Structure your résumé for success

In today's IT job environment, candidates must capitalize on every possible advantage over the competition. But many job seekers who agonize over the content of their résumés give relatively little thought to the way that content is organized — or they use the same structure for every job application. As a result, many potentially viable résumés are discarded by hiring managers, who typically have only a few minutes to review each résumé.

Dave Willmer
Dave Willmer

The most effective résumés are those that allow employers to quickly connect a candidate's experience and skills to the firm's needs and the demands of the open position. Each of the three most common résumé formats — chronological, functional and combination — is appropriate for certain situations and less so for others. By choosing the best format for each opportunity, you maximize your chances of being invited for interviews.

Chronological: Let the facts speak for themselves

A chronological résumé, the most common and straightforward type, shows your most recent position first, along with your duties and accomplishments at each job. It tends to be the easiest to follow, enabling a busy hiring manager to quickly learn about you. This format is the best choice for situations in which your experience matches up fairly well with the position you're seeking, especially if your most recent work is also your most impressive.

Of course, IT careers don't always follow such a linear progression. If you want to break into a new area of IT, for example, a chronological résumé might not show the employer how you could benefit the firm in the open position. Consider another format if the position requires abilities that your recent jobs haven't drawn upon. This format also could put you at a disadvantage if your have sizable gaps in your work history, or if you have short stints at several employers.

Functional: Spotlight your strengths

A functional résumé is organized according to your capabilities rather than the positions you've held. It omits entirely or mentions only in broad terms the jobs you've held and when you held them; functional résumés don't include job titles or the names of previous employers, either. Functional résumés help the hiring manager recognize skills or attributes that might remain obscure in a chronological résumé.

The functional format may be the wisest choice if your work history doesn't clearly connect you to the position you're seeking. The format often makes sense for entry-level job seekers with limited experience, for example, or for professionals re-entering IT after a long absence. You may also want to consider it if you've done a lot of jumping from one position to another, or if you haven't steadily advanced with recent employers.

Keep in mind that many hiring managers view functional résumés with suspicion because there is limited information about a candidate's specific work experience. A functional résumé won't quickly paint the standard picture of your career, so a carefully targeted cover letter is an essential companion. In the cover letter, be sure to include the names of companies you've worked for and your total years of IT experience.

Combination: Build a compelling case

A combination résumé brings together elements of both a chronological and functional résumé. It showcases your skills and accomplishment and includes an abbreviated version of your work history, including dates of employment and the names of companies you've worked for. Because of this, the combination format has gained popularity as a way to emphasize skills without obscuring work history.

The combination format may be the best choice if your employment history is impressive but doesn't obviously relate to the position you're seeking — for example, if you're applying for a management position and most of your management experience lies outside of IT. A combination résumé can also help you emphasize skills that exceed your work history, such as self-taught programming skills that you haven't used in the office. It can also be effective for independent contractors whose work history includes projects at multiple employers but who also want to highlight their most relevant IT skills.

While few employers will indicate a preference in résumé format, all of them appreciate résumés that address their unique needs and are up to date. That's why the most successful IT job candidates maintain a baseline document that they change to suit each opportunity, using the format that makes the best case for how they can benefit the employer in the specific role at hand.

Dave Willmer is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multiplatform systems integration to network security and technical support. The company has more than 100 locations worldwide and offers online job search services at

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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