Beware the Functional Resume!

Alesia Benedict, CPRW, JCTC

Many job seekers agonize over which resume format to use -- chronological or functional? Will choosing one format over the other impact the effectiveness of the resume? Yes it can, but not in the way that most job seekers think it will.

The two types of resume format are very different. The chronological format is the traditional format organized by time. Chronological format details the job history in reverse time order, starting with the current or most recent position and working backwards. This format is the most common and what most people picture when thinking of a resume. It's also the one that most recruiters and hiring managers prefer.

Here are some benefits to using a chronological resume:

  • Show your results. The recruiter can see when and where a candidate achieved results and easily comprehend in what context those results were accomplished. A frame of reference for achievements is critical. For example, increasing annual revenues by 20% is a bigger accomplishment when performed for a Fortune 500 company than it is for a small business with fewer than twenty employees.
  • Show your range. A chronological format shows flexibility and reach in a candidate's abilities. Many job seekers have held varying positions over their careers, often in different functions and roles. A chronological format highlights that flexibility.
  • Show your record of success. A chronological resume shows the progression of a candidate's career, records of promotion, and increases in responsibility. These attest to a candidate's performance record and drive to succeed.

Some job seekers worry about employment gaps showing in a chronological resume but most of the time, the fears are unfounded. Small gaps in employment (a year or less) are common. Lay-offs, mergers, acquisitions, and personal issues such as maternity leave or care for elderly parents impact everyone's lives at some point.

Having a time gap is not as deadly as it was in decades past when a "good career history" was defined as working thirty years with one company and retiring with a gold watch. Today, gaps are often a reality, and, handled strategically, can be minimized in a chronological resume.

The functional resume (sometimes called a skills resume) has the content arranged according to performance type (thus, "function"). For example, a human resource professional might divide his skills into categories such as Employee Training, Benefits Management, and Workforce Development. Under each category, the relevant information would be listed or described.

A brief work history listing would come at the end of the document that lists job title, employer, and dates. I've seen some purely functional resumes with no dates or work history at all. This is a big mistake.

A job seeker generally chooses the functional format when attempting to make a career change or to minimize a blemish on his background that would inhibit his candidacy. Often, the functional format is used when a large span of time is missing from the work history. Career changers also tend to choose the functional format because it shows skills rather than work history; their work history may be in a completely different field but they have skills that pertain -- and are transferable -- to their target field.

There are some problems associated with the functional resume:

  • Where's the information? Recruiters and hiring managers dislike hunting for information. The functional resume isn't based on past performance but rather on skills and future abilities. But employers don't hire potential -- they hire known performance. Recruiters and hiring managers want to see past performance in a resume so they make a judgment on the future performance potential of a candidate.
  • What's the context? The functional format because it takes away all frames of reference for recruiters to measure listed skills and abilities. A candidate might claim high sales abilities and track record in the functional resume, but the recruiter is unable to place that in context in terms of time, employer, situation, or history.
  • Where's the cover-up? Recruiters and hiring managers know that the functional format is often used to try to cover up detrimental factors in a candidate's past. The functional format serves as a red flag -- "What is this candidate trying to hide?" The use of the functional format to overcome a detriment actually serves to draw attention.

When faced with the choice of using a chronological or a functional resume, the job seeker is better off using the chronological format; it provides the necessary information to decide whether or not to call the candidate for an interview.

The functional rarely accomplishes its objective of tempting the reader to call for the interview. It alarms the reader, does not provide the necessary information about past performance, and takes too long to decipher. The job seeker is wise to stick with the chronological and pay close attention to strategy of construction of the document. Career hurdles can be overcome with a good, strategically written chronological resume and still provide the reader with the information he needs.

Alesia Benedict is the Executive Director She's also been cited by Jist Publications as one of the "best resume writers in North America" and quoted as a career expert in The Wall Street Journal, and the Chicago Tribune.

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