Skip to main content

How to Write a Chronological Resume

Here are some steps to help you figure out if a chronological resume is the best way to go, and if so, how to go about it.

Decide if the Chronological Resume Is Your Best Choice

A chronological resume puts the focus on your job experience. Therefore, it is often not the best resume for high school students. The alternative is what's commonly called a functional resume, which puts the focus on your skills. Those skills can come from a variety of places, including your work, hobbies, volunteering, community involvement, schoolwork and so on.

If you've got relevant, recent experience for the job you're applying for, go with a chronological resume. If you have little or no work experience, or your work experience doesn't relate to the job you're applying for, it's probably best to go with a functional resume.

Eric Ritskes is an employment officer with a government department. He says most high school students don't -- and shouldn't -- use a chronological resume.

"I would say 80 to 90 percent of them don't," Ritskes says. "You'll find with some high school students, by the time they hit Grade 12, they've already had three or four jobs, and a chronological resume might work perfectly for them. For others, a chronological one highlights that they don't have the experience."

Know What Sections Should Definitely Be Included

There are three essential sections to a chronological resume.

The first is identification. There's no need to have a section heading; just put your name, address and phone number. If you have an e-mail address, include it as well.

Second is work experience or relevant experience. Starting with the most recent, list the positions you've held. Using action words (more about those later), include a brief description of your responsibilities.

The third section is education. If you haven't graduated from high school yet, mention your expected date of graduation.

Know What Sections Are Optional

Many experts also suggest including a section listing your affiliations or interests. "It gives the employer a full view of who you are as a person, as well as skills that might not be work experience but that might translate into a job you're looking for," says Ritskes.

Yate agrees. He says your extracurricular pursuits can say a lot to employers. "If you've been a competitive swimmer in your youth, anyone in human resources will say here's a young man or woman who has guts and determination and can take the rough with the smooth," he says.

"Sports that employ the mind are very important. If you're a young bridge player, for instance, or even Dungeons and Dragons is a game of strategy. Anything that involves service to the community, or volunteer work or work for church activities. These all speak of someone trying to make a difference with their presence. Membership in societies and associations also show someone who's likely to have more maturity than some of their peers."

If you've earned some awards, won some competitions or were otherwise recognized for achievement, you might include a section called key accomplishments. This section could also be called honors.

"If you've done something that stands out, put it there," Yate says. "If you've got enough to have a section named after it, hey, rock on. Go for it. If you've been an honors student for six of the last eight years, put it in there."

Another optional section is job objective or career objective. "I highly recommend an objective," says Ritskes. "It's not necessary, but it shows that you're goal-oriented."

A job objective also makes it clear to the employer what job you're applying for. Many companies receive resumes all the time for a wide range of positions. An objective also tells them whether you're looking for full- or part-time work, temporary or permanent.

A job objective can be skipped if you're including a cover letter. The cover letter is a brief introduction to you, and the first paragraph should make clear your job objective.

One more section you might include is references. Generally, experts advise writing, "References available upon request." They agree that listing your references on the resume is not necessary. It takes up precious space. A resume should definitely be no more than two pages, and one page is even better.

Instead, bring a list of references to your interview, because the employer will contact them after the interview.

Choose Action Words

Action words are words that vividly describe your skills and attributes and your work experience. Passive words sound like things happen to you. Active words emphasize accomplishment. They sound like you make things happen.

Some examples of positive action verbs are: accomplished, adjusted, collected, completed, contributed, distributed, established, headed, implemented, improved, installed, mentored, operated, participated, reorganized and scheduled.

Using the right words doesn't just make your resume sound better. It can greatly increase your chances of getting hired, says Yate. Nowadays, resumes are increasingly scanned into electronic databases.

"That means it's not going to be seen by human eyes initially," Yate says, "so your resume has to be written in a way that will ensure it is pulled up out of the tens and hundreds of thousands of resumes in that database."

If a company has a position open, a manager will select keywords describing the skills and attributes required. The software pulls up all the resumes with those keywords. It then weighs them. This means the resume with the most occurrences of keywords comes up number one.

"That database search may pull up 100 resumes," Yate says. "[But] they won't read more than 10. They'll just take the top 10."

To ensure your resume has the right keywords, Yate recommends doing your homework. Talk to guidance counselors about the jobs you're applying for. Read job descriptions carefully. Look for the words describing the skills being sought. Examine want ads. Write down the nouns and the verbs that describe the functions or skills of the job.

On your resume, it's important to describe your experience in terms of the skills used. Every job develops skills that are needed by other employers. But it's your job to make that sales pitch.

"They are more likely to hire the young man or young woman who understands that even a humble job such as flipping burgers requires timeliness, requires organization, [and] requires good communication skills," says Yate, "rather than the person who just says, 'burger flipper -- summer 2011 to summer 2014,' because you're showing an understanding of the world of work."

Put It All Together

The key to remember is that a resume is the tool you use to put your best foot forward. The chronological resume highlights your experience. So make sure that's your best selling point.

Make sure your resume has lots of action words. Make sure it has no errors. Make sure it highlights your achievements and good qualities.

The fact is, writing a resume isn't fun for most people. It takes effort to get it just right. But the process forces you to focus on what you have to offer. And it's a powerful tool to get a job that IS fun.

"When you create a resume, it's a pain in the neck to do," Yate admits. "And if you really don't like doing it, tough noogies, because you've got 50 years of doing it ahead of you. So you might as well do it right the first time and build on it."


  • Email Support

  • 1-800-GO-TO-XAP (1-800-468-6927)
    From outside the U.S., please call +1 (424) 750-3900


Powered by XAP

OCAP believes that financial literacy and understanding the financial aid process are critical aspects of college planning and student success. OCAP staff who work with students, parents, educators and community partners in the areas of personal finance education, state and federal financial aid, and student loan management do not provide financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice. This website and all information provided is for general educational purposes only, and is not intended to be construed as financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice.