Chronological Resume: The Best Format? (And How to Write It)

By Biron Clark

Published:

Resume/CV

Biron Clark

Biron Clark

Writer & Career Coach

If you’re wondering whether you should use a chronological resume format (also referred to as reverse-chronological resume format) or trying to get help with how to write it, then this article is for you.

And if you’ve been told to use a functional resume because you’re changing careers or have a work gap, then this article will help you, too! (And my advice on this topic might surprise you).

Here’s what you’re going to learn:

  • What is a chronological resume? And what is a functional resume?
  • Why it’s NOT beneficial to use a functional resume in most cases, and why the chronological resume format will get you the most interviews
  • How to write your chronological resume

Definition: What is a Chronological Resume?

Chronological resumes are resumes written in a format that lists your work experience based on the dates it occurred. Working downward from the beginning of your Work Experience section, you should start listing your most recent positions first. So the top of the section will contain your current or most recent job. Below that on your resume will be your next most recent job.

This is how to write a chronological resume, which is also commonly called the reverse chronological resume. (They’re the same, just different terms. Always start with your most recent job at the top of your Work Experience. Here are some examples).

What is Reverse Chronological Order?

As mentioned above, reverse chronological order means that your previous jobs are listed in order of date, beginning with your most recent position at the top. Your final entry in the list should be your oldest or least recent position. This is why the term reverse chronological resume is sometimes used.

Note that you’re NOT obligated to list every job on your resume! You can choose where to begin telling your career story, or whether to omit a certain job for strategic reasons (for example, if it was only a three-month position, and isn’t related to your current career path).

So I’m not suggesting that you must start with the first job you ever held. However, once you’ve chosen a starting point for your resume work history, you should list those positions in reverse chronological order as described above.

Chronological Resume Example:

If you’re still not 100% clear on what chronological order on a resume looks like, here is an example work history section from a chronological resume:

Work Experience

IBM (2019-Present) Senior Product Manager

Brief paragraph describing the role. Don’t write too much here, because you should mostly show your accomplishments and work via bullet points.

  • Launched a Groundbreaking Product: Led the launch of XYZ product, resulting in a 25% increase in market share within the first quarter.
  • Implemented Strategic Partnerships: Fostered key partnerships that boosted revenue by 30% and expanded the product’s reach to new markets.
  • Streamlined Processes: Initiated a process overhaul, reducing project delivery time by 20%, improving efficiency, and ensuring timely product launches.

Microsoft (2016-2019) Product Manager

Brief paragraph describing the role. Two or three sentences is ideal, and you should try to put numbers and metrics whenever possible.

  • Product Revamp: Spearheaded a product revamp that led to a 40% increase in user engagement and a 15% growth in customer satisfaction.
  • Cross-functional Collaboration: Fostered collaboration between development and marketing teams, resulting in a 25% reduction in time-to-market for new features.
  • Revenue Growth: Implemented pricing optimization strategies that contributed to a 20% growth in product revenue over the course of two years.

Notice that the most recent or current job is listed at the top of the work history, and then you move downward for each previous job. The resume date format can vary slightly, depending on what you think is best for your work experience, just make sure that you keep it consistent.

So now you know what chronological resumes should look like, including a real example/template you can use to figure out your own! Next, I’ll explain why recruiters and hiring managers prefer this format, and why it will get you more interviews.

Should Your Resume Be Chronological?

After recruiting for 5 years, I can say without a doubt: Yes, your resume should be in chronological format.

The first reason that you should use a chronological resume date format is: this is what hiring managers and recruiters are accustomed to seeing and prefer.

Why do Recruiters Prefer Chronological Resumes?

Functional resumes are confusing and difficult to gather info from.

When I worked as a recruiter, I had multiple hiring managers send a functional resume back to me, and tell me to have the candidate rewrite it in chronological format. They simply don’t want to read a functional resume because they cannot gather enough info from it.

(If you don’t know, a functional resume lists your skills and past work without any dates. It groups them by skill type or functional area and not by chronological order. So that’s the definition of a functional resume).

This deprives hiring managers and recruiters of important info and context. They’re not as able to understand your career story or see how recently, or for how long, you used certain skills. Therefore, they are less likely to feel confident in inviting you to interview.

(Hiring managers want to interview people who are likely to be able to step into the job and succeed. They want the necessary info to make that decision before occupying their time with an interview).

So, with each online job getting hundreds of applicants, there’s no reason for a hiring manager to struggle to understand the one or two functional resumes they receive. They’ll just move on to a resume that’s written in the format they prefer – which is chronological, with an easy-to-follow resume date format.

The Best Resume Format for Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)

Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) have been the superheroes of the hiring game in recent years. It’s like a super-smart software wizard designed to make recruiters’ lives easier. 

What does it do, you ask? Well, it’s the maestro that scans, parses, and ranks resumes based on keywords, qualifications, and experience. Many companies use these systems for initial resume screenings, so if your resume does not align with the system you might be filtered out of the hiring process even if you are the best candidate for the job.

So should you be using chronological resumes to optimize for applicant tracking systems? Yes, definitely!

