Writing your resume, part 1: The Chronological Style

Finding a job is a process, and a critical part of that process is having a resume that will entice prospective employers into calling you in for an interview.  We’re going to be taking a few deep dives into the wonderful world of resumes over the next few posts, but before we put pen to paper or electron to screen let’s talk a little about resumes in general.

There are as many opinions about resumes as there are people who write and read them.  Just type “Resume” into Google and you will find over 80 million results.  Clicking a few links will take you to sites that proclaim that resumes are dead and that the “new” business world uses social media to find employees while other sites say that traditional resumes are the key to finding work at established and respectable companies.  What I am writing about are the things that I have learned and used to get jobs after leaving the military, so keep that in mind as we talk about resumes.  I have used all three types in my pursuit of employment, and all three have resulted in job offers.

There are three basic types of standard resumes, and each has its place depending on the circumstance and type of job you are pursuing.  In today’s post we will take a look at the style that is most commonly used: The Chronological style.

The chronological form of a resume is the simplest of the three to put together.  In simple terms it tells the story of your professional life and career history to the prospective employer, who then decides whether or not you are worth bringing in to meet in person.

There are pros and cons to the chronological format, so let’s look at each in turn:

Pros

  • It shows the relevance of your work experience over time.  It is actually a “reverse-chronological” resume because you list your most recent experience first and work backwards from there, but everyone just calls it the chronological style for simplicity’s sake.  Since it shows your most recent work first, you can highlight your current skill set and talents up front and show how you have garnered experience and developed those skills over time.
  • It is fact based.  Since you list your experience on a timeline you can show when you learned your skills, where and when you received relevant education and training, and articulate your experience to show how you have grown professionally over time.
  • It is a universal format that is understood across industries and around the world.
  • It can add credibility by showing what organizations you have worked in and the duties you performed in them throughout your career.  This can also be a con, however, because you must remember that civilian hiring managers have no idea about military units or service jargon, so you need to be able to put your experience into terms that they will understand.

Cons

  • This is not a good format in cases where you have little or no experience to show.  For example, if you were in the military for one enlistment this format will probably work to your disadvantage because you don’t have that much to show for experience over time.  In that case, a functional resume (which we’ll talk about in a future post) is probably a better format to use.
  • It is also not a good format in cases where you have large time gaps in your experience base.  Since it the format is a timeline, having gaps of a year or two here and there may raise a few eyebrows on the employer’s side of the fence.
  • Likewise, if you have switched jobs frequently then this may not be the best format to use.  That telegraphs to the employer that you may not be committed to working for them in the long term.
  • It also may not be a good format for people looking for specific jobs in specific industries that require specific skills – the combination or functional formats are much better suited for those circumstances.

So let’s get to it!

The basic format that I use for the chronological resume contains four elements of information:

1)  Your name and contact information, including your telephone number and email address.  As I wrote earlier, make sure that your telephone number is one that you can control (i.e., your cel phone) because you don’t want your preschooler answering the phone when a potential employer calls.  It may be cute, but you probably won’t get the message that they called.  Also, make sure your voicemail greeting is professional sounding – “Yo, dude, I am getting hammered right now and can’t answer my phone!” will not result in a job offer.  Trust me!  Likewise, make sure your email address is not offensive or controversial.  If yours is “drunkguy@whatever.com” then get a free gmail or yahoo email address and use it solely for job search purposes.  I don’t recommend including your home address on your resume, though, because you cannot control where it will end up.  Identity thieves are everywhere.

2)  A summary statement.  This is a thumbnail sketch of who you are in terms of your experience.  Not everyone agrees that you need one, but I include one in my resume to get the attention of the reader as quickly as possible- after all, they are reading hundreds of these things and if you don’t grab their interest quickly your resume will land in the trash can.

3)  Your experience over time.  This is the meat of the resume.  Here is where you need to show what you are made of and what you have done in such a manner that the employer will like what they see.  It is a remarkably difficult task to be able to strip down a lifetime’s worth of experience into less than two pages, so be ready to spend some time on this section.  I recommend that you include no more than ten years worth of experience (for those with more) because anything beyond that timeframe is pretty dated, and the most relevant stuff is the most recent stuff anyway.  The format I use lists my job title first along with the associated dates, and then put a few bullets underneath that show what I did in that job.  It took me a lot of practice to write my military experience down in such a way that a non-military person could understand it.  Also, look at how the bullets are formed: They follow the “action verb” format, meaning that they show that I did something followed by the effects of what I did.  This resonates much more than using the passive tense.

4)  Your education and other pertinent info.  The education bit is self explanatory, but what about certifications, awards, or other things that you have done that reinforce your work history or differentiate you from the pack?   This is where they go.  For my resume, I include things like awards I have received, associations I am affiliated with, and applicable qualifications and certifications.  Things not to include are your hobbies, marital status, family information, or anything not related to the job you are seeking.  Those things can be distractors for the reader and may actually turn them off; if you write that you are an avid hunter and the reader is a vegetarian then you are in for trouble.  Also, you only have two pages, so don’t waste space on things that don’t matter!

At any rate, the chronological style is the best resume type to start with.  You will use elements of it for the other two formats as well, so you won’t have to reinvent any wheels.

The internet is full of samples that you can check out.  Here is what my chronological resume from when I left active duty looks like: Chronological Resume , so feel free to follow the style I used or branch out on your own.  For what it’s worth, this particular resume resulted in a job offer.

In the next post we’ll tackle the functional resume format…

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Lessons Learned:

1.  Of the three basic resume types, the Chronological Style is the most common and most widely used.

2.  It is best for those who have no interruptions in their job history and can show a logical progression in education, skills, and experience over time.

3.  It is not the best resume for very specific skill sets or for those with very little experience or education to show.  The functional format is best for those circumstances.

4.  Only include the things that matter; keep your hobbies personal items off of the resume.

5.  Proofread, proofread, proofread.  Then proofread again.  Believe it or not, I just saw a typo on the resume I included in this post.  See if you can find it….

6.  Make it professional, and keep it to two pages!

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2 responses to “Writing your resume, part 1: The Chronological Style

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