Our Experts Weigh In On Modern vs. Traditional Resume Format–Which is Right for You?

As a job seeker, there is a lot you can’t control about your job search. You can’t control which companies are hiring for which positions. You can’t control how many others you’re competing against for the best jobs. You can’t control how personal relationships affect your prospects. But the one big thing you can control is your resume format. 

At Potomac Recruiting, we’ve seen everything from resumes with purple text and glaring typos to applicants including photos of themselves with their dogs. Seriously. None of this makes you stand out—at least, not in a good way—to potential employers. So, let’s talk about how you can use your resume to make a great (and professional) first impression.   

First Things First, Let’s Talk Resume Format

If we wanted to go down a rabbit hole here, we definitely could. There is a lot of debate about what resume format is best to use. Chronological? Reverse Chronological? Functional? Functional and Chronological? But we always encourage candidates to keep things simple and avoid getting sucked into such debates.

Most job seekers need either a traditional resume or a modern resume: 

Traditional resumes follow tried-and-true methods. They don’t use fancy formats or new technology to impress potential employers. These are good for more traditional industries. Government contracting firms, consulting firms, law firms, accounting firms, for example, all expect more traditional resumes.

A one-page resume is a great traditional resume format choice in many situations. In fact, many employers will explicitly request a one-page resume. It’s always a good idea to give employers what they ask for in the job description. But even if the job posting does not specify the desired length, one page is often the smart choice (exception: the traditional executive resume often has two pages). Busy hiring managers don’t have time to read unnecessary information. So be concise and use bullet points whenever it makes sense.

Modern resumes use modern strategies and other technologically advanced ways of displaying information to help candidates stand out. For instance, in place of an “objective” statement, you might strategically place keywords in a summary section so an applicant tracking system will sort your resume into the proper category. 

Examples of modern resume styles include the skills-based resume format where you emphasize what you can do, not only what you have done in previous jobs. This type of non-traditional resume works well if you’re transitioning between industries and prior work history is in an unrelated field. Some modern resumes also incorporate color and other design elements (e.g., a personal logo) to create a more visually appealing look. However, if you use color and graphics, it’s imperative that you use them well. Show your design sense and signal that you’re a great fit.

Creative industries and creative positions lend themselves to more modern resume styles. If you’re applying for a creative position at a non-traditional company such as a trendy, new tech start-up, a unique resume format, like an infographic resume, could grab the attention of the employer. Using charts, graphs, and other data visualization methods, this modern resume style helps you show off your experience and skills in a memorable way.

Top 10 Dos and Don’ts

After you’ve chosen which resume format to use, it’s time to work on the content. Remember, a good resume tells a comprehensive and cohesive story about you. When potential employers can connect the dots between your academic and professional backgrounds, how they shaped who you are today, and why you’re the best candidate for this particular position, you will stand out from the crowd. 

Here are our top 10 dos and don’ts:

  1. Do have your resume proofread (ideally, by 3-4 people you trust).
  2. Don’t lead with your education, unless you graduated within the past year.
  3. Do mention the reason, if you were at a job for less than 3 months and you left for reasons beyond your control (i.e., the company went bankrupt or lost its biggest customer/client and had to lay off everyone). This is probably best to mention in the cover letter, rather than on the resume itself.
  4. Do highlight your strongest skills.
  5. Don’t list every job you’ve ever had or everything you ever did (be selective in what you’re presenting). However, don’t be so selective that you’re leaving significant gaps in your work history. 
  6. Do emphasize which of your skills most align with the position you’re applying for (for example, if you are moving from a 100% functional role into a management level position, emphasize leadership skills from previous jobs, rather than your less relevant technical skills).
  7. Do tailor your resume for every single job.
  8. Do consider your audience and address all the requirements in the job description.
  9. Don’t assume they will read between the lines (spoon-feed the reader all the necessary skills).
  10. Do put in all the keywords from the job description (the first “reader” may very well be a computer program looking to match resumes with requirements). 

Keep these 10 tips in mind and your resume will be an excellent representation of how your background and skillset make you a great candidate. And while a stellar resume does not guarantee you will get the job, a cringe-worthy resume almost certainly will sink your prospects.

If all of the above raises your anxiety levels, realize that you don’t have to go at it alone. Our experts at Potomac Recruiting work one-on-one with job seekers of all experience levels to create standout resumes. 

Our resume services are perfect for any professional who wants to:

  • Update an outdated resume
  • Build a resume for the first time and has limited professional experience
  • See better results than what he or she’s getting with the current resume
  • Create a Board resume (separate from a job-seeking resume)

Potomac Recruiting is here for you. We offer job search support from A to Z and our experts guide you through: 

  • Resume writing 
  • Resume review
  • LinkedIn profile polishing 
  • Social media profile review (including identifying networking opportunities)
  • Cover letter development
  • Thank you letter creation

Are you trying to DIY your job search process? Not getting the results you’re looking for? Let’s chat!

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