What Is a Resume?

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Having a strong resume is an important part of making yourself a marketable candidate. To have the best resume you can, it’s important to understand what a resume is and why it’s important, starting with a clear resume definition. This article explains the key aspects of a resume document including the two most common styles and how to format a resume.

What is the definition of the word resume?

A resume is a term primarily used in America and Canada to refer to a document, that is typically one to two pages, and highlights a candidate’s education, experience and skills. The word resume stems from the French word ‘résumé’ which simply means a summary. However, in France and other parts of Europe, that word doesn’t represent a document where your skills and experience are showcased. Instead, in that part of the world, applicants turn in a curriculum vitae, or a CV, to apply for a job.

What are the two styles of resumes?

There are two primary styles of resumes that are commonly used when submitting your application for a new job:

Chronological resume

A chronological resume highlights your experience in terms of career growth. To do this, it focuses on your most recent career endeavors and education and works backward from your current situation to display up to ten years of education and experience. 

Chronological resumes are very common and may represent what you typically think of when you think of the word resume. They offer an in-depth look at your professional history with an emphasis on experience. Ideally, your chronological resume shows that you’ve grown throughout your career, taking on increasingly more responsibilities, in a way that is easily readable for employees.

A typical chronological resume contains these parts:

  • Name and contact information. The name and contact information of the applicant is displayed here, including first name, last name, phone number, address and email.
  • Resume summary or objective. A snapshot of skills and experience that either summarized the content of your resume, highlighting the most important qualities of it, or states your current career goals or objectives.
  • Professional experience. This should be the most robust part of a chronological resume and can include up to ten years of experience, starting with the most recent at the top of the section.
  • Educational experience. Use this area to highlight your education and certificates.
  • Skills. A quick, clean list of skills at the bottom of your resume can help employers determine if you’re the best fit for the position.

Functional resume

If you don’t have the work experience yet to support an entire chronological resume format, you may choose to highlight your skills and education using a functional resume. A functional resume is similar to a chronological resume in that it contains the same sections, but they are in a different order. The order of your functional resume will be designed to position you in the best light. 

For example, if you have a master’s degree and certification in a specific subject, but not a lot of job experience, you might organize a functional resume to showcase your education. They can also be organized to feature specific skills. In a functional resume, the chronology of experience is less important than featuring the right sections.

A functional resume has these sections:

  • Contact information. Include your contact information at the top, like your first name, last name, address, phone number and email address.
  • Summary statement. A well-defined summary statement can include things like education and skills that make you most qualified for the position.
  • Skill groups. In a functional resume, you can emphasize skills over experience by grouping skills into major categories, like communication, decision-making and more. Then breaking those sections down into bullet points. For example, a communication section might highlight written and verbal communication, empathy, cultural sensitivity and more.
  • Professional experience. A professional experience section is still required, but it might be briefer than your skills section.
  • Education. List all relevant educational pursuits.

Why is chronological the most popular resume style?

Chronological resumes are popular for a number of reasons. For one, they offer a time-tested way to submit yourself for a position. Chronological resumes have been a professional standard in job searches used in the U.S. and Canada for almost 100 years.

In addition to their long history of being effective at obtaining a job, chronological resumes are designed to show growth and development from one job to the next. This makes them a popular choice for candidates who want to make the best impression on employers by showing promotions and other changes in positions that result in increased responsibility.

When to use a functional resume style

For candidates who don’t have the ability to show positive growth and change, the functional resume format may be necessary. 

Here are some things to consider when deciding to use a functional resume format:

  • You are re-entering the workforce after a long time away
  • There are other employment gaps in your history 
  • Your job has changed often over the course of your career
  • You want to enter a new field
  • You don’t meet the experience requirements for the job you are applying for

Depending on your circumstances, you could also consider using a combination of the two resume styles to suit your needs.

Resume vs. CV

Here are some differences between a CV, or curriculum vitae, and a resume:

  • Resumes have cover letters, CVs do not. Instead, CVs have a two-page summary of skills and experience called a CV summary that summarizes the contents of a CV that could be much longer.
  • CVs include different sections. While CVs include the obvious things you would find on a resume or application like job experience and education, they also include additional sections for things like research interests, publications, awards and accolades and more.
  • There are regional use-cases for each. CVs are likely to be used in Europe and parts of Canada, as well as other parts of the world. In the United States and Canada, it’s common for professionals to submit a resume, and as such, employers may expect you to use a chronological or functional resume format with a cover letter, versus a CV and CV summary.

A CV is similar to a resume in that it is a summary of experience and skills. Typically, CVs are used in Europe, while resumes are more common in the United States and Canada. Because CVs are generally expected to be longer than resumes, a CV format may be used for American candidates who have things like numerous publications, extensive work experience or additional accolades that make their resume run longer.