Modern vs Traditional: What Is the Best Résumé Format to Use

Find out whether a traditional or modern résumé format is right for you, plus learn how to design, layout and structure your document.

Modern vs Traditional Résumé Format

This article is brought to you by Enhancv, a web-based platform used by over half a million people which empowers you to create targeted and personalised résumés that get results.

In the modern job market, getting your CV or résumé in front of a recruiter can be a challenging process. There are ATS algorithms to negotiate, application forms to fill out and a never-ending array of disclosures and agreements to sign – all of this before you’ve even clicked ‘Submit’.

Imagine how disappointing it is, then, to navigate this administrative minefield, only for your résumé to be instantly discarded. It’s well-written with no spelling mistakes, after all, and your background and experience speaks for itself; so why aren’t you getting an interview?

If you’re a model candidate and you’re not getting any call-backs, then chances are that your résumé may simply be too traditional. When employers sift through the reams of applications that they inevitably receive, the résumés that look as though they were written in 1994 will always be the first to go (bold, italicised Times New Roman-ers – we’re looking at you). Stale and bullet point-heavy résumés also unlikely to capture the imagination. This means that, along with all those other cardinal résumé rules, adopting a fresh and appealing structure is also now an essential practice.

It’s not just about layout, though. There are other subtle but important differences between traditional and modern résumés. We’ve taken a look at some of them, as well as explaining the best way to proceed.

What’s wrong with traditional résumés?

In theory, there’s nothing wrong with a traditional résumé. But the job market is now a hugely competitive place and distinguishing yourself from the competition can be the key to getting your foot in the door.

In most cases, recruiters know this, and a standard no-frills Word résumé simply won’t cut the mustard. Potential employers want to be impressed, and a token effort can be seen as lazy and unimaginative. This is particularly true for millennial-run businesses and start-ups, where different skills and cultural ideals may hold more value, and where recruiters are perhaps more attuned to receiving creative applications. After all, infographics, 3D and even videos are all now considered acceptable résumé formats.

It is also reflective of a wider emphasis shift in recruitment. Traditional résumés are essentially a linear chronology of your previous education and experience and, although this is still important, organisations are now more focused on a candidate’s suitability for their internal culture. If your résumé is bromidic and devoid of creativity, for example, then this might suggest to your potential employers that you won’t be a good fit.

What should I do then?

Firstly, it’s vital to remember that regardless of the latest résumé design trends, you still need to offer some substance; no amount of pie charts or quirky language will hide the fact that you have no skills, experience or qualifications, for example. You still need to promote your achievements and highlight where your strengths lie, while it goes without saying that it should be up to date and proofread for any silly mistakes.

It needs to be tailored to the job you’re applying for, too. It can seem like a lot of work writing and rewriting portions of a résumé, but the reality is that each position is different, and each company will have different values that you need to appeal to. This is one of the biggest résumé mistakes that jobseekers continually make, so if it means that you have to spend more time researching, reformatting and tweaking, then so be it; it will be worth it in the long run when you eventually clinch that interview.

Of course, these are just two of the most basic tenets of any good résumé. To truly bring your résumé up to date, you might need to make a few other changes:

Pay attention to ATS

There aren’t many companies that accept paper résumés anymore, which means that you’ll need to move with the technology. Applicant tracking systems (or ATS) work by reading your text, searching for keywords and assigning sections into pre-ordained data fields, so your résumé will have to be compatible. Specifically:

  • Maintain consistency in your keywords; if there is one way of saying something important, then don’t deviate from it (eg: ‘people management’, ‘managing people’ or ‘personnel management’).
  • That fancy formatting might look perfect, but it doesn’t mean it’s functional. If you’ve tinkered with the design, copy and paste the text into a .txt file first. If it’s incoherent and all over the place, then that’s how the ATS will see it, so ensure everything is practical before you submit.

Make a good first impression

Unlike traditional résumés that repeat what you’ve already written later on, your Personal Profile section should instead be a seamless blend of your career summary so far and your objectives for the future. Most importantly, though, it should be short and concise. No recruiter is going to sit there and read your version of War and Peace while hundreds of other résumés are waiting in the pile, so get to the point quickly.


As has been mentioned a thousand times before, recruiters don’t spend very long with your résumé. Make the important stuff stand out, and if you’re a viable candidate, they will get into the nitty-gritty later on. Remember: you’re only trying to secure an interview at this point – the details can come afterwards.

Consider your industry

Before you start peppering dragons and explosions all over your career achievements, it’s worth considering your audience, too. You will inevitably need to exercise some judgement on what is appropriate and what isn’t.

For example, a flamboyant online infographic which shows off your creative flair and which contains links to your numerous portfolios might be just the ticket for an innovative design start-up. But if you’re applying to a prestigious corporate firm that works with high-profile financial clients, then a more conservative and professional approach would be required.

Striking a balance

This last point, in particular, serves to highlight an important takeaway; namely, that you need to strike a balance. Modern résumés might be more aesthetically pleasing, tailored to cope with technology demands and perhaps more imaginative in their delivery, but traditional résumés offer a framework that, while customisable, is still a tried-and-trusted method. The greatest chance of success lies in combining both of these styles in order to produce something that covers all bases.

If formatting and design isn’t your strong point, or you’re still not sure what changes need to be made, then you can easily revamp your résumé online, too. In fact, there’s no excuse in the modern job market for an out-of-shape résumé, so ensure that it gets the attention and consideration that your job search deserves.

Securing an interview – and, therefore, the chance of landing a job – rests very heavily on the quality of your résumé, yet many jobseekers continue to neglect or underestimate it. By combining quality, well-written text with the attractiveness and practicality of a modern résumé format, you can immediately set yourself apart and increase the probability of success.

After all, the best résumés don’t just look and sound good – they help get their owners the job they’re looking for, too.

What do you think? Is your résumé traditional or modern, and how successful has it been? Let us know in the comments section below!