time you should use a “fancy” format is if you’re going into a field where design and creativity are essential skills, and you’re trying to highlight those on your resume. Otherwise, Reynolds says to avoid the following:
- Text boxes
- Any information in the header or footer
- Using more than one accent color
- Uncommon fonts
- Uncommon characters like unusual bullet points (think checkmarks or arrows)
What font should you use for a chronological resume? The best fonts are:
- Times New Roman
Furthermore, the best bullet points are circles and dashes
These may be “boring” and “common,” but using them increases your chances of getting in the “yes” pile. First, using a basic format makes it easy for the ATS to parse your resume.
Second, basic formatting is easier to read. Fancy scripts may look pretty, but they are much harder on the eyes and the brain. You don’t want the recruiter wasting time on your resume trying to figure out if you wrote “Customer Service Rep” or “Customer Service Tech” because you use a hard-to-read cursive font.
How to Write a Chronological Resume
Now you have to write your resume. If you’re writing it yourself, this is where you want to spend the bulk of your time, creating the connection between your experience and the job opening. Make sure you use keywords from the job description and demonstrate how your skills benefited your employer.
In general, a chronological resume has the following sections:
- Name and contact information
- Professional experience (usually your last 10 to 15 years of work history)
- Technology skills
- Education and training
- Volunteer or internship experience
Each section is set off by a heading: Work history, Education, Volunteer Work, etc. Under each section, you list each experience that fits into that section and briefly explain what you learned and what you accomplished.
At the very top of the resume is your contact information. It’s the one section that won’t have a header. This should include your name, phone number, and an email. You should also include links to your LinkedIn profile and portfolio if you have these. Beyond that, you can also include your location (city and state are sufficient).
As for social media profiles, you can include those if you choose. However, if they are not relevant to the job or do not act as a portfolio (think: cake decorator using Instagram to show off work), make sure your social media profiles are stellar before you include them. And, if you do include your social media profiles, make sure they are public. Nothing is as frustrating as seeing “here’s my info” only to click on the link and discover it’s locked.
After your contact information comes a professional summary. Some people skip this, saving the space for work history, education, or volunteer experience.
But, if you include a summary section, make it rock. A summary is a way for you to make your case as to why a company should hire you. This is where you highlight the strengths, skills, and abilities that you and only you have.
Explain how you will add value to the company. Start by skipping the “average” words, like multitasker or team player. Everyone is those things. What are the skills that only you have? Use examples to help get your point across.
If you need some inspiration, here are some sample summaries from our Career Coaching department.
- Results-driven customer service professional with outstanding listening and communication skills
- 7 years of experience in public-facing customer-focused roles helping to resolve technical and other issues, including experience providing high-quality customer support through phone and email
- Remote work experience and skills: adaptability, autonomous and independent work, trustworthy and productive, enthusiastic interest in learning, deploying, and teaching others new technology. Completed 2+ years of remote/online education, communicating and collaborating with students and professors.
Experienced marketing professional and team leader who uses skills in strategy development, project management, and relationship building to achieve goals. Accomplished director of full-cycle print and digital marketing activities. Excellent written and verbal communicator who thrives in both individual conversations and large presentations.
Passion for process improvement, coaching, and translating goodwill into results. Extensive remote work and remote education experience with a dedicated home office.
Experienced marketing and social media strategist with 5+ years of remote work experience. Trusted marketing specialist focused on helping companies tell their stories and expand their audiences. Approachable, friendly teammate and leader skilled at planning, organizing, communicating, and problem-solving.
Marketing — strategy, planning, analytics, email marketing, organic media growth, paid media, content creation
Social Media — audience engagement through Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat
Photo and Video — graphic and web design, photo editing, video creation
Marketing & Social Media — Marketo, Hubspot Convertkit, MeetEdgar, CoSchedule, Hootsuite, Tailwind, Planoly, Plann
Design — Adobe Creative Suite (Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Premiere), Final Cut Pro
Content — MS Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint), Google Drive (Docs, Sheets, Slides), WordPress, Squarespace
Remote Work Tools — Asana, Trello, Slack, Dropbox, Skype, Google Chat, Hangouts, Zoom
In a chronological resume, underneath the contact information is your employment history. It’s set apart by a header that’s usually called “Work History,” “Experience,” “Employment,” or something similar.
Under that header is your current or most recent job. It’s usually the name of the company, your title, the dates you worked, then your job duties listed off in short, easy to read bullet points, like this:
The Widget Company, Senior Sales Manager
June 1999 – June 2002
Repeat this format until you either reach your first job, or you’ve gone back between 15 and 20 years in your work history. Anything longer than 20 years, and you should consider dropping it off your resume.
When Your Work History Is Sparse
Obviously, if you don’t have an extensive job history, you’ll have to think creatively about this section.
For younger people who haven’t had a real job, what have you done that could qualify as work? Did you babysit? Walk dogs? Tutor other students? Think outside the cubicle when it comes to defining work.
If you don’t have anything that might qualify as work, did you volunteer? That can count, too. Or, were you in a lot of activities and organizations? Were you in a leadership position? Did you play a key role in another way? There’s lots of non-paid work you can add to your resume to help define and describe your skills.
Education is a brief section listing the school you attended, the dates you attended, your field of study, and the degree you received. If you did not receive a degree, you can leave that information out.
If you attended more than one school, list the most recent school first, then continue backward in date order. Format each school the same way.
If you have internship experience, you can use it in addition to or in lieu of paid work. This is usually a separate section from work history. However, if you choose to list it under work experience, make sure you list your job title as “intern,” so it’s clear that you were not a regular employee. Internships are formatted the same way as a job.
If you have any volunteer experience you’d like to include, it goes in this section. Definitely include a section if your volunteer work is relevant to the job you’re applying for. But, also feel free to include it if that’s something you want to share with a potential employer.
For most older job seekers, this section is not necessary. However, for younger job seekers, you may want to consider including an activities section at the bottom of your resume. You can use it to list the activities you participated in during school, especially if they are relevant to the job. And, you can also use it to highlight any leadership roles you held or any honors you received.
Chronological Resume Example
And, lastly, here is an example chronological resume.
Get Resume Help
While it may seem like a lot, writing a chronological resume isn’t nearly as daunting as it seems if you follow the proper format. Once you’ve created your personal template, you’ll be able to adjust it with the proper keywords for each job you apply to.
If you want further help with crafting a resume, consider getting some expert advice. FlexJobs offers career coaching and resume reviews to our members at a discounted rate. You can meet individually with a coach or have your resume professionally edited. You’ll apply to your next job full of confidence that you have the best resume possible!
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