Made a Change? A Functional Resume May Help

A functional resume is easier to tailor to job specifications – It helps emphasize what you want to do going forward rather than what you previously did.

By Dona DeZube


A chronological resume, starting with the job you have now and going backwards in time to your first job, is the resume of choice for job seekers and hiring professionals alike. But in some situations, a functional resume organized by core skills and aptitudes can be a better choice.

"A functional resume works best for someone whose track record has been in a different area or who is in a new field," says Katy Piotrowski, author of Career Coward’s Guide to Resumes: Sensible Strategies for Overcoming Job Search Fears. If you have a new degree or you are changing careers or coming back into the workforce after being away, send out a functional resume rather than a traditional chronological resume, she says.

While a functional resume may be the better format for your particular situation, most hiring authorities prefer chronological resumes, says Jonathan Mazzocchi, a recruiter and partner at Winter, Wyman, New York. "Chronological resumes are effective because most companies want to know what you’ve done most recently, not what you did 20 years ago and they’ll put an emphasis on the last five or 10 years," he says.

Functional Format Is Easier to Tailor to Job Specs

A functional resume allows you to emphasize what you want to do going forward rather than what you were doing before, explains by Arthur D. Rosenberg, author of The Resume Handbook: How to Write Outstanding Resumes and Cover Letters for Every Situation. "Let’s say as an accountant you were doing IT systems work in three places and managerial work in two places," Rosenberg explains. "You could cover that in two paragraphs saying I spent eight years doing hands-on IT and five years doing accounting management. Then, you would give a list of the companies at which you worked." If you’re trying to get out of IT and into managerial work, you’d emphasize the skills you picked up in technology that were supervisory ¿ you ran a team that developed X, Y, Z for example.

Positions You For Current Objective, Not Past Work

Under each subheading for a skill or ability, include as many buzzwords from the new career as possible. In this way, your functional resume will make you look like someone who’s ready to work in a new field, as opposed to a chronological resume that makes you look like someone changing fields. Keep referring back to the job description as you write about your skills and abilities.

"Understand what their need is and then craft your resume to speak to those needs," Mazzocchi says. "Tell them what they want to hear."

And if you can’t tell them what they want to hear, don’t waste your time, or the hiring manager’s time, applying for the job because you’re not qualified. The specificity – or lack of specificity – in your job search can also be a factor when choosing a resume style. If you have a lot of experience and you’re open to more than one type of job, you can put the meat of your experience into a functional resume that you re-arrange to meet the requirements of different jobs.

When writing a functional resume, it’s especially important to include a short summary, Rosenberg says. In the preceding example, for instance, you’d want a statement upfront saying that you’ve been a successful IT professional or an accountant who accomplished X, Y and Z. Just make sure the body of your resume supports what you say in the summary.

If you have a credential, Mazzocchi says, put it at the top of the resume after your name." Regardless of which format you choose keep in mind that your resume is marketing material and you’ve got to hit the target to get the interview. "Hiring managers use specific criteria to weed people out — industries you’re coming out of, your skills set, your credentials, your progression, your technical skills," Mazzocchi concludes. "If you have three or four different versions of your resume, each targeting a different job, you’re more apt to get a return."

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