by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D. A dozen or so years ago, functional resumes were seen, especially by professional resume writers, as the solution to a variety of issues with jobseeker employment histories (see list at bottom of article). Today, however, jobseekers and resume writers have largely abandoned functional formats for resumes.
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The standard format for resumes is chronological (actually reverse chronological, listing all your experience from most to least recent). A functionally formatted resume lists experience in skills clusters. A truly functional resume omits dates and may not even list specific jobs and employers. As you might imagine, hiring decision-makers especially loathe the purely functional resume for its omission of this key employer and date information. A compromise is known as the chrono-functional, hybrid, or combination format, which is a mostly functional format that also includes a bare-bones work history in reverse chronological order. Such a work-history section includes only job title, name and location of employer, and dates of employment. The jobseeker doesn’t list what he or she did in each job because that information already is listed in the functional section.Employers do not like functional formats or even chrono-functional because they want to see dates and get a clear picture of how your career has progressed. “I ignore resumes that do not include dates,” said Miriam Torres, president of HRStaff Consulting, an executive-search firm in Miami Beach, FL. In fact, decision-makers will often read your resume from the bottom up to see how your career has developed.
“I need to tell hiring managers where you worked, when you worked there and what you did under each job, former recruiter Alice Hanson said. “If you are old or haven’t worked in a year, a resume isn’t going to hide that. I’ll figure it out, be sure of that, or I’m not worth my salt. Functional resumes undersell. I assume there is something wrong when I see them.” At Hanson’s former recruiting firm, resumes were reformatted into a standard company style before candidates were presented to employers. “When I went to format the candidate’s resume into our chronological company resume template, functional resumes were pure hell,” she said. “Creating a chronological resume from a functional resume takes time, and time is not what recruiters have much of.”
As Hanson’s recollection suggests, the software that employers use to search databases for resumes meshes poorly with functional resumes, hence the need to re-format them.
While some jobseekers have successfully used functional formats to de-emphasize problematic elements of their careers, recruiters tend to discount this “de-emphasis” as an attempt to hide something. A functional resume might not completely exclude you, but given a choice, recruiters will always gravitate to chronological resumes. “I haven’t found a time when a chronological resume doesn’t make sense,” said Kristina Creed, a senior manager at a for-profit education provider.
We still reference functional formats here on Quintessential Careers (and provide samples) because some jobseekers have job histories that are so problematic that a functional format provides the only effective way for them to market themselves to employers. Some simply are not having success with a chronological resume and find it worthwhile to experiment with a functional format.
If you have any thoughts about using a functional format, here are guidelines to consider:
- Be sure your job history is truly problematic. The list at the bottom of this article provides a broad set of situations that might inspire you to consider a functional format. A functional format is the best course only if your situation is an extreme version of one or more of these scenarios.
- Don’t use a purely functional resume; if you must consider a functional format, a chrono-functional resume is your only hope of avoiding employer antipathy toward your document.
- To make your functional resume as reader-friendly as possible for employers, include as much context as you can within each functional description. That way, the employer has a better idea of which skill aligns with which job. In describing skills and accomplishments, tell where you demonstrated each, thus helping the employer connect those skills and accomplishments with the experience that produced them.
- Consider your functional format an experiment to be used only if you are simply getting no results from a chronological format. Don’t discard your chronological resume or discount the possibility of ever using one again.
- Consider working with a professional resume writer. Most pros are equipped to make a functional format as effective as it can be.
- Follow all guidelines of good resume writing. See our excellent resume samplesfor help.
Those with gaps in their work history, such as homemakers who took time to raise and family and now wish to return to the workplace, should consider a functional resume. For them, a chronological format can draw undue attention to those gaps, while a functional resume enables them to portray transferable skills attained through such activities as domestic management and volunteer work.
Only those jobseekers whose job histories represent extreme versions of these situations should consider a functional format:
- Those with very diverse experiences that don’t add up to a clear-cut career path.
- College students with minimal experience and/or experience unrelated to their chosen career field.
- Career-changers who wish to enter a field very different from what all their previous experience points to.
- Those with gaps in their work history, such as homemakers who took time to raise and family and now wish to return to the workplace. For them, a chronological format can draw undue attention to those gaps, while a functional resume enables them to portray transferable skills attained through such activities as domestic management and volunteer work.
- Military transitioners entering a different field from the work they did in the military.
- Jobseekers whose predominant or most relevant experience has been unpaid, such as volunteer work or college activities (coursework, class projects, extracurricular organizations, and sports).
- Those who performed very similar activities throughout their past jobs who want to avoid repeating those activities in a chronological job listing.
- Jobseekers looking for a position for which a chronological listing would make them look “overqualified.”
- Older workers seeking to deemphasize a lengthy job history.
Final Thoughts on Functional Resumes
If you’re unsure whether a functional resume will work for in your situation, try it both ways and show the two formats to people in your field or the field you wish to enter. See which one they feel presents your skills more effectively.
Additional Resources for Jobseekers:
- Guide to Job Interviewing Resources and Tools
- How to Write a Resume: Expert Answers 19 Common Questions
- LiveCareer Free Resume Builder
- 13 Best Resume Designs of 2018
- Cover Letter Samples
- LiveCareer’s Salary Calculator
Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers, is an educator, author, and blogger who writes about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career. Katharine, who earned her Ph.D in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market, as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes. With Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., she also authored Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Study Skills. Visit her personal website. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.