A Resume Formatting Guide for Women Returning to the Workplace

When it comes to resume writing, the format of your resume matters as much as the content. Your resume is the first face you put before a potential employer, and you need to make sure it makes a great first impression. Your resume should be able to accurately convey your skills, experience, education and accolades. So, what’s so important about format?  

There are a couple of things, first being the ATS. An ATS, or Applicant Tracking System, is the software that automates and tracks a company’s hiring process and is the first level of screening that your resume will go through. Before your resume is read by a real live person, it is first parsed and uploaded into a database by an ATS. Format is critical to the ATS correctly parsing your resume. Once your resume gets through the first level of screening, only then does it typically come before a real person for evaluation.  

TIP: Choosing the right file type is essential to having your resumes content parsed properly by an ATS. Word documents are the safest file type but a PDF works too if you make sure you save as a text-based PDF versus an image-based one.  

Aside from formatting for an ATS, a format that is tailored to your experience and achievements can help catch the recruiter or hiring manager’s attention. Place skills or experience that you want to highlight, or that are relevant to the job you are applying, to towards the top of the page. You don’t want these to be buried in superfluous detail only to be missed by the person reading your resume. 

Choosing the correct format for your professional experience is key when it comes to delivering impact and getting that call for an interview. There are three broad categories of resume types. As a returnee, your choice of format should be based on the relevance of your experience to the job you are applying for, and how recent your career break is. 

(Read our complete Job Search Guide for Women Returning to the Workforce)

Reverse Chronological 
This is the most common format for a resume and makes sense if your most recent experience is relevant to the position you’re applying for. Here, your education and work experience are laid out in a format beginning with your most recent experience first and then working backwards. This format is the most systematic, and hence easiest, for a recruiter or hiring manager to review. A resume written this way provides a clear visual of the writer’s career path. The sample resume below is an example of the reverse chronological format.  

If you are just coming out of a career hiatus and are job hunting, this format is likely not the best choice for you since you most likely left your most recent position months or years earlier.  These other two formats are often a better choice for women returnees. 


A functional resume, as mentioned above, is usually the most appropriate format for a returnee trying to find a job after a recent hiatus. This resume type focuses on skills rather than work history and will help downplay the gap in your work experience. It’s important to note, when using the functional format, make sure that the experience listed at the very top is the most relevant to the job you are applying for. Take a look at this sample resume to see how a functional resume is formatted. 

Sample Functional Resume .jpg

Writing a functional resume: 

  • As with the reverse chronological format, start a functional resume with your first and last name, email address, phone number, and address. 

  • Write a summary emphasizing your skills and accomplishments. This is your chance to highlight your strong suit, and to take the focus off your career gap. 

  • The next section should list your skills and any tools you may be proficient in. Remember, the keywords listed in this section are the ones picked up by the ATS. 

  • Follow this up with your job experience, with the most relevant stint at the top 

  • Finish your resume with your educational experience, listed in reverse chronological format 


As the name suggests, a combination resume is a hybrid of the functional and reverse chronological formats and may work for women returnees. Here, there is equal emphasis on skills as well as work history. The combination format works well for someone returning to the workforce as it serves to downplay a work gap without hiding it, while highlighting relevant skills and achievements. The sample resume below is an example of the combination format: 

Resume 2a_Page_1.jpg
Resume 2a_Page_2.jpg

Writing a combination resume: 

  • Start with your personal details: name, email, telephone number, and address 

  • Write a short summary that encompasses your skills and achievements. This can help catch a potential employer’s eye. 

  • Up next is your work experience listed in the reverse chronological format 

  • Finally, your education, again in reverse chronological order. 

Writing (or rewriting) your resume after a career gap can feel overwhelming. Choosing the right format is as important as what you decide to put on your resume. Once you settle on the appropriate format, make sure you keep tweaking and customizing your resume for each job you apply to. This step though it may seem tedious, is time well spent and will help maximize your chances of getting a call-back. 

Are you a woman looking to return to the workforce? We'd love to hear from you.