Your resume is one of the most important things a potential employer uses to determine whether you’ll move forward to the next phase of the hiring process. That’s a lot of weight on one document that should almost always be a single page long. So you want to be certain your resume makes it abundantly clear why you’d be a fantastic pick for the job.
But what if listing out your work history doesn’t really tell the right story about you as a candidate, or any coherent story at all? You’re not doomed. Maybe you just need to consider using a combination resume to ensure that you stand out—and get through that first hoop to interview for the role.
What Exactly Is a Combination Resume (or Hybrid Resume)?
You can’t really understand what a combination resume is without first being familiar with the two other resume formats it melds together.
You’re probably familiar with the chronological resume—sometimes referred to more accurately as a reverse chronological resume—because it’s the one job seekers use (and the one recruiters see) most often. Your professional experience is the star of this type of resume, which lists your roles from the most recent going back in time with details below each entry and perhaps a brief skills section toward the bottom of the page.
The functional resume, also known as a skills-based resume, takes a different approach. Here, the meatiest part of the document is a detailed summary of your areas of expertise, laying out your key skills relevant to the role with supporting evidence. You might still list your professional experience, but briefly and less prominently, likely putting it lower down on the page and including for each job only your title, the company name, its location, and the dates.
A combination resume, also referred to as a hybrid resume, does exactly what its name suggests, finding a middle ground by combining aspects of both the chronological and functional resumes. It includes a section focused on your relevant skills near the top of the page followed by a section that runs through your relevant work history in some detail. In this case, your skills and work history are billed as co-stars with relatively equal footing.
“It gives you a chance to show chronology and evolution, but also a chance to pinpoint skills you want to point out,” says Muse career coach Neely Raffellini, founder of the 9 to 5 Project. Look, it says, I can do this job, and here’s why.
Who Should Use a Combination Resume?
A combination resume “allows the recruiter, like me, to pay very close attention to skill sets first. What do they think they’re really good at?” says recruiter Steven Davis, a Muse career coach. And, more specifically, how do the ways in which they excel make them a great choice for this particular role?
So this format might be a good choice for anyone who feels a chronological list of their past jobs doesn’t immediately highlight those abilities or tell the right story in a straightforward way, such as:
- Career changers: Whether you’re making a small pivot or taking a bigger leap, the job you want is different from the ones you’ve had in the past. A recruiter or hiring manager might not have an easy time picking out the reasons you’re a great fit from your work history. Instead of crossing your fingers and hoping they’ll notice the third bullet under this job and the second bullet under that one and put them together to see that you have obviously transferable skills, you can do the work for them. In a combination resume they’ll still be able to see where you’ve worked and get a sense for what you did and where, but you’re also helping making it super clear how it all adds up.
- Veterans: As a service member, you’ve gained invaluable experience and a slew of skills. But civilian jobs don’t always match military roles one-to-one. If you’re transitioning from the military into the civilian workforce, you can help show a recruiter or hiring manager how your previous experience is actually great preparation to take on the role you’re applying for by pulling out the relevant skills and expertise and putting it front and center. “For example, if somebody is [an officer] in the military managing a team of soldiers, they could be considered to be a project manager in a company,” Davis says. If you opt for a combination resume, you could list project management as a key skill and demonstrate how you made use of it in your previous roles.
- Recent graduates: If you’re only one job removed from school and don’t have a whole lot of traditional work experience to list in a chronological work history section, you might want to emphasize the skills you’ve developed and honed not only at work, but also through volunteering, school leadership roles, internships, and more.
- Candidates with a lot of experience or multi-track job histories: Let’s say you have the opposite problem. You’re well into your career and have oodles of experience taking on different responsibilities over the years. Maybe you’ve even had a somewhat varied career that’s more of a winding path or one that has multiple prongs. If you’re worried that someone attempting to wade through all that will get lost or confused, give them a hand by pointing them to exactly the right spots.
- Folks with big gaps in their employment: If you’ve been out of the workforce for some time for whatever reason—dealing with a health issue, for example, or caring for a child or parent—you might decide to go with a combination resume so that the long-ago date of your most recent employment isn’t the first thing on your resume.
Are There Any Downsides to a Combination Resume?
Any time you’re using a less common format, you take the risk of standing out, and whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing really depends on the specific person reading your resume.
The biggest risk: Some recruiters have the perception that candidates who use functional or combination resumes are trying to hide something, Smith and Raffellini both say.
Because its format is so different, a functional resume also has the problem of being “harder to read and harder to contextualize the work and really understand what your experience has been,” Smith says. But that’s less of a problem with a combination resume, which also includes robust details about your work experience, making it less likely to confuse or turn off a recruiter.
And here’s the truth: “If people haven’t been getting results,” Raffellini says, they “don’t have anything to lose from trying another format.”
