If you don’t organize your resume properly, it’s all too easy for it to look like a bunch of mumbo jumbo. And when all those words and numbers blend together into a big mess, you make it that much harder for a recruiter or hiring manager to see the point in bringing you in for an interview.
That’s where the chronological resume format comes in.
What Is a Chronological Resume?
You know what a resume is, right? A one-pager documenting your work experience, education, skills, and extracurriculars that paints a nice clear picture of what makes you a valuable employee or hire?
Well, a chronological resume does that by listing your work and other experiences in reverse chronological order, meaning your most recent jobs are at the top of your resume and your least recent jobs are down below. (This is why it’s sometimes called a reverse chronological resume—because that more accurately explains what’s going on.)
That doesn’t mean that everything you’ve ever done gets listed exactly in reverse chronological order, though. If you have jobs that overlap in a certain timeframe, for example, you might choose to list the job that’s most relevant to the role you’re applying for first, regardless of when you started it.
It’s also pretty common to put your education and activities in their own section or sections, rather than mixing them in with your work experience. If you went to graduate school or have multiple education experiences, you’d still list them in reverse chronological order within your education section, for consistency.
When Should You Use a Chronological Resume?
The beauty of this layout is that it works for just about anyone looking for any kind of job. Students and new grads tend to lean on this format because it’s the simplest way to organize their limited work experience. The same goes for professionals at any level with a consistent career history—in other words, those who’ve gone from job to job without gaps (or with very few gaps) between roles.
A chronological format is also the most popular layout hiring managers see. That means if you go with this format, your resume will be easily understood by any type of recruiter out there.
What’s in a Chronological Resume, and How Does It Differ From Other Resume Formats?
A chronological resume includes the following:
- Your name and contact information (at the top of the page as the header)
- Your work experience, including your responsibilities and accomplishments for each job you’ve held (you can include this under one header, “Work Experience,” or divide it into “Relevant Work Experience” and “Additional Work Experience” if you want to really tailor your resume to a specific job)
- Your education and certifications
- Your skills and hobbies
- Other activities or volunteer experiences
- A summary statement (this is optional and usually not needed unless you’re a higher-level executive or career changer)
The way these items are organized is simple: Your work history goes toward the top—because it’s the main focus—with each role listed in reverse chronological order. Your education, skills, and activities fall toward the bottom or off to the side of the page—except if you’re a new grad, in which case you may list education at the top.
Other formats, like a functional resume or combination resume, include these same elements but in a different layout. A functional resume groups your experience and responsibilities not by role but by skill, and lists your jobs and education at the bottom. A combination resume, on the other hand, is a mix between a functional resume and a chronological resume, highlighting both your skills and experience in equal measure. Both of these layouts are less common than a chronological resume and are used most often by career changers, people with unique career paths, and people who have taken long breaks between jobs.
How Do You Write a Chronological Resume?
The best course of action for writing a chronological resume is to start off with a rough outline (or use a template). In your head or on paper, list out every work-related experience you’ve had. Based on that information, decide how you want to sort that information and how many “sections” of your resume you want to create. You’ll most likely include several or all of the sections listed in bullets above (more or less in that order).
Once you know the layout, start to plug in your information in reverse chronological order, including with each job you’ve had your title, company (and sometimes company location), dates of employment, and three to five bullet points explaining what you achieved and the skills you built in that position.
If you’ve never written a resume before, definitely take a look at this comprehensive guide to making a resume for more thorough advice.
What Does a Chronological Resume Look Like?
OK, so this all sounds good and dandy to you, but you’re still not sure exactly what this looks like in practice. Don’t fret—here’s a sample chronological resume you can use as a reference when you decide to make your own.
Anything Else I Should Know About a Chronological Resume?
How you format your resume is only half the battle. The other half is about making sure the content itself is in tip top shape—because that’s what recruiters are reading, after all. This means that your bullet points should start off with strong action verbs and showcase your accomplishments rather than just your duties.
Don’t forget to tailor your resume to the role you’re applying for—make sure your bullet points match up with the qualifications and responsibilities in the job description, and that you’re including relevant keywords the company’s applicant tracking system, or ATS, may be scanning for. And of course, check (and double check) your information for spelling and grammar mistakes.
One more note: Try keeping your resume to one page, unless you’re at least a decade into your career. Hiring managers love to skim resumes, and long ones tend to turn them off. Save all the little details you can’t fit into your resume for your cover letter and interviews.
Photo of person on laptop with headphones courtesy of Westend61/Getty Images.
Previously an editor for The Muse, Alyse is proud to prove that yes, English majors can change the world. She’s written almost 500 articles for The Muse on anything from productivity tips to cover letters to bad bosses to cool career changers, many of which have been featured in Fast Company, Forbes, Inc., CNBC's Make It, USA Today College, Lifehacker, Mashable, and more. She calls many places home, including Illinois where she grew up and the small town of Hamilton where she attended Colgate University, but she was born to be a New Yorker. In addition to being an avid writer and reader, Alyse loves to dance, both professionally and while waiting for the subway.More from this Author