I want to restructure my resume so that the first page displays a hierarchical tree of qualifications. My goal is to advertise myself like a tradesman who lists what he can do on the side of his van rather than using a list of employers in the descending chronological order and then the potential customer (AKA employer) has to fish out your credentials by scanning each employer listed. I also think that this approach puts me and my skills in the foreground, rather than who I worked for in the foreground, and it lets me be evaluated by what I did instead of who I worked for.

I still plan to list the employers, but give a much briefer description of each job, as I would like to put less emphasis on that than on my actual skills that I'm bringing to the table.

Considering that I am breaking the convention but also considering that I want to weed out conservative employers who do not appreciate doing things innovatively, is this a good idea? If not, can you suggest a compromise, but something in a format which differs from traditional resumes? My aspiration is to market myself as a contractor who comes in, does the job, and leaves, and as such, I want to differentiate myself from the get-go, i.e. the first kick on the door.

    |    |
    |    |--Web 
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    |    |   |--JSP/JSF  
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    |    |   |--GlassFish 
    |    |   |--WebLogic 
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    |    |--Framework
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    |        |--Spring 
    |        |--Jersey (JAXB-RS) 
    |        |--Hadoop/MapReduce 
         |-- (...)
Data Management
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    |   |--Oracle 
    |   |--MySQL
    |--No SQL

  • The problem with this format is that it doesn't really convey a lot of information. You've got those skills, okay great. How GOOD are you at any of them? How do you use those skills to benefit your employer? "I know C#, T-SQL and SVN" doesn't tell me anywhere near as much as "While at InfoTech, I refactored and improved the code-base, reducing trouble tickets by 45% and order processing time by 90%"
    – Kevin
    Commented Apr 19, 2021 at 13:34

12 Answers 12


Put yourself in the shoes of the recruiter. When you're looking at 50 resumes, do you want them to look roughly similar, so you can compare them? Or do you want to translate the message that the candidate is trying to put across?

Also, do you want a list of skills or a list of achievements (visibly close to the job role in which those achievements were achieved)?

Do you think that you are more likely to hire a contractor who bucks conventions and does everything his own way, or one who impresses but sticks within a standard that everyone has agreed to for a long time? That's not conservative, it's common sense. You may have to hire a different contractor to work on that product later.

I like a bit of innovation, when I'm looking at a candidate, but not overthrowing all conventions. I really wouldn't advise this approach. Not only is it unconventional, it doesn't convey a message I want to read. It just tells me that you've worked with lots of technologies, not that you're any good at any of them and certainly not that you know how to deliver a working product.

Neither, for that matter, does it convey the message that you are "a contractor who comes in, does the job, and leaves." If you want to convey that message then a list of short contracts, each leading to a successful delivery, would be much more effective, no?

  • I think that this probably also depends on who he's presenting this to and how, right? For a recruiter, this would probably not be idea. As an online CV that might be part of a digital portfolio, this would probably be fine, especially with a line like "Please feel free to email me for a more traditional CV" in the footer.
    – Hi pals
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 21:11
  • 1
    @MDMarra: That's not really equivalent to a resume, it's equivalent to a marketing brochure. The standards there are different, but the basics still apply. You want to get a message over in the most efficient way possible.
    – pdr
    Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 21:19

What you're describing seems similar to a functional resume. I do see some attractiveness to using such a format.

That said, in poking around the web a little, it seems current thinking is that most job hunters should use the traditional (reverse) chronological resume, as use of a functional resume is seen as problematic. Some of the problems:

  • Hiring managers want to be able to quickly look over your career and see how it has progressed and what you have accomplished. Listing skills instead of jobs and projects makes this sort of review difficult or impossible.
  • Hiring managers also grow suspicious of people using functional resumes as they (the managers) fear the job seeker may be hiding something (e.g. a large gap of unemployment).
  • Many (most?) companies now use software to pre-screen resumes and it seems this sort of software cannot process functional resumes.

It seems that most resume/career advisors suggest using a functional resume only when a chronological resume can't communicate what you need. For example, if you seek a career change, a functional resume may be better able to show what skills you have developed that would be applicable to the new field. This article at Quintessential Careers has more details.


I think it would be a bad idea, while people are often looking for skills, what they really want to see is how those skills have been applied and used. A traditional CV layout allows people to see what you have actually done rather than what you know, the frame work should be what you have achieved in roles and then the skills hang off that.

