Formatting Your Resume: Which Type is Right for You?

Formatting Your Resume: Which Type is Right for You?

In today’s competitive job market, a concrete resume is a must. Not only do you need to stand out to a hiring manager, but before you ever make it to that point, you must first stand out to the Applicant Tracking System (ATS). Applicant Tracking Systems are automated software applications that scan incoming resumes to ensure the applicant is a good fit for the job description.

You have probably heard that it is important to match keywords from the job description in your resume, but did you know your format matters too? Whether you’re applying for a Federal or Corporate position, if you want to make it through the initial ATS scan, pay attention to two main components: Formatting and Keyword optimization.

Formatting Your Resume for ATS

Unlike the elaborate paper resumes we once prepared, the general rule of electronic resumes is the simpler, the better. There is no need for color-coding and perfect margins—the ATS does not care. Start by determining which type of resume best fits your situation:

Chronological Resume: The chronological resume is the most common resume that recruiters and hiring managers see. Even for a career-switcher, it is the preferred option, so long as you don’t have any significant career gaps. Your work history is the first thing the employer sees, and it is listed in chronological order to showcase your career progression. This is the most ATS-friendly version of a resume and is the only format you’ll want to use for federal jobs.

Functional Resume: The skills-based or functional resume aims to highlight the transferrable skills that qualify you for a role and push employment history to the bottom. While this can be a great option for a military spouse or veteran who graduated college and is beginning their career journey, many recruiters advise that this type only be used for those just beginning their career journey or those with a significantly long career gap.

Combination/Hybrid Resume: The combination resume is exactly what you might think—it combines chronological work history with relevant skills. The top of your resume will include a summary and skill section, with your work experience directly below it. The hybrid resume option also offers flexibility to include volunteer and extracurricular activities that might showcase your skills more than a chronological format. This is a great option for career switchers (such as veterans) or those with more significant career gaps (such as military spouses).

See some great examples provided by The Muse.

More Resume Formatting Tricks

The main point of an ATS is to quickly scan a great deal of information – it’s your job to make that information easy to scan. The trick here is uniformity and simplicity. Consider these tips when formatting your resume:

  1. Use a consistent, easy to scan font. The best fonts are classics like Times Roman, Garamond, Georgia, Cambria, or Arial. Since the ATS may have difficulty scanning anything too large or small, it is recommended to stay between a 12-point and 10-point font.
  2. Avoid headers and footers on the document. All information should go into the body of the page. When separating sections, is to bold each section, with rounded bullet points underneath each bolded section.
  3. Word Choice is Key. Weave keywords into them into context that highlights your accomplishments. Don’t abbreviate job titles - many ATS programs don’t understand abbreviations and you might miss out on a keyword match. Spell everything out, including your job titles, academic degrees, and affiliations.
  4. Save as an ATS-friendly file type. The .docx format provides the most accurate scan in an ATS. A PDF format looks far more polished but will not parse as well as a .docx file through an ATS.

Optimizing Your Resume Through Keywords

This is where the magic happens within the ATS. The goal is to include as many role function requirements and skills as possible that apply to you throughout your resume.

A good place to start is by comparing the job description of interest to your own job description. Identify the words and phrases that match - those are keywords.

Then, consider your skills and determine which ones you can correlate to their required skills. Be sure to use the exact language as the job description. You’ll want to be blatantly obvious that you possess those skills to ensure it stands out to the ATS.

Once your resume is tailored to your desired role, run it through a resume optimization scanner. SkillSyncer compares your resume to the job description and lets you know what keywords you are missing to maximize your resume optimization and improve your chances of passing the ATS screening. Better yet, it is free for the first year for eligible veterans and military spouses for one year!

And now for the bad news: Yes, optimizing keywords means that you’ll need to re-tailor your resume to align with each job description. However, by doing so, you’ll greatly increase your chances of your resume making it to the other side of the ATS to be considered by a hiring manager.

Federal Versus Corporate Resumes

Now that we’ve established the most important factors in resumes, it’s important to acknowledge that your resume might look different if you submit a resume in the federal vs. the corporate world.

Federal Resumes

Applying for a federal job means you’ll need to prepare a federal resume. Federal resumes must adhere to strict formatting requirements to pass a federal ATS successfully.

The rule of sticking to one to two pages does not apply to federal resumes. In fact, the information required for a federal position might mean that your resume doubles in length. Don’t panic; it’s okay and to be expected.

Additional information often needed on a federal resume:

  • Security clearance
  • Citizenship status
  • General Schedule (GS) grade
  • Supervisor’s contact information for each job you include in your job history A federal resume must also include the responsibilities and skills acquired for each specific role. provides a great, detailed example of what you should include on your resume, including template suggestions, here.

Corporate Resumes

Careers in the corporate or private sectors allow for a little more creativity on your resume. Instead of being boxed into the chronological format, corporate and private sectors are more accepting of the hybrid or skills-based resumes.

It is still recommended to focus on consistent formatting and keyword optimization, but you can highlight your skillsets and relevant experiences more than on a federal resume.

The corporate resume should be concise. Keep the length to less than two pages. Find examples of industry-based resume templates on our Resources page.

One last note: Even though most employers require digital resume submission, you should still have a printed version of your resume on standby for in-person events such as career fairs and networking conferences.

Going up against ATS might seem intimidating, but RecruitMilitary and our partners are here to help in every step of your career search.

Start by creating your RecruitMilitary profile, then search jobs relevant to YOU.