Functional Resume Guide: Formatting, Pros, Cons
Writing a resume isn’t everybody’s idea of a good time. Trying to remember the name of this job or that title, what you did when and where, and making it all sound compelling can be difficult. It can be even harder when you’re trying to switch careers or have periods of unemployment.
You may have heard that a functional resume is better for certain job seekers in certain situations. And, while this may be the case, it’s not the whole story. A functional resume isn’t always your best bet and may, in fact, make it harder for you to land an interview.
What is a Functional Resume?
A functional resume, sometimes called a skills-based resume, puts the focus on your skills and not your job history. That doesn’t mean you leave your work history off your resume. It just means you draw the recruiter’s attention to your skills and abilities.
In a chronological resume, the “meat” of your resume is the list of all the jobs you’ve held in reverse chronological order. Under each job are a list of your job duties, skills, and accomplishments.
However, on a functional resume, the meat is your skills and achievements. Instead of listing your jobs, you group your skills by type of experience and list out the specific things you can do in each of these areas. None of these skills are tied to a specific job or experience, and instead, stand on their own.
Pros and Cons of Functional Resumes
While a functional resume has its place in job hunting, it’s the least commonly used resume format. And there are several reasons why most recruiters and job coaches will tell you to avoid using a functional resume.
You may find that the disadvantages of a functional resume may ultimately outweigh the benefits of using one. However, there may be a few select times when a functional resume is the right choice in your job search.
Functional Resume Disadvantages
Not to be a downer, but it’s important to cover the disadvantages of functional resumes before covering the advantages. This is not meant to talk you out of using one. However, knowing what the cons are first will help put the pros into context.
Recruiters Might Dislike Them
Recruiters dislike functional resumes for two reasons. First, like it or not, when a recruiter sees a functional resume, it could raise a red flag. The thought is that job seekers use a functional resume to hide things. That could be a spotty work history or inconsistent career growth. Or, it could be nothing at all. But, in general, a recruiters’ first thought is that you’re hiding something, and that makes them nervous.
The other reason recruiters dislike functional resumes is that they are hard to read. By this, we mean that recruiters don’t only care about your skills. They want to know how and where you learned those skills. That gives the recruiter relevant information about your skills.
For example, you say you have killer fundraising skills. Great. But, did you learn those skills working for a large nonprofit with an international reach? Or, did you gain those skills working for the local PTA? Those are two very different organizations, and it means your skills and experiences will be vastly different.
Without a job to tie your skills to, your resume lacks meaning and context, making it hard for a recruiter to figure out if you’re worth an interview. And, generally speaking, if a recruiter has to work too hard to figure out what your worth as a candidate is, you’re probably ending up in the no pile.
Doesn’t Tell the Full Story
Along the same lines, a functional resume may not tell the full story about your career progression. It’s hard to tell your career story and demonstrate growth because you aren’t telling the story in a straight line.
For example, on a chronological resume compared to a functional resume, you can show that your first job out of college was working in a call center. Then, a few years later, you were promoted to team leader. A few years after that, you became an account manager and then the head of corporate accounts.
Yes, you can demonstrate growth with a functional resume, too. But, the difference is that with a chronological resume, you’re better able to show that not only did you progress in your career, you gained new skills and experiences as a result of your previous experiences, which helped you in the next one.
On a functional resume, you may have the same story, but it’s harder to demonstrate the growth when the skills and experiences are separated from the job history. There may be career advancement, but without the relevant skills attached to the job, it’s just a bunch of skills and jobs that may or may not mean anything in relation to each other.
Machines Can’t Read Them
Many companies, large and small, use applicant tracking systems (ATS) to help scan and rate resumes. While this allows companies to sort through far more resumes than a human can, the ATS is still just a machine that’s programmed by humans.
That programming tells the ATS to look for certain phrases and keywords. In many cases, it’s told to look for those keywords in a certain spot, like, say, under a job title. Since a functional resume doesn’t have keywords associated with job titles, there’s a chance that your resume will end up in the “pass” pile because the right keywords were in the “wrong” place.
Functional Resume Advantages
Now you now the potential downsides and why it can make hiring managers or recruiters skeptical. But, let’s talk about the ways a functional resume can work in your favor.
Helps Employment Gaps
There are plenty of valid reasons to sit out of work for a while. And, those reasons shouldn’t hold you back from finding a job. Unfortunately, many employers see a gap in employment history as a red flag.
There’s no way to hide your employment gaps on a chronological resume. And, there’s really no way to hide it on a functional resume, either. But, when you use a functional resume, you’re putting your focus on the relevant skills you bring to the table, instead of the fact that you haven’t worked continuously.
Putting the spotlight on what you have versus what you don’t have may be enough to override the employment gap red flag and get you in the door for an interview.
Advantageous to Career Changers
Career pivots happen for many reasons. However, going from accountant to glassblower isn’t as easy as taking a few classes and applying for some jobs.
Using a functional resume is a great way to highlight your transferable skills. By showcasing what you already have as an employee, you can demonstrate to the recruiter that you know what you’re doing, just not in that particular arena. This can make you a more desirable employee because while you have to learn certain nuances of the job, some of the bigger picture items—like how to communicate effectively—are skills you already possess.
