Form and Function

blank resume templateI’ll say this right up front: I have a strong bias for chronological resumes, and I know I’m not alone. Most recruiters and hiring managers I know lean towards chronological resumes because they make it easier and faster to find the information we’re looking for quickly. Let’s talk about functional resumes, though, and the reasons you might – and might not – want to use one.

First, definitions.

A chronological resume (the most common kind by far) tells the story of your career as a timeline. A functional resume downplays your work history and instead focuses on the skills and qualifications you bring to the table. There are three main reasons why job-seekers usually choose to use a functional resume instead of chronological.

Why use a functional resume?

The first reason – and the most common by far – is to draw attention away from something about the career track. If you’ve spent a short period of time at a lot of jobs, or if you’ve had a long and difficult-to-explain gap in your work history, this type of resume may have been recommended to you.

Here’s the thing: I don’t like this use case, because a) you’re going to have to put a chronological timeline of your jobs on your resume anyway, so it’s not like I’m not going to see it eventually; and b) when I see a functional resume without explanation (more on this below), I will assume that this is what you’re doing, and I’m going to start looking for what you’re trying to cover up.

The second situation is where you’ve held a lot of jobs throughout your career that – for the most part – have been the same. Instead of talking about each job in a repetitive narrative, some job-seekers will pull out their skills and accomplishments separately, and just list the jobs by title. This is a better reason for choosing this format.

The third reason for this type of resume – the best one of all – is to help orchestrate a career change. If you’ve done one kind of work for your entire career, and have decided that you want to do a different kind of work altogether, your best bet is to focus on your transferable skills. In other words, to highlight the capabilities you’ve developed that can be applied to the new kind of work you want to do. If that’s your reason for using a functional resume, go for it … with one caveat. That needs to show up in the rest of your application as well. Preferably, I’ll see reference to it in your Profile (or, if you use one for this reason, your Objective). I’d also like to see it noted in your cover letter, and possibly even in the body of your email if that’s how you’re applying. All of this helps me understand quickly why you’re using this structure for your resume, and I stop looking for things you’re trying to hide.

There are pros and cons to each.

On the upside, I will admit that the increased use of automated screening tools and applicant tracking systems gives the functional resume a leg up. A functional resume allows you to make good use of the keywords and phrases that those software systems look for in a resume. But for human beings, there are downsides. A functional resume takes more of my time, and makes me work harder. I have to read and interpret more text to make a decision. And I have to look longer for the pieces of information that help me make a quick (read: efficient) decision, because on a functional resume they’re not where I instinctively expect them to be.

So this is the risk you take when you choose this format: some people – either because they’re swamped and need to move quickly, or due to laziness – just won’t put that much time or effort into screening a resume.

The key takeaway is this: If you’ve chosen a functional resume, make it a good one, make sure you’ve got a good reason for doing so, and explain that reason in the places mentioned above.



Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash