Reverse Chronological Resume: Tips & Examples
There are three main resume formats, but reverse chronological is by far the most popular as well as the most effective layout for the majority of job seekers. This article will cover when to use a reverse chronological resume and how to create an effective one.
What Is a Reverse Chronological Resume?
In many countries around the world, reverse chronological resumes are considered standard. The format is sometimes referred to simply as a chronological resume, although ‘reverse chronological’ is more accurate since past positions are typically listed starting with your current or most recent job at the top and working backwards in time from there.
A reverse chronological resume prioritizes your previous work experience which makes it the preferred format for most recruiters, who generally look first for your past positions. However, if you don’t have a wealth of work experience, you may wish to use a different resume format to highlight your skills and abilities as outlined in the next section.
The reverse chronological format will also make any gaps in your work history immediately apparent to employers, but taking time away from work is no longer the red flag it once was and you can easily frame the gap in a positive light by simply including a short explanation and/or highlighting skills that you gained during that period.
Reverse chronological resumes are also the easiest for applicant tracking systems (ATS) to scan. ATSs are automated computer programs that scan each resume that is submitted to a company, evaluating each one on the basis of how well it matches up to keywords that the employer has inputted regarding their desired experience and skills in a candidate.
Other Resume Formats
The two other main resume formats are functional resumes and combination resumes.
A functional resume showcases your skills over your past experience, which can be beneficial for freelancers, those in creative industries, and those who have gaps in their work history or little to no work history to mention. However, a functional resume can be more difficult for hiring managers to scan and it can present some red flags that you might be intentionally concealing your work experience or lack thereof.
A combination resume includes elements of both reverse chronological and functional resumes, which allows you to highlight your skills as well as your experience while also glossing over gaps in your employment. But, a combination resume can be difficult to format effectively and is best used only when applying to highly specialized positions.
When To Use a Reverse Chronological Resume
A reverse chronological resume is a great choice if you have at least a few years of professional work experience, but the format is very versatile.
In an ideal scenario where you have several years of experience in one industry and are applying for another position in the same field, a reverse chronological resume will clearly demonstrate your career progression.
However, you can still reap the benefits of a reverse chronological resume even if you don’t have much work experience, such as if you are a student or a recent graduate. In that case, you can place your education section above your work experience section and still list everything in reverse chronological order. You can include internships, volunteer work, and so forth in your work experience section.
Again, if you are concerned about a reverse chronological resume exposing gaps in your work history, it is now considered acceptable to include an explanation for each gap in the same format that you would list a past job. Simply list the dates and the reason for the gap. If applicable (such as if you took time off to complete a training course or certification), you can also include bullet points that outline your new skills and qualifications.
What To Include on a Reverse Chronological Resume
If you’ve decided that a reverse chronological resume makes sense for your situation, here are the key sections to include:
Your resume header goes at the very top of your resume and should include your full name, your phone number, your email address, your LinkedIn URL, links to your online portfolio or professional website if you have one, and your city and state (or your full mailing address if you prefer).
Resume Summary or Objective
Next, add your resume introduction section, which can either be a resume summary or a resume objective depending on your situation. If you have at least a few years of experience in the industry that you are applying for, use a summary to highlight your skills and experience. An objective statement is usually a better option if you are a student, have recently graduated, or are making a career change.
If you have at least a few years of work experience in your target industry, add your work experience section next. If you are still a student or you’ve recently graduated, you can place your education section above your work experience.
List your relevant work experience in reverse chronological order, starting with your current or most recent position. You don’t need to include every position that you’ve ever held, especially if you have previously worked jobs that aren’t pertinent to your current career. For example, if you worked as a lifeguard in high school or college and you are now several years out of school and applying for an engineering position, you don’t need to include that on your resume.
For each job, include your official title, the company name and location, and the dates you worked there (months and years only). Under each one, add a few bullet points that outline your skills and achievements, focusing on how well you performed in the position rather than just listing job duties and responsibilities. Quantify your accomplishments with numbers and data whenever possible.
If you have a college degree and at least a few years of professional experience, your education section can be brief, listing the university you went to, the degree you earned, and the dates you attended. There’s no need to list your high school information if you’ve already earned an Associate’s, Bachelor’s, or more advanced degree. If you have multiple degrees, list the highest one first followed by the others in reverse chronological order.
However, if you are currently in high school or college or you don’t have much professional experience, you can include your high school information. To make up for a lack of work experience, you may wish to include extra details about your education, including your GPA (if it’s above a 3.5), relevant coursework, honors and awards, and so forth.
While you should work your skills into all other sections of your resume, you can also create a dedicated section to highlight your hard and soft skills. Be sure to list only skills that are relevant to the job that you are applying for. Read the job posting carefully to identify which skills and qualities the employer is looking for, and use those keywords in your resume.
Optional Resume Sections
If you still have room on your resume after including all of the above sections, you can add optional resume sections such as hobbies and interests, certifications, languages, volunteer experience, extracurricular activities, and so forth.
Your resume should only be a single page if you have less than ten years of experience in your industry, and no more than two pages if you have more experience than that.
Example of a Reverse Chronological Resume
Here’s an example of what a reverse chronological resume might look like:
Salt Lake City, Utah
Results-driven sales manager with 5+ years of experience, eager to contribute sales and management skills to ABC Company to motivate the sales team and drive exceptional revenue growth. In past roles, consistently grew sales by at least 20% year over year, managed teams of up to 20 sales associates, and increased annual revenue by $100K+.
Sales Manager, XYZ Inc., Salt Lake City, UT, August 2018-Present
- Drafted and executed quarterly marketing plans
- Managed merchandise purchasing and stocking
- Exceeded sales targets by 25% each quarter
Sales Associate, DEF Company, Salt Lake City, UT, July 2016-August 2018
- Brought in 50+ new leads each month
- Renegotiated sales contract to increase revenue each year
- Developed seasonal promotions
Oregon State University, Beaverton, OR
BA in Economics, 2016
- Interpersonal skills
- Relationship building
- Sales techniques
A reverse chronological resume is a great choice for the majority of job searchers as it will highlight your skills and experience in an easy-to-scan format that is optimized for both hiring managers and ATSs. The focal point of a reverse chronological resume is your work experience, which should be listed with your current or most recent position first, working backwards in time from there.
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