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What type of resume should I use when changing careers?

by Renee
(Cleveland, OH)

I've been receiving conflicting advice since I was laid off six months ago.

Two career counselors advised me that since I would be changing careers and getting out of the only business/industry I've worked for over my 20-year career, that I needed a functional resume that listed my skills/accomplishments/awards first, followed by a chronological listing of employers and positions, then education.

Yesterday, I submitted my resume to an agency that specializes in the fields I hope to get into. I got a terse, condescending reply back from the agency head insulting my resume (she said it "wouldn't get me in the door anywhere") and demanding I follow her dictates and submit a reverse-chronological resume if I wanted her to submit me for the opening. She insists that employers only want reverse-chronological resumes.

I have no problem re-working my resume for her, although her attitude makes me question her professionalism and her ability to actually get me a job. What I'm wondering is, whose advice is right?

ANSWER: Renee... I think there is not just one right answer to your question about resume formats for career changers. The advice you got to use a functional or skills resume format is not flawed per se. This type of format emphasizes transferable skills over experience and can work well for career changers or new graduates. Click to read more about the functional resume format.

But because the functional format looks so different, some recruiters may not like it. So, many experts say that a combination approach works best... it includes many of the traditional elements of a reverse chronological resume format, while still emphasizing skills over experience. Read more about the combination format here.

But you also need to know your industry and what's acceptable and expected there. For instance, educational and research jobs often require a more detailed curriculum vitae format that would be unwelcome elsewhere. The agency rep you spoke of may be responding to industry norms with her advice to you, and you should probably listen. Ask her about the combo format, though.

To your success,

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