While I applaud your search for an employer that is less conservative often jobs will be via an agency and the employer will never see your handy work. At a push I'd suggest have two versions of your CV, one traditional and one like yours and distribute accordingly, although I suspect often your new way won't be read.


Why not just use a straight-up skills matrix at the top? List technology, years used and self-evaluated proficiency. Then, for each employer or project listed below, specifically call out the technologies used.

Something like this:
sample skills matrix

  • 1
    I like this, except that skill level is incredibly vague and subjective. When I'm on the "reading" side of a résumé, anyone claiming to be an expert at anything gets a raised eyebrow. Better IMHO would be a very brief example of usage for each; a skill summary, rather than a table.
    – user1113
    Commented May 2, 2014 at 12:51
  • @JonofAllTrades That's why you specifically call out the technologies used with each project/employer as well.
    – Jacob G
    Commented May 2, 2014 at 14:01

AS someone who has done a lot of hiring through the years, a skills list that took up the entire first page would turn me off. I know you have the skills I need officially listed or the resume would have never gotten to me. Yes, you need one in the resume somewhere to get past the automated filters in HR. But the person who will be making the final decision to interview you is more interested in what you have accomplished than what you know as long as what you know meets a certain minimum for the job. So my first priority in looking at your resume is accomplishments which are either presented in a separate accomplishments section or in the chronological part of the resume (please do not make this a simple listing of job responsibilities either, I am not interested in what you were responsible for, I am interested in what you did). This is what should always be first.


Firstly, people flicking through resumes don't have time for things that are special and different. You'll get screened out of at lot of jobs before anyone even reads it.

If anything, this resume actively 'undifferentiates' you. Listing your skills in the context of your previous jobs establishes credibility and allows a rough time-based estimation of your skill level. Only showing skills makes it impossible to see if you are a deep and wise sage when it comes to SQL or whether your wrote your first select statement last week.

Using a job-first approach also would allow you to relate having these skills to how you have achieved actually outcomes for your previous employers. You've cast your skills into a vacuum and it's not clear you have a track record of actually achieving anything for anyone. You've actually made your resume less like a trader's van here.

I'll explain that last point, as I think it gets to your fundamental misunderstanding. You're trying to be more 'value-based' right? You're trying to move away from "here I am, please make use of me because I don't know how" to more "I solve this problem. I come in, I do the job, I leave." Right? But the problem is your skills aren't actually the things you're selling. They're the tools in the van. The text on the outside says "I fix your sink fast", not "I am a man with a socket wrench, ten spanners and fifteen allen keys".

There are freelancers out there targeting people with 'broken sink problems'. They don't find their customers on traditional job boards and they don't talk to them about socket wrenches.

You are an employee or, if you are a contractor, you augment employees and are hired in roughly the same way as them. The people who you dealing with have figured out for themselves that they need someone with X years of socket wrench and Y years of spanner to slot into their existing sink fixing team. They are actively hunting for socket-wrench-wielders on socket-wrench-job-boards. They are not interested in your special resume. Even if you fixed it to be more properly 'value-based', they've already done the work of connecting the dots.

So I wouldn't recommend jumping straight from listing jobs and skills to a "I solve X for Y" approach, especially while you're dealing with the traditional hiring process. But it is an important first step to try and reflect why your employers/customers actually hire you and what they actually want for the money they give you.

Once you've done that you then you can maybe try and subtly incorporate that into your CV without turning the format completely upside down. You also would have taken an important step towards being a "value-based" freelancer.



The combination style resume is good. It emphasizes your skills, like you want. If a hierarchy format can be made to look clean and concise, it could be one way of doing the skills (foremost and top) section of a combination resume.

A functional resume also could do this, but lacks the list of jobs, so a largely-functional, but combination, resume, is best in my opinion.

Detailed information

The US Department of Labor has an excellent handbook which can help you write a nice, Functional (skill-based) or Combination (Time & Skill Based) resume. This handbook is commonly used for training military veterans who are transitioning out of the military and into the civilian workforce how to write resumes and focus on their skills.

