Effective Résumé Formats: Functionality, Aesthetics, Access

Do you want to get a job? A good job?

Your résumé is your chance to stand out from the crowd. But you have choices to make.

Effective résumé formats come in many styles. The format and style you choose must suit your industry and the type of job you want.

You must also know if your résumé will be scanned electronically through an ATS (Applicant Tracking System). 

 Most online job applications—and increasingly in-person, printed applications—are initially run through an ATS. If your résumé confuses the ATS, then it will be discarded. You lose access to the human decision-makers. You get no job.

Let’s look at five popular résumé formats and then discuss the various styles you may apply to them. 

We’ll also focus on ATS-friendly résumé designs that will get you through the automated filtering stage of your job search.

Finally, we’ll present the tools you can use to create the most effective résumé format.

Let’s begin with functionality.

Effective Résumé Formats—Functionality

Functionality means creating a résumé that does what you want it to do—persuade a hiring manager to hire you. 

To get this done, you must arrange your work experience, skills, and education or training in the most persuasive format possible. 

Each of these five formats is effective. They apply to different types of job descriptions. Choose the one that puts your experience and skills in the best light.


A chronological (time-based) format focuses on your work history. It looks at your most recent work experience, then moves step-by-step backward to your earliest relevant experience.

PROS: This format is best for those with a strong, continuous work history in the same field. It emphasizes career progress and stability. 

CONS: Showing your chronological history may expose employment gaps. It may also point out areas of inexperience. 

Functional (Skills-Based)

The skills-based, functional format emphasizes your skills and capabilities that directly relate to the position you’re applying for. While your work history is still important, it is downplayed to focus on your skill set. 

PROS: If you are changing careers, have a gap in your employment, or have a particularly strong set of skills relevant to your desired job, this format is very effective. It focuses on what you can do, not when you did it. This is helpful for those with less traditional career paths or specific, in-demand job skills.

CONS: This format can confuse recruiters used to a traditional timeline. The recruiters know that a functional format is often used to hide employment gaps, so they may be more diligent in assessing your work history.

Combination (Hybrid)

This format combines the functional and chronological approaches. It begins with your relevant skills at the top. Later, it covers your work history in reverse chronological order.

PROS: This can be your best format choice if you have both solid work experience and a compelling, relevant skill set. It gives you flexibility in presenting your entire history of skills and experience. The hybrid approach is also great for technical or skills-based jobs seeking those with a stable work history.

CONS: You must ensure that your résumé doesn’t become too long. Careful and concise information organization is required to avoid confusion or repetition.


To be clear, all résumés in the age of ATS must be targeted to the specific job description in the job posting. Targeting can take place in every résumé format, but this targeted approach is best for anyone seeking a position where matching the job description is crucial. Targeting the job description is the best way to defeat the ATS filtering system.

PROS: Targeting increases your chances of being noticed by human decision-makers because it offers you the most significant possibility of getting past the screening. It can also impress by aligning your résumé perfectly with the job requirements.

CONS: Tailoring every résumé and cover letter to every job application is time-consuming and requires a lot of effort. This burden increases as the number of job applications grows. You can help yourself by using an AI-automated system that personalizes and focuses each application’s résumé and cover letter.


Mini or Non-Traditional

Non-traditional or mini formats include video résumés, online portfolios, and the use of graphics-based design elements in your résumé. We’ll discuss the pros and cons of colors, columns, fonts, and graphics in a bit.

PROS: Creative industries, or any industry that accepts non-traditional résumés, offer a chance for you to showcase your writing, design, or production skills. This can be quite an effective way to stand out from all the other applicants if your skills match the job description.

CONS: The non-traditional approach is clearly not appropriate for every industry. ATS systems may not support such résumés. Traditional hiring managers may not appreciate your portfolio or video. One workaround is to provide links to your portfolio in your more standardized résumé. Presenting those links must be carefully approached.

Your résumé’s functionality can be enhanced with appropriate visual clues. Let’s move on now to the aesthetic aspects of effective résumés.

