Fundamentals of the Functional Resume

For candidates with non-traditional backgrounds, or those who are changing careers, the Functional Resume Format is often the best option.

By Warren Simons | June 2007


Browse through the resume-writing section of your local bookstore and you might come to believe you could choose from one of hundreds of formats to use in a great resume. Resumes based on industry, years of experience or even minor editorial changes are among the myriad examples you’ll find, even before delving into specialized approaches, such as the Federal Resume and KSA necessary when applying for jobs in the government. Despite the thousands of samples that resume books and online resources provide, the overwhelming majority of job applicants in the private sector will either use the Chronological Format or the less well-known Functional Format as the backbone of their resumes.

One of the keys to building a successful resume – and expediting the job search – is to clearly understand how you can leverage your unique skills and work history into a document that represents you in the best light. And to do this, it’s essential to understand that minor editorial changes – such as how many bullets you list under a header or where you place your education section – pale in importance compared to picking the right format. This essential step in the resume-writing process can mean the difference between an interview and months of frustration. Even before a pen touches paper, you must determine which format will highlight your strengths and hide your weaknesses.

The aptly named Chronological Format – which is the most frequently used in the U.S. – is an excellent choice for candidates with a steady work history, positions of increasing responsibility or experience at a company with exceptional name recognition. Also called the "Reverse Chronological Resume," this format is structured to make your consistent employment record the document’s focal point.

But not all candidates have a steady work history. For those with non-traditional backgrounds or those who are changing careers, the Functional Format is often the best option.

The Functional Format is a future-oriented document. It emphasizes the skills and potential that you can bring to an opening, not just what you’ve achieved in the past. By breaking down your work history and accomplishments into two to four unique skill sets – such as Sales, Project Management, and Business Development – you can target an opening by showcasing strengths that the rigid "Work History" section of a chronological resume might hide.

Below are sample chronological and functional resumes, which demonstrate why the functional format might be the perfect resume for candidates changing careers or returning to the work force.

A Chronological Resume

DAVE MOSS
1 America Way – New York, NY – 000-000-0000 – Davemoss@dice.com

Talented manager with demonstrated expertise overseeing multiple projects in deadline-oriented environments

SUMMARY OF QUALIFICATIONS

  • Summary Bullet # 1
  • Summary Bullet # 2
  • Summary Bullet # 3
  • Summary Bullet # 4

WORK HISTORY

ABC Technologies, New York NY 2003 – 2006
Project Manager

  • Bullet one
  • Bullet two
  • Bullet three

 

BCD Technologies, New York NY 1999 - 2002
Associate Manager

  • Bullet one
  • Bullet two
  • Bullet three

EFG Technologies, New York NY 1997 - 1999
Assistant Manager

  • Bullet one
  • Bullet two

COMPUTER SKILLS
Computer skills would go right here

EDUCATION
University of Dice, City, State
Bachelor of Business Administration, 1997

As the sample shows, the chronological resume is built around a steady work history. The focus quickly shifts to body of the resume, and in this case the most recent position at ABC Technologies. The resume then moves backward in a reverse-chronological order, covering all relevant positions in the candidate’s work history. So the first thing that most hirers see after the "Headline" and "Summary of Qualifications" is a candidate’s most recent position.

Thus, one of the first problems Mr. Dave Moss encounters is that he’s been unemployed for at least six months (or, he’s taken a hiatus). Although he has ways to address this gap – by adding a section reviewing any work he completed during 2007, including volunteer work, an internship, or personal projects; or addressing the issue in a cover letter, a better approach is to use the functional format. At the very least, this will avoid highlighting his lack of employment.

Or, what if Mr. Moss is trying to change careers? Let’s say he’s still employed at ABC Technologies, but is looking for a position in real estate sales. The fact his work history is primarily in management may make an HR department pass. Remember, most resumes have no more than 30 seconds to impress a potential hirer. Because at first glace, Mr. Moss doesn’t appear to have a sales background might be a reason for his rejection. Six years ago, he might have trained and oversaw the sales department at EFG Technologies, and even increased sales by 85 percent. But, again – that was six years ago. In a competitive job market, many firms may not give candidates an opportunity.

When you’re changing careers, it’s essential not to bury key information. Indeed, that information needs to be the resume’s focal point. By shifting to a Functional Format, the candidate can improve the perception of his skills and background. For example:

Sample Functional Resume

DAVE MOSS
1 America Way – New York, NY – 000-000-0000 – Davemoss@dice.com

Talented sales professional with strong background
in management and business development

SUMMARY OF QUALIFICATIONS

  • Summary Bullet # 1
  • Summary Bullet # 2
  • Summary Bullet # 3 
  • Summary Bullet # 4

SKILLS AND ACHIEVEMENTS

SALES

  • Trained six sales professionals for EFG Technologies, resulting in sales increase of 85% for three consecutive quarters.
  • Shattered personal sales quote by 135% in 1998.
  • Named sales manager of the year for outperforming peers throughout country.
  • Helped developed lead acquisition system for key Florida properties.

 

PROJECT MANAGEMENT

  • Bullet one related to this unique skill set
  • Bullet two related to this unique skill set
  • Bullet three related to this unique skill set
  • Bullet four related to this unique skill set

 

BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT

  • Bullet one related to this unique skill set
  • Bullet two related to this unique skill set

 

WORK HISTORY

ABC Technologies, New York, NY 2003 - 2006
Project Manager

BCD Technologies, New York, NY 1999 - 2002
Associate Manager

EFG Technologies, New York, NY 1997 - 1999
Assistant Manager

COMPUTER SKILLS
Computer skills would go right here

EDUCATION
University of Dice, City, State
Bachelor of Business Administration, 1997

If you’re changing careers or have a gap in employment, the functional resume is likely a better option than the standard chronological resume. Although some HR departments may view the uncommon format as an aberration, functional formats can be extremely successful. If you’ve been applying for multiple positions and have had little success or no response, it might be worth analyzing your resume to determine if you’re using a format that paints you in the best light.

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