The standard resume format is the Chronological (Time Based) resume. The Chronological resume is excellent for those working at great companies and in their desired skillset their whole careers, but it does very poorly for those who build their skills in their free time (self learners), those who are making career transitions (ex: military to software developers), or those who have otherwise non-standard career histories.

Therefore, when emphasizing skill is desired and/or you are making a major career change, the Functional (ok) or Combination (I recommend this one!) resume may be highly-effective and highly-desirable.

The 3 resume types: Chronological, Combination, Functional: enter image description here

The problem with the Functional resume is that it leaves recruiters wondering, "well, where did this person work in the past and what did they do?" This can turn them off, so, I recommend the Combination resume. Essentially, you put all your skills you care about and which matter to your potential employer you are applying to up front, then you place a brief and concise list of employers at the end, with dates and locations and titles, 1 or 2 lines max per role. This way, the bulk of your resume and focus becomes your skills, while your previous work history is an after-thought--just there to prove you were employed and doing something useful at all. Behind each skill you list at the top of the resume should be a description and/or list of projects which support this skill.

Here is an example of a Combination resume from pg 80 of the guide: https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/VETS/files/TAP-EFCT-Participant-Guide.pdf: enter image description here

There are many ways to style this resume, but again, I highly-highly recommend it when you need to emphasize skills over job history!

Anecdotal evidence and personal experience with the Combination style resume

After 8 yrs in the military I used a combination resume to get a job (with great difficulty, mind you, and some help and referrals) at a top tech company in San Francisco...as an embedded software developer. I had very little software development experience in my military role, but tons in my personal and hobby experience, which I had been doing for years, as able, outside my "day job", and mostly self-taught. My last couple military assignments were so non-applicable to my job I wanted they each got 1 single line on my whole resume, despite taking multiple years of my life.

Considerig that I am breaking the convention but also considering that I want to weed out conservative employers who do not appreciate doing thing innovatively, is this a good idea?

This (using a combination or functional style resume) is definitely breaking convention. I can tell you that the closer the companies were to the US government, military, or Department of Defense, the less-likely they were to take me seriously as a software developer. They largely ignored me. Several of their recruiters even told me my several thousand hours of impressive hobby and side projects (some paid) "didn't count", because they weren't for a major company as part of my "day job." These were what I consider the "non-innovative" companies. It was okay in the end they rejected me, as I would not have been happy working for them either.

BUT, the Googles, Facebooks, and other, smaller but equally prestigious high tech companies looked at my Combination resume, with a list of skills, projects, GitHub links, links to YouTube videos I made, my website, projects I completed, etc. etc., and they were intrigued. They gave me a chance, and I got on-site interviews at many of them. Eventually, I filled in the skill and interview gaps, figured out what "algorithms" meant to the common software world, studied them, and got a job which required 7 white-board interviews, each testing a different skillset I listed on my resume to see if I was "for real." They hired me. It's been brutally difficult to get there, to stay there, and to continue progressing, but the Combination style resume, where skills and NOT employers or titles were the key focus of the resume, was a key part of this success, especially to get into my first job in the industry in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Ever since getting that first job now, I no longer have the problems I used to have getting companies to take me seriously. Even the "non-innovative" companies like the Dept. of Defense contractors and recruiters who previously rejected me for being non-conventional and not having a degree in software, now regularly contact me because they see my companies on my LinkedIn profile and resume now. I still use the combination style resume, however, because my list of skills is still far longer than my list of impressive companies, and if they want to see my companies they can look at LinkedIn anyway, and because it helps me target positions easier when I target my resume and list of skills to the specific job application rather than just listing all the stuff I had to do too which I don't ever want to do again.

Last note: when applying for your job you want, don't list all the skills you have, list just those skills which will help you get the job you want. Ex: I'm pretty good in making PowerPoint presentations and giving inane briefings, but I hate doing that. No amount of money can pay me to do that again, so I leave it off. If you want to do some specific thing, make that and those skills your primary focus. The combination resume helps you do this.


  1. Slides: https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/VETS/files/TAP-EFCT-Presentation.pdf
  2. Manual: https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/VETS/files/TAP-EFCT-Participant-Guide.pdf

Screenshot of some of the slides: enter image description here


I second XYZ_909 opinion, the job description shows to your interviewer how you've applied the knowledge you have, instead of simply listing the knowledge you (allegedly) have.

