Which Resume Format Is Right for Me?

Which Resume Format Is Right for Me?
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Most job-seekers use a chronological résumé, listing their roles held, by title, from most recent back to about 10 years. But that approach doesn’t work for everyone, for a range of reasons:

  • You may be ready to change careers, and a list of prior jobs in seemingly unrelated fields may not showcase your relevant skills.
  • You may have a gap in your employment history.
  • You may have a “blended” career, holding multiple positions at the same time. This is especially true of National Guard and Reserve members seeking to highlight their experiences both in and out of uniform. 


If you fall into one of those categories, consider the functional format, where your résumé is laid out by skill set or experience (versus job title). Choose three to five skills or functions demonstrating your experience and impact in your desired career area.


Another option to concisely demonstrate experience is a hybrid résumé, where chronological and functional approaches are used.


Here’s a look at some approaches to consider based on your situation.


Career Pivot

Making a pivot from one career field to another? It’s not uncommon, especially when it comes to a military-to-civilian transition. This would apply to a pilot who no longer wants to fly, for example, or a servicemember with a combat-related specialty who no longer wants to pursue that career field. This is when we look closely at translatable skill sets and use a functional résumé to highlight your experience.


Translatable skill sets are found widely throughout the military and sought after by employers. They include skills such as operations, logistics, (project) management, human resources, facilitation, training, communications, IT, and a host of others.


This is just a short list of functions needed at many organizations. Consider a global car company: You might think you won’t find the right position for you because you’re not an engineer or an aspiring car salesman, but there is a massive operation behind the selling and production of cars involving IT, communications, human resources, and so on.


[RELATED: MOAA's Transition and Career Events]


Think about how your experience can speak to a new career field. Paint the picture for the recruiter. Connect the dots between their needs and your experience.



In short, own your gap! It’s your story to tell. Lean into it so that others are not listening to their own assumptions. No matter why you took time away from the workplace – family, dismissal, burnout –  take (truthful) control of the narrative.


Again, the functional format is likely best because it allows you to showcase your strengths and skills. Be sure you’ve chosen three to five distinct items demonstrating what your particular skills can bring to your new employer. The point of the résumé is to land the interview, and the interview will provide you the opportunity to explain your gap.


(Note: For servicemembers who take time off after service before starting a new job, the chronological résumé is fine. These comments are more for those who have been in and out of the workplace for other reasons.)


[RELATED: Ready to Return to In-Person Networking Events? Here Are 4 Quick Reminders]


Blended Careers

In some cases, often with National Guard and Reserve members, it is effective to keep the civilian work experience and military experiences separate simply from a space-saving perspective (aim for no more than two pages). For example, the first part of the résumé may include the civilian full-time job experience in a chronological format, while the second part is dedicated to military experience. If you were stationed at the same unit multiple times, or held multiple roles consecutively, list the unit once and itemize the roles held at that one command.


Need more advice? Visit MOAA’s résumé help page, or take advantage of MOAA’s Private-Sector Résumé Review, available to Premium and Life members.


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About the Author

Cmdr. Erin Cardinal, USN (Ret), ACC, CPC
Cmdr. Erin Cardinal, USN (Ret), ACC, CPC

Cardinal is MOAA's Program Director, Transition Services & Family Programs. She is a Certified Professional Coach (CPC) and has extensive experience in coaching servicemembers through their transition from active duty to the civilian sector.