Effective Résumé Styles—Aesthetics

Incorporating columns, colors, fancy fonts, and graphics in your résumé significantly impacts the readability, effectiveness, and potential acceptance of your résumé. This applies to both human and ATS reviews. Depending on how these visual elements are used, they can help or hinder your job application. 

Also, remember that résumés are often printed out even when submitted electronically. Keeping to the traditional one-page résumé helps structure your design.


Columns help organize information to make it more readable. Résumés can use columns to efficiently utilize space to separate sections like skills, education, and experience.

  • More than two columns can make the résumé look cluttered. 
  • Always maintain readability, both for the ATS and the human decision-makers.
  • The main column should contain the most essential information. The secondary column can support categories and headings.


While colors can make your résumé stand out and highlight important information, they should be used sparingly and strategically.

Always maintain a professional tone when choosing colors, especially when considering bright tones. Make sure there is sufficient contrast between background colors and font color. Your colors should not distract attention or reduce readability.


I’ll make this simple. Use standard, ATS-friendly fonts such as Arial, Times New Roman, Helvetica, or Calibri. This is both for ATS and the human reviewers. Fancy fonts are generally frowned upon. Graphic designers may succeed with creative font usage, but most of us can’t. Be sure your typography doesn’t tank your résumé.


Unless you are an actor or a model, you should not use a headshot on your straightforward job résumé. The picture can introduce bias into the hiring process.

There are many other uses for headshots, though. 

Non-traditional résumés may allow headshots, not to mention videos—also, those résumés used in creative fields or for personal branding. AI-generated avatars for social media are popular, too. Services are available to turn your casual photos into professional portraits.

So, if you know for sure that headshots are allowed, go for it. Otherwise, steer clear.

ATS-Friendly Résumés—Access

You should definitely be thinking about creating an ATS-friendly résumé if you’re applying online for any position. Dozens, hundreds, even thousands of people apply for most job positions today. You’ve got a lot of competition.

The use of ATS is growing and being adopted by medium and small businesses. It’s not just for the big companies anymore.

Best Practices for ATS-compatibility

  • Use a simple, single-column layout.
  • Employ standard fonts and use high-contrast color schemes.
  • Avoid graphics for crucial information. ATS doesn’t often do OCR.
  • Use only Word (.docx) or PDF file formats. These are the only formats that ATS reliably understands. Word is preferred if you have a choice and want to ensure readability. Always follow the instructions given in the job application.
  • Test your ATS-friendly résumé online using an ATS simulator such as Jobscan. If this job is important to you, it’s better to test your résumé’s ATS compatibility than take a gamble. 

Choosing the Right Format

The most effective résumé format depends on your individual career path. Consider your industry and the skills and experience you want to highlight.

Clarity, conciseness, and relevance to the job are crucial no matter which format you choose. This is why I recommend a targeted résumé regardless of format.

For most applicants, a targeted hybrid or chronological format is recommended. It provides a clear, professional overview of your career. For those in creative fields, a targeted non-traditional résumé may be your best chance to stand out.

It’s also crucial to consider the role of ATS in filtering out résumés. Ensuring that your resume is ATS-friendly is essential. You want to survive the cut.

Creating Targeted ATS-Friendly Résumés 

Our service, AIApply.co, provides an entire platform dedicated to your job search. 

Using our state-of-the-art AI technology, you upload your existing résumé or CV and the job description of the position you’re applying for. 

Then, we use your information to generate targeted traditional résumés and cover letters that are 100% ATS-friendly. 

Each targeted résumé takes your personal work skills and history and then aligns it with the keywords in the job description. 

You get a custom-tailored application kit for that particular job: Résumé, cover letter, even a follow-up email.

Our advanced AI tools include:

  • An integrated AI-assisted job board with vetted high-quality jobs.
  • An AI job interview tool for practice before taking your next interview. You don’t know what they’ll ask you, so be prepared in advance with our AI question-and-answer Interview Buddy.
  • A résumé builder plus a translator service for international job applications.
  • AI headshot maker for those situations where headshots are appropriate or for other uses like social media avatars.
  • Résumé hosting for online sharing.

Elevate your job search with AI. But don’t take our word for it. 

You can test us out for free. 

Visit AIApply.co today and see for yourself.