Chronological resumes present a clear and organized account of your career path. This straightforward format works well with ATS algorithms, ensuring a smooth and easily comprehensible read for the system to grasp your professional history clearly.

When is a Chronological Resume Not Advantageous?

Many experts will tell you that a chronological resume, or a reverse chronological resume, is not advantageous when you’ve had gaps in your work history, when you’ve had a non-traditional or unusual career path, or when you’re attempting to change careers.

However, even in these cases, most hiring managers will prefer reverse-chronological resumes if they are well-written and the resume date format is easy to follow.

You can explain work gaps right in your employment history section.

You can tailor your work experience to show the pieces of work you’ve done that are most relevant for the job you’ve applied for now… even during a career change.

For more help with this, we have a full article on how to write a resume for a career change. If you click that link, I explain more about why a functional resume isn’t ideal, and one of the career coaches who I featured in the article confirms it. To quote her:

As a former corporate recruiter, I am not a fan of functional resumes. Recruiters are taught to scan resumes chronologically. When you take the experience out of context or “order,” it often gives the recruiter the impression you are trying to hide or fudge the experience.

The bottom line is: Trying to hide the dates and order of work will only frustrate and confuse hiring managers and cost you job interviews.

So my answer to, “Should resumes be chronological?” is a resounding “Yes.”

Now that we’ve covered what differentiates a chronological and functional resume, and which you should be using if you want to get more interviews, let’s talk about how to start writing it!

How Do You Write a Chronological Resume?

To start writing your resume, make sure you understand the format and have reviewed the reverse chronological resume example from earlier in this article.

Then, here are the steps to write your chronological resume:

1. Enter company names, dates of employment, and job titles.

You can list dates in terms of years, or months and years. Whatever you decide, keep it consistent.

You can also list the city/state of each job if you choose. This is also optional and is a personal decision when setting up your chronological resumes.

2. If you held multiple roles within a company, show each job title separately on your resume.

This is important so that employers can see that you advanced/progressed in the company. Recruiters typically love this!

Here’s another example of a chronological resume, where you can see two distinct job titles listed under one single employer. This person was promoted from Sales Rep to Branch Manager.

3. Write bullet points describing each role you’ve held.

Each role should have multiple bullet points describing what you accomplished and did for the employer. (Not just saying, “responsible for ___”.)

It’s much better to start with a verb like, “led six team members…,” or “grew our department revenue by…”)

This article has resume bullet examples to help you.

4. Write a brief paragraph to describe each role (above the bullet points).

This is optional. As you can see in the resume example above, it’s possible to go directly from job titles to bullets, without any paragraph content.

However, if you’d like, you can write a brief paragraph about what you did in the role overall. This can provide more context to the reader.

However, this paragraph should be concise, and you should never put it instead of bullets. I recommend 2-3 sentences at most. The bullets are more important and will be read more closely.

5. Add metrics and data when possible.

You’ll get more interviews by being specific and talking about results on your resume, rather than responsibilities. So try to pack your bullets with metrics… like dollar amounts, percent increases, number of people you led or trained, etc.

You don’t need to be in sales to have metrics! (I hear this common objection a lot).

For example, if you’re an editor for a company’s news blog, you could write:

“Edited and published 30 articles per month for the company blog, which was read by 40,000 people each month and generated an average of 10 qualified leads for the business.”

The more specific you can be on your resume, the better. So if you see an opportunity to add facts, data, and metrics in any of the paragraphs OR bullets you’ve written, do it.

Here’s another example of how to write about results rather than responsibilities:

Which sounds more impressive…

“Responsible for leading the customer service team and handling all inbound requests for the company”

“Led the 22-person customer service team which handled 250+ inbound requests per day via phone and email”

That second option is going to grab attention and get you more interviews from top employers.

6. Add other necessary resume sections.

After you’ve written your professional experience in chronological order, you then need to fill your chronological resume out with the other key sections, including:

  • Your header/contact info.
  • A resume summary paragraph.
  • Your skills section.
  • Your education section.

If you need more help understanding what order to put these in, and how everything fits together in the “big picture” of your resume, this article has more info on the important sections of a resume.

7. Consider adding optional sections.

You can also include one or more of the optional resume sections on your chronological resume:

  • Volunteer work/community involvement.
  • Honors & awards.
  • Testimonials from past coworkers/managers.
  • A secondary skills section (sometimes it makes sense to separate your skills into two sections. See the image below for an example).

Conclusion

If you read everything above, you now know why the chronological resume (also called reverse chronological resume) is the format that employers prefer.

It shows the important information that they want to see in your work history, including information that functional resume formats don’t include – like how recently you did each type of work, and for how long.

Without this information, many employers will not be interested in interviewing you.

They just can’t possibly know enough to determine whether you’re a good potential fit for their job. So at best, they’ll ask you to send a chronological resume instead, and at worst, they’ll invite other candidates to interview and you’ll never hear from them.

So that’s a scenario that we want to avoid, and you can do that by writing your professional experience in reverse chronological order.

By combining this with sections detailing your skills, your education, and other key qualifications, you will get more callbacks when you apply for jobs so you can find a new job faster.

If you want to see more resume examples and advice, this article has 3 more work experience examples that follow the advice above.


Biron Clark

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