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What Are The 3 Most Common Resume Formats & Which One Is Best For ATS?

You’re considering using resume writers in Denver, CO to craft the perfect resume, and with good reason. You need to overcome the dreaded Applicant Tracking System (ATS) – an automated machine that’s likely to read your resume before it ever reaches a human to determine if you’re even worth the company’s attention.

A particularly sensitive ATS can be a career progress killer, with 70% of resumes falling at the ATS hurdle.

To get past an ATS, you need a resume that offers a healthy mix of the keywords found in a company’s job description and the right resume format. That’s where this article comes in, as we’re going to explore the three most common resume formats before explaining which one is your go-to for taking on an ATS.

image shows three resume formats such as "Chronological, Functional, Combination" with the words "how to choose the best resume format for a job"

The Three Resume Formats That Everybody Uses

According to Indeed, the most common resume formats are as follows:

  • Reverse Chronological

  • Functional

  • Combination

Each has pros and cons when it comes to human eyes, but only one is best for ATS.

Reverse Chronological Resume

Reverse-chronological resumes are the most logical resumes around. They involve you listing all relevant prior work experience, starting with your most recent position at the top before moving down through your past positions to the least recent. And it makes sense – an employer will want to see your most recent role first because they want to see what you’re doing right now.

Generally, these resumes follow a defined format:

  • Contact information

  • A career summary statement or resume objective

  • Skills relevant to the role

  • Professional experience

  • Education

  • Any relevant additional information, such as volunteer work

Functional Resume

Functional resumes often follow a similar structure to reverse chronological resumes with one key difference:

They focus more on your relevant skills than your work history.

The idea is to provide more information about what you bring to the table – ideally backed by specific examples of qualifications – than to cover your work history. That may sound strange, but this is a solid resume format to choose if you’re new to the workplace or if you have extensive gaps in your resume. In the latter case, you’re taking the focus away from the gap – potentially avoiding the “What were you doing during this time?” question – so you can highlight your most important accomplishments.

Combination Resume

Falling squarely in the middle of reverse chronological and functional resumes are combination resumes. These documents combine the best of both worlds by emphasizing both your work experience and any skills relevant to the role. As a result, they tend to be a little beefier than the other two resume formats, meaning you’ll likely cut out optional sections – such as a resume summary – to keep them down to two pages.

You have flexibility with this format.

If your work experience is amazing, that should lead the way. But if you have a few gaps – or your work history isn’t stellar – you can lead with your relevant skills before moving into the work history you do have. People often use this resume format when trying to move onto a new career path for which they have the skills, but not necessarily the relevant work experience.

image with a robot and the words "Is your resume ready for automated screening?"

Which Resume Format Do ATS Systems Love?

So, you have three choices, each as valid as the last depending on your circumstances. At least, they’re valid in the eyes of a human.

But what about an ATS?

Which of these three resume formats does this automated overseer prefer to see?

The answer makes a lot of sense when you consider the logical nature of ATS. It’s a computer, so it wants to see information structured in a way that makes sense to its internal logic. So, the best resume format to choose when you know you’re coming up against ATS is reverse chronological.

Think about it for a moment.

With a reverse-chronological resume, you’re presenting your work history in an easily digestible format. Everything makes logical sense, with dates starting from the most recent to the least, with each previous job being covered in its own unique section. The resume format offers a clear roadmap of your career progression, which an ATS can follow without having to navigate any unexpected passages.

Contrast this to the functional and combination resume formats.

A combination resume offers flexibility, which can be a nightmare for an ATS because the freeform approach fires its logical circuits. Your resume may be written perfectly – and would impress a human reader – but you’d still get rejected because it makes little sense to a computer.

The same goes for functional resumes, to a smaller degree. They’re more structured than combination resumes as they always start with skills first, followed by work experience. But the part the ATS looks for – your work history – is lower down than it expects and contains fewer details due to your focus on skills.

The result?

A higher possibility of rejection.

man scratching his read, looking at his resume, with the words "Resume, Font, Size, Format, More"

Do I Really Need to Care About ATS When Crafting My Resume?

Simply put – yes!

And not just because most Fortune 500 companies use them. Recruiters love ATS because they believe it reduces their time to hire and results in them finding better candidates. A huge 86% say their ATS saves time, with 79% saying their quality of hires has improved since they started using ATS.

If an employer thinks they’re spending less time but finding better people, you can guarantee they’ll invest in an ATS. That means you’ll have to overcome the ATS hurdle before they consider you, making choosing the right format essential.

Craft an ATS-Proof Resume

Whether you’re using the services of resume writers in Colorado Springs or creating your resume yourself, keep one word in mind when dealing with ATS:


These systems run on an internal logic that’s typically programmed to identify your work experience to see if it’s relevant to the role for which you apply. With the reverse-chronological resume format, you not only provide the information the ATS wants, but you structure it in a way that makes sense to a computer that parses information based on chronology.

That’s the case even if another resume format is better suited to your circumstances, which leads to a general rule:

Always go reverse-chronological when you know an ATS is in play, only considering the other formats if you know that it isn’t.

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