Is My Chronological Resume Format Hurting Me?

David thinks his chronological resume format could be hurting his job search. With all the dates sticking out, it's pretty clear he's been laid off a lot, moved from one state to the next, and even changed careers.

Can you relate? In this job market, many people have suffered the same fate. So I wanted to post David's question here, along with a great answer by Beth Brown, a senior writer on my resume team.

My Chronological Resume Format Seems to Be Hurting My Job Search

Dear Beth,
I have been looking over The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Perfect Resume by Susan Ireland and think either the achievement resume format or functional resume format might be best for me.

I have job gaps. Some from going back to college, one from taking a year to get the ideal job (Internet consultant during the Internet bubble burst), and while living in Washington D.C. a month after 9/11... oh, have moved to different states a couple of times to find where I want to live and get out of bad employment environments. I like Michigan right now.

Part of my situation, besides the above, is being laid off far too many times. For some reason I seem to get employed and in six months to a year the company has financial problems and needs to get rid of a few people. I tend to work at small companies, because these are the ones that tend to have the writing, graphics, tech type jobs I enjoy. My latest job lasted about four years, but I was recently laid off because the company could not make a go of the new business model (sales of high-end appliances) and closed down my center. There are no other centers and no other openings. Thus I was laid off again.

I believe the traditional chronological resume format has been hurting me more than helping me, plus it does not help that there are too many different types of jobs I could do or want to do. I have a great deal of experience in lots of areas: administrative, creative, writing, sales. I am capable of doing many of the managerial jobs posted out there, but because of my lay offs I don't have the long-term experience on my resume that most HR managers and others look for.

Any suggestions for making a resume look impressive for someone lacking the chronological time frame, but not the actual experience? I learned a lot at all the different jobs, through the Internet, and reading lots of business and creative books.
Thanks, David

Filling Employment Gap in a Chronological Resume Format

by Beth Brown, Professional Resume Writer

Thanks for your question, David. It sounds like you have many talents and interests.

So, first of all, you should have a separate resume for the different types of jobs you are interested in: one for administrative, one for creative/writing, and one for sales positions.

And while the chronological resume format might not work for you, let’s take one more look at it before making a final decision, as the chronological format is still the most widely used. Also, if your last position (the one you’ve held for four years) is relevant to where you want to go next, then a chronological resume might be the strongest format for you to use.

I want to give you some suggestions for filling those gaps:

1. You can use unpaid experience (such as going back to college, especially if it’s in your field of interest) as part of your Work History. (Just don’t call that section Professional Experience, since the word "Professional" means that you were paid!)
2. Use years only when listing your work experience, not months. That often closes a lot of gaps!
3. If you held the same job title at a number of places where you were laid off, you can list the job title, followed by the span of years you held that title. Underneath the job title, list the companies where you held that title (do not put dates after each company). It might look something like this:

Technical Writer, 20xx-20xx
Company X
Company Y
Company Z

If a Chronological Format Just Doesn't Work

OK, now, if those don’t do the trick, then maybe an achievement resume format will, in fact, suit you best.

For Sales positions, an Achievement format can work very well, since your work history is listed at the bottom of the resume, and the main body would be called Sales Accomplishments. Then, just list the top five or six sales achievements, in the most impressive order, without worrying about the chronology, and keep the whole thing to one page. This could work for Administrative and for Creative/Writing positions, as well.

If possible, try to find out what format a prospective employer is looking for or most comfortable with. Then go for it!

bethBeth Brown is the senior resume writer on Susan Ireland's Resume Team and co-author of The Damn Good Resume Guide.

Read more resume articles by Beth Brown.