After you finish researching your target companies, the next step in developing your resume is to format it based on the style preferred by your potential employer. And bear in mind: Using the right resume format is key. Doing so signals that you understand the company, its expectations and culture. What’s more, selecting the proper resume format will help you highlight the elements of your experience and background that are most relevant to your potential employer.

In this guide, we’ll show you how to format your resume and break down two of the most common resume formats, examining the pros and cons of each. Next, we move on to a few best practices to keep in mind as you go about crafting your own resume.

what’s the best resume format?

There’s no one answer to this question, unfortunately. That said, you don’t have to worry about selecting from a huge list of contenders.

two resume formats are by far the most common:

  • reverse-chronological resumes
  • skills-based (or functional) resumes

Both have strengths and weaknesses — but those strengths and weaknesses ultimately depend on the companies you’re interested in as well as your previous work experience. For greater clarity about how to format your resume, let’s dig into this more closely.

how to make a reverse-chronological resume format

Generally, a reverse-chronological resume format is most effective when you have previous experience in the industry that you’re looking for new opportunities in. The basic principle? When listing your experience, start with your most recent professional experience and work backward from there. For each role that you’ve held, include the name of the company, the dates you worked there, a brief description of your position and a bulleted list of highlights.

reverse-chronological resume template

To stand out from the pack, make sure your reverse-chronological resume includes the following information:

  • your name and contact information
  • your career objective
  • your complete professional experience
  • your education
  • your skill set
  • relevant business associations, memberships or volunteer work
  • references (optional)

how to make a skills-based resume format

A skills-based resume format — sometimes referred to as a “functional resume format” — offers a lot of benefits if you don’t have a lot of previous experience in a given area or field. That’s because it calls attention to your skills, interests and abilities, as opposed to narrowly focusing on your work experience. For many of the same reasons, this style of resume is also often a smart choice if you have any large employment gaps, frequently changed jobs or held different job titles over a long period of time at a single employer.

skills-based resume template

Eager to develop a skills-based resume? Make sure you don’t omit any of the following:

  • your name and contact information
  • your career objective
  • a clearly defined list of your skills together with bulleted highlights of instances in which you put those skills to use
  • an overview of your professional experience, include all relevant employers
  • your skill set
  • testimonials from clients or employers (optional)

best practices for formatting a resume

Whatever approach you decide is right for you, there are a few universals — or best practices — that hold true for all resumes. So be sure to keep the following guidance in mind as you put together your resume.

  • Length: Keep it to one or two pages maximum (depending on years of experience), unless you’re applying for a highly technical position that requires additional explanation.
  • Borders: Common resume borders are usually one inch on each side. The default borders on Microsoft Word should suffice.
  • Font type: The most common font is Times New Roman, but Arial, Century Gothic, Garamond and Georgia are also popular. Make sure you select a font that’s easy to read.
  • Font size: The most commonly used font size is 12-point font; however, you may need to slightly increase or reduce this size to fit all of your information on one or two pages.

key takeaways

As the old saying goes, “form follows function” — which is something you should bear in mind as you decide on the right resume format to represent your candidacy.

If you have plenty of previous professional experience in the industry or space, a reverse-chronological format is probably the safest bet. If, on the other hand, you’re a relative newcomer, a skills-based resume might be the right approach. Either way, you should be sure to deploy the best practices we’ve outlined in this article. Put it all together and you should be able to craft the perfect resume in no time.

Finally, check out the next installment in our comprehensive resume-writing series: resume tips (part 3): contact information.