What Goes Into a Combination Resume and in What Order?
The prospect of creating a new resume can be intimidating, and a whole new format may feel like too much. But remember that most of the substance is the same. In essence, you’re just taking a lot of the same material and presenting it in a new way.
A combination resume includes the following components (many of which should look familiar even if you’ve only ever used a chronological resume):
- Name and contact information: Your resume header at the top of the page should be prominent, so anyone reading can easily remember who you are, know how to get in touch with you, and click through to your portfolio, social media profiles, and/or any other important links.
- Summary (optional): The resume summary—a brief statement that sums up who you are (professionally) and what you have to offer—is not a must. However, it can be particularly effective for career changers or professionals with years of experience who want to tell readers a concise story about what they bring to the table for this particular role.
- Relevant/key skills: The first half of the main show in a combination resume, this is where you list your key skills that are relevant to the role you’re applying for. See below for a few different possible approaches to this section.
- Work history: The second act in a combination resume is a list of your past roles, with responsibilities and accomplishments listed below each one. If you have a great deal of experience, you may want to consider trimming this list down to the most relevant entries and labeling it “Relevant Work Experience” or “[Field/Type of Role You’re Applying For] Experience.”
- Education: In your education section, you’d list any degrees you have in reverse chronological order (similar to the way you would in a typical chronological resume).
- Additional skills, volunteer experience, awards, interests, or other sections as needed: You can create one or more additional sections that are relevant to you and the role you’re applying for. For example, you might want to list out additional skills that didn’t make it into the top section or include volunteer experience, awards, interests or hobbies, etc.
How Do You Create the Skills Part of a Combination Resume?
As with any aspect of your application, you want to make sure to tailor your combination resume to the role you’re applying for. You can start off by taking a look through several job descriptions for the type of job you want and identifying which skills and areas of expertise they all seem to mention. While you obviously want to list skills you actually have on your resume, this process can help you narrow down exactly which ones to highlight for which jobs.
According to Davis, the requirements and responsibilities sections of a job description can be particularly helpful for understanding which skills are critical. “We’re living in an electronic qualification stage here in getting interviews or not,” he says, emphasizing that an applicant tracking system will be programmed to look for certain keywords. “The more that keywords in job descriptions are mentioned in resumes, the better the chances are that someone will receive an interview.” So it’s worth tweaking your resume even further to match each specific job description before you hit submit.
In terms of actually putting down those skills on your combination resume, there are a few possible approaches. Depending on which you use, your skills section might be relatively short, or it might be pretty meaty, maybe even as long as what you might find in a functional resume. There’s no one correct format here—grow or shrink the relative space you give your skills and work experience depending on what makes the most sense for you and the role you’re applying for.
The first approach is to just include keyword skills without further elaboration, either all grouped together or split into categories. It might look like this:
Mentorship • Test Driven Development • Agile • Documentation • Continuous Delivery
Muse career coach and HR executive Angela Smith likes to opt for a table consisting of three columns and two or three rows with a skill in each cell (in just a word or two) because it’s “really eye catching and gives the reader a lot of info in a really digestible format.” It might look like this:
Alternatively, you can make a list of bullet points, one for each skill with a few words of description. It might look like this:
- Account Management: Maintained and cultivated relationships with 45–50 clients.
- Training and Leadership: Onboarded all mid-market account managers and led training sessions that allowed 95% of hires to reach or exceed 90-day goals.
- Public Speaking: Won regional Toastmasters competition two years in a row and placed third in a statewide contest.
Or this (which you could format as two columns of three bullet points each):
- Meeting aggressive deadlines
- Closing long, complex sales cycles
- Strategic consultative sales approach
- Strategic planning, forecasting, and KPIs
- Training, learning, and development
- Stong writing/copywriting skills
And if you really want to get into the nitty gritty of two or three top-level skills, you can create a separate heading for each one with a handful of bullets below it to relay responsibilities and accomplishments that demonstrate your expertise. In this case, Raffellini recommends trying to keep the number of bullets below each relatively uniform and phrasing them much as you would under your work experience by starting with an action verb. It might look like this:
Front-End Web Development
- Wrote responsive designs for 10 websites, reducing load times by 80%.
- Implemented style guides and coding standards across sites.
- Created HTML email templates that improved click-through rates by 28%.
People Management and Mentorship:
- Managed a team of seven entry- and mid-level engineers, both in-office and remote.
- Oversaw project completion, beating delivery schedules in 12% of cases.
- Mentored early career engineers, helping two of them earn promotions.
What Does a Combination Resume Look Like?
All sound good in theory? Great. But what in the world does a combination resume actually look like when you put all the pieces together? Here’s an example of a hypothetical applicant with a decade and a half of engineering experience looking to highlight recent experience and skills for a senior front-end engineering role: