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

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

chronological resume format - definition and how to write it

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?

A chronological resume is a resume 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.

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 leave a certain job off 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

  • Accomplishment 1
  • Accomplishment 2
  • Accomplishment 3

Microsoft (2016-2019)
Product Manager

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

  • Accomplishment 1
  • Accomplishment 2
  • Accomplishment 3

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.

So now you know what a chronological resume looks like, including a real example/template you can use! 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 chronological.

The first reason that your resume should be chronological format is that this is what hiring managers and recruiters are used to seeing.

When they’re reading your resume and trying to get a sense of your background, the last thing you want to do is confuse them.

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.

When is a Chronological Resume Not Advantageous?

Many experts will tell you that a 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 a chronological resume if it’s well-written.

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 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 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 resume.

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.

sample resume work history

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…

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

B) “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 image below for an example)

sections of a resume and titles - skills

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.

 

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