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Preparing Different Types of Résumés

Each of us has a different career history. Your particular job search and career goals are also unique. So which type of résumé will have the highest probability of getting you the interview that will lead to your perfect job?

Keep in mind the following as you decide which type of résumé to prepare:

  • Are you planning to stay in the same field or are you changing careers?
  • Have you had a fairly standard pattern of career development, or has your career been less traditional?
  • Is this your first job?
  • Are you targeting a specific job in a specific company?
What You Need to KnowIsn't a chronological résumé good enough for any situation?

Twenty years ago, that may have been the case. But today the average person has seven different major careers (not just jobs) in his or her life. The degree of restructuring and change that takes place in organizations these days has made the traditional career, which starts out in one field and steadily progresses through the ranks, nearly obsolete.

Do I really need more than one kind of résumé?

Typically no. The one exception is when you have created a résumé in a standard format (either a chronological or a functional résumé), and a unique opportunity comes up for which one of the customized résumés (either a targeted or a capabilities résumé) is better suited.

What to DoUnderstand Which Type of Résumé is Appropriate
  • A chronological résumé is good when you want to stay in the same field and do not plan a major career change. This type of résumé also works well when you have steadily been promoted. For example, you began your career as a junior engineer, then progressed through senior engineer to manager of engineering, and then to your present position as vice president of engineering. You would also use a chronological résumé when you have worked for a well-known, highly respected company for most of your career, even though you may have had several different kinds of job within that company.
  • A functional résumé is the preferred choice when you are seeking your first professional job. It is also recommended when you are making a fairly major career change. If you have changed employers frequently, have followed a less traditional career path, or have some reason to believe that your work history is less than impressive, you will be better off with a functional résumé, which focuses on your skills and accomplishments.
  • A targeted résumé works well when you are very clear about the direction you want your career to take and when you need to make an impressive case for a specific job. This is a customized résumé and writing it takes a lot of extra effort, especially if you are targeting several jobs, but it can make your résumé stand out from the pack.
  • A capabilities résumé is used when you want a specific job or assignment within your current organization. Again, you must take the time to customize your résumé for the particular situation.
Write Your Résumé

Here are basic guidelines for preparing each of the four types of résumé:

The Chronological Résumé
  • List your name and contact information at the top.
  • State your job search objective.
  • Start with your present or most recent position, and work backward.
  • Write only about your last four or five positions, covering the last ten years or so.
  • For each of these positions, describe your major duties and accomplishments. Keep it short and to the point.
  • Keep your career goals in mind as you write, and as you describe your duties and accomplishments, emphasize those which are most closely related to your desired job.
  • List your education at the bottom of your résumé in a separate section. List degrees in reverse chronological order.
The Functional Résumé
  • List your name and contact information at the top.
  • State your job search objective.
  • In each of three to five separate paragraphs, emphasize a particular skill or accomplishment.
  • List these functional paragraphs in order of importance, with the one most related to your career goal at the top. Provide a heading for each paragraph.
  • Within each functional paragraph, emphasize the accomplishments or results produced that most directly relate to your goal.
  • The information you include about your skills and accomplishments need not identify the employer or situation it was connected to.
  • Add synopsis of your actual work experience under the last functional area, but keep it brief—include dates, employers, and job titles only.
  • List education at the end of your résumé, in reverse chronological order.
The Targeted Résumé

Before beginning to put together a targeted résumé, brainstorm a list of key points. To get you started, think about: what you have done that is relevant to your target job; your achievements; whether you are proud of these achievements; whether you have relevant accomplishments in another field; and what you do that demonstrates your ability to work with people.

  • List your name and contact information at the top.
  • State your job search objective.
  • From the brainstormed list above, select 5–8 capabilities and accomplishments that are the most relevant to your job target. Make sure that the statements focus on action and results.
  • Put a brief synopsis of your actual work experience under the capabilities/accomplishment area, giving dates (years), employer, and job titles only.
  • List education at the end, in reverse chronological order.
The Capabilities Résumé

To develop the material for the capabilities résumé, learn all you can about the (usually internal) job that you are applying for. Then select the 5–8 capabilities and accomplishments attained in your current position that are most relevant to this job opening.

  • List your name and contact information at the top.
  • State your job search objective. Use your cover letter to tell the hiring manager about your interest in this specific position, and use the same words that are used in the advertisement.
  • List the 5–8 capabilities and accomplishments you have selected above, focusing on action taken and results achieved.
  • Briefly summarize your relevant work experience at this company next. If you have worked here for only a short while, you will want to provide a complete synopsis of your work experience elsewhere as described above in the targeted résumé.
  • List education at the bottom of your résumé, in a separate section. List degrees in reverse chronological order.
What to AvoidYou Try to Include Everything

You may be tempted to tell prospective employers everything you have ever done in order to impress them. But regardless of the type of résumé you create, you must remember to keep it short, simple, and focused on those things that are most likely to get your foot in the door.

Your Résumé is a Mix of Different Styles

If you have not had much experience with résumés, you may create a résumé that is a mixture of job listings, skills, and accomplishments. This will only confuse your reader. Go to the library or bookstore and get a book that provides sample résumés. You can also find samples on the Web. Once you have decided, based on this checklist, which type of résumé fits your situation, checklist, use the samples as a guide for organizing your material.

If you cannot decide which type of résumé to use, you may want to consider hiring a professional career coach.

You Fail to Follow Up

The most common and most serious mistake is failing to follow up after submitting a résumé to a potential employer. In your cover letter you should state when you will call to set up an interview, put that date on your calendar, and be certain to follow up. Not keeping your commitments will make you appear unprofessional, and employers will lose interest in you. You may be reluctant to make the call because you fear rejection, but if you do not make the call, you will never get the job. Sales people have learned that you have to take a certain number of rejections before you get a "Yes." Job hunting is the same way. If you receive a "No" after making a phone call for an appointment, tell yourself, "Well, that is one less 'No' that I have to hear before I hear a 'Yes. '"

Where to Learn MoreBook:

Jackson, Tom, and Ellen Jackson. The New Perfect Résumé. New York: Doubleday, 1996.

Web Sites:


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