Ok, you're planning to list the technologies you're used to work with. I assume you plan to add to them, depth of knowledge you have on each of them (like Jacob's table), right?

So, the underlying question is... how do you plan to present the depth of knowledge on each technology? My 'expert / average / basic' concepts might be quite different from yours. That's why the technology experience level (regardless how you measure it, by years of experience, by certifications, etc) is kept on the second plan: It's biased.

So, if you decide to go ahead with your format, make sure you really know how to explain your depth of knowledge on each technology. Eventually, it's done by presenting your past job experiences... that's why (I believe) a CV is structured as we know.


As an employer, I would want to know if you are capable of being an employee at a company (hopefully similar to mine). Excessive job changes and/or gaps in your employment are a red flag regardless of your skill level.

I wouldn't expect a resume to only indicate the skills I'm looking for that apply to the job, but there should be some focus.

Validation - at some point, you need to convince me you can build the things I need. Prior successes are very helpful. The interview is more likely the place where you'll be able to show you know this stuff and can learn new things.


That is a fairly common approach for freelance contractors, who are kind of dependent on recruiters finding them when they search their database for specific skills.

My own profile had a short CV section, and several pages of projects that each mentioned several technologies used, plus a section on other skills that I have, but that haven't been used in projects yet.

This kind of Search Engine Optimization is frowned upon in the Internet, but works well for recruiters for contractors, because they do not generally know the technology involved and therefore don't search for synonyms.

This type of profile is a lot less useful for applying to a fixed-term position, however.


The problem with just listing skills is that there is no way for the employer to know:

  • Your level of knowledge in that skill
  • What you consider "knowing" that skill
  • Whether you're lying

People list experience as a way of solving these problems. Tradesmen also do it by way of reviews, testimonials and references. But unlike tradesmen, it is much more effortful and costly to deal with a bad hire, and there are also many more candidates to choose from.

Interviewing takes a lot of time and work so hiring managers want to avoid interviews that turn out to be poor candidates. Someone who lists a skill along with detailed experience relevant to that skill will probably interview well about that skill. Someone who merely lists the skill may in fact have it and interview well, or they may be lying or confused about the skill and interview poorly. So the guy with experience listed will get interviewed before the guy who only lists the skill.

Also, your tree format wastes a lot of space. When people list skills, they usually condense it into an in-line list so that the entire skills section is only a few lines. That way you have room on your resume for both skills and other things.

My aspiration is to market myself as a contractor who comes in, does the job, and leaves

If you want to be a contractor, you should create an LLC for yourself and approach companies with your consulting rates and pitch. This is a whole different ball game from being a salaried employee and resumes are not really applicable to it.


My solution: create a word cloud of skills as a cover page of the CV. Is it a good idea? I don't care: it expresses who I am.

I plan to eventually format the cover page as:

word cloud for coding (main skill)
word cloud for electronics (secondary skill)
word cloud for mechanical engineering (tertiary skill)
Name (so it stands out and is kind of memorable)

I wanted to link to some word cloud generating software but there are so many solutions with different constraints that a one size fits all solution doesn't seem to exist.

  • 2
    "I don't care: it expresses who I am." Even if you do not care about getting a job, a resume is not supposed to be an art piece. If you really want to express yourself, just place a word cloud on your web page, or do it on a blog, or do it on Facebook. For one thing, if you just cut and paste your word cloud resume into a job application web form, it will just look like gibberish to the recipients anyway since most of its formatting will be stripped out. Commented Apr 10, 2021 at 1:24
  • @StephanBranczyk I never cut and paste my CV, I send a .pdf. A job interview is a 2-way process so expressing who YOU are is important both for you and the future employer. You will have to WORK there for some time, you know.
    – Vorac
    Commented Apr 10, 2021 at 3:01
  • 2
    If you can get decent job offers doing it your way. All the more power to you. Commented Apr 10, 2021 at 4:40
  • 1
    @Vorac providing your resume gets across the screening filters. It might work if you were applying for highly specialized jobs or jobs with creative requirements in small companies (where your CV isn't going through the screening process with a hundred others). As others have said, it is just going to disqualify you if the person screening your resume (to weed out wackos, idiots and obvious misfits) doesn't read it because you strayed too much out of the "normal and expected" line and chucks you into the reject pile.
    – mishan
    Commented Apr 13, 2021 at 10:08

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