Makes Sense of an Odd Work History
Maybe you always wanted to work in a kitchen and was a line cook for a few years. Maybe you volunteered in the animal shelter and want to get paid for it. You’ve got the skills and experience that employers want, they just may not see it on a chronological resume when you’ve held some unusual jobs.
But, using a functional resume may help you translate those experiences into useful skills that the employer is looking for. For example, working in the kitchen probably means you manage stress well and tight deadlines well, making you a great candidate for a customer service role. And, volunteering at the animal shelter may make you the perfect person for the receptionist position in the vet clinic.
On a functional resume, it’s not just about where you worked, it’s about what you learned. Sometimes the skills you possess are far more important to an employer than where you learned that skill.
When to Use a Functional Resume
As a rule, you shouldn’t use a functional resume in your job search. They may not provide recruiters with the context they need to move forward and machines have difficulty processing them. However, there are some situations when you can use a functional resume to your advantage.
Brie Reynolds, Career Development Manager and Coach at FlexJobs, says that a functional resume can have its place in your job search. But, don’t use it when you’re applying online. “A functional resume works best when it’s being sent to an individual via email or being handed to someone at a job fair or another face-to-face meeting.”
This works because it gives you a chance to explain your resume, connect the dots for the recruiter, and tell your full employment story—complete with transferable skills!
Functional Resume Format
If you think a functional resume is right for your job search, make sure you’re formatting it properly. And, that means more than getting the right keywords in the right spot.
In many regards, formatting a functional resume is the same as formatting a chronological resume. Follow the same rules regarding fonts and other “fancy” items (like accent colors) to make your resume easy to read.
Like a chronological resume, a functional resume starts with your contact information at the top. That includes your name, email address, and any social profiles you want to include.
You can include a professional summary just below your contact information. However, because your whole resume highlights your skills, the professional summary on a functional resume can be shorter than on other resumes. You want to avoid repeating what you say in the summary in your skills sections.
Give a brief overview of who you are as a professional and what you can offer the company in terms of broad skill sets. Stick with about three or four sentences at most.
Below the summary is where things get radically different. Instead of listing your jobs in reverse chronological order, you list your skills and experiences by group. And, instead of listing your job duties as bullet points under your job title, you list your skills and experiences under skills categories.
This section is titled “Areas of Expertise,” “Skills,” “Professional Skills,” or even “Qualifications.” Below that header, you create skills categories. Examples can include “Customer Service,” “Administrative Skills,” “Marketing,” “Organizational and Leadership Skills,” “Computer and Technical Skills,” “Sales,” or “Design Skills.”
Create whatever categories you want based on what skills you want to highlight. Limit yourself to your top three or four categories and keep them as broad as possible.
Under each broad category, you describe the specific skills in greater detail, without going overboard. If you can, tie the skill to an achievement at a job and explain how that achievement had a positive impact for the employer.
Here’s an example:
- Increased advertising revenue by 20% through market research and promotion.
- Organize, style, and create copy for annual gift catalog.
- Used web analytics tools to track performance; identified weaknesses to increase email sign-ups by 14%.
- Created and executed email marketing campaigns for clients resulting in a 14% conversion rate.
As you can see, these are specific, concrete examples of problems identified, actions taken, and the results achieved.
The above example is a “hard” skill. But, you can also categorize and give examples of your “soft” skills.
Customer Service Skills
- Greet and interact with an average of 125 clients per day.
- Respond to client questions and proactively address their concerns.
- Promote product at trade shows throughout the country.
After you’ve highlighted your top three or four categories, list your work history. Unlike a chronological resume, your work history is very brief. It’s the name of the company, your job title, and your dates of employment.
You do not list any job duties, accomplishments, or skills under your job titles because you covered all of those in the skills section.
If you had any internships, list them here in the same format as work experience. Again, you do not list any skills or accomplishments because they are covered in the skills section.
Below work experience is your education. This is formatted the same way as any other resume, which is the name of the school, the dates you attended, and any degrees you received.
Similar to work history, if there’s volunteer experience you’d like to share, this is the section for it. And, again, just like work history, you only list where you volunteered, what your position was, and how long you volunteered for.
If you picked up any skills during your volunteering that may be relevant to the job, list them under the skills section like you would for any skills you gained from a paid job.
Functional Resume Example
Looking for something to get your started? Check out this functional resume sample:
Choosing the Best Resume Format
A functional resume can have a place in a job search. However, most experts say you should use them rarely since most employers dislike them. If you have the opportunity to apply in person and you think a functional resume can help you, consider having one ready to go.
In most cases, you should use a chronological resume. But, if you’re worried about employment gaps or you’re switching careers, a chronological resume may not be the right choice either. In these cases, consider a hybrid resume, which is the best of a functional resume and a chronological resume.
However, if you’d like some expert advice on formatting a functional resume, or help deciding if you should use one, talk to a FlexJobs career coach.
Photo Credit: bigstockphoto.com
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