Do functional resume formats still work? Find out in this article where I interviewed recruiters and HR managers on their views about this controversial resume format.
Many applicants think writing a resume is as simple as
listing all the positions they’ve ever held, then rounding it up with a bunch of
impressive achievements and skills. But writing a resume that leads to an
interview is more complicated than that. A resume is a marketing tool, a
continuously evolving advertisement of your talents, and like any ad in
any medium, it needs to be concise and attention-grabbing.
How can you write an attention-grabbing resume? There’s a
lot that goes into that process, but it all starts with picking the right
resume format. You need to pick one with a strong hook and a narrative
structure that paints your professional history in the best light, one that
emphasizes your positives and downplays your flaws or missing skills.
In this tutorial, we’ll take a close look at the functional resume. You’ll learn when a functional resume format is commonly used and discover the truth about how recruiters view functional resumes. I’ll also provide you with some alternatives to using a functional resume.
The Go-to Resume for Hiding Shady Qualities
Now when it comes to hiding employment gaps or questionable
career trajectories, functional resumes are usually the go-to option. That’s because a functional resume groups all your
skills and achievements in one list at the top of the resume, regardless of
when or how you acquired them. It emphasizes what you’ve accomplished without
going into details on whether those accomplishments were on a professional,
academic, or voluntary setting.
What is a functional resume?
Like other resume formats, it begins with a professional or
qualifications summary but its work history section is just a list of job
titles and employers because all the achievements and responsibilities usually
listed under each job title are already grouped at the aforementioned list of
skills at the top of the document.
When a Functional Resume Might Be Useful & When It’s a
Who might benefit from using a functional resume? The functional resume format is often suggested for candidates with a work
history that they want to conceal. Applicants re-entering the workforce
after taking care of a sick parent, or raising their kids, for instance, may
want to use a functional resume to hide a long employment gap. The same goes
for applicants who left the corporate world, but continued acquiring skills
through volunteer work.
Candidates with an unclear career path because they kept
switching industries or took different kinds of temp work may also want to hide
their career history using a functional resume. This format, however, isn’t
just for those questionable career histories. It’s also suggested for
candidates overqualified for the position they’re applying for based on their
previous job title. For instance, a Creative Director finding it hard to land similar employment might apply for a Graphic
Designer or even an Account Executive position just to get hired.
Of course, those are all theories and well-meaning advice
given without hard data. There’s no survey or statistic published on the effectiveness
of functional resumes. In reality, functional resumes get thrown out in the
early stage of the application process.
Why? Because recruiters and everyone who reads resumes for a
living hate it.
If you’re considering using a functional resume, be sure to read the rest of this article first. If you’re still convinced a functional resume is for you, here’s our tutorial on how to write one:
The Case Against Functional Resumes
I’ve talked to in-house recruiters, corporate headhunters,
hiring managers, and small business owners, and they all have one thing in
common: they don’t like functional resumes. Below is a list of the common
reasons that came up.
1. User-Interface (UI) Issue
Marielle Smith, VP of People at GoodHire, explains that recruiters might get
thrown off rhythm when faced with a resume that doesn’t follow the same format
as the ones they’ve read before.
She says, “A recruiter tasked
to review 100 resumes likely has guidelines from their hiring manager on the
type of professional background they should be focusing on.”
In general, this includes checking the last two jobs the
candidate held to see if there’s a skill
match between the applicant and the vacant position.
She continues, “If a
recruiter can’t find that relevant experience because they’re reading a
functional resume, you’re making their job frustrating and cumbersome. It’s a UI issue.”
When that happens, you run the risk of getting your resume
thrown out just because it’s difficult to read. Someone less qualified than you
might even make it to the interview list, just because their resume is easier
on the eyes.
2. Not Built for the Fast and Furious Corporate Recruiting Game
Hiring candidates, whether it’s for entry or mid-level jobs
is fast and furious because each job ad attracts an average of 250 resumes. Plus, non-exclusive headhunters are forced to
compete with other agencies to fill the same roles that just put on added pressure to the headhunters.
With all those resumes to review, interviews to schedule and
all the paperwork in between, guess how much time a typical recruiter has to
read a resume?
About six seconds.
During those six seconds, recruiters work fast to find your:
- Previous job titles
- Your highest level of
- Your skills and how you developed them
- Relevant achievements and qualifications
Unfortunately, a functional resume hides almost all of that
information. Some functional resumes include job titles, some don’t. It’s
impossible to tell the highest level of responsibility you’ve achieved in
a functional resume format because all the bullet-point achievements and skills
normally in the professional history section are jumbled up together instead of
separated into different job entries.
Co-Founder of ResumeGo adds, “Every time I come
across a functional resume, I must make the extra effort of re-organizing all
the information in chronological order, and that’s just a huge pain in the neck
when I have hundreds of other applications to review.”
While it’s true that your abilities are what convinces
employers to hire you, the fact that it’s hard to establish whether you learned those skills in a job setting makes your candidacy dubious.
3. Forces Recruiters to Read Between the Lines
Recruiters and hiring managers read resumes every day, and
they’re aware that the functional resume format is commonly used to hide employment gaps. As a
result, this intentional ambiguity forces them to draw their own conclusions
about your professional history.
Dawn Boyer Ph.D., Resume Writer and Career Consultant explains, “A
functional resume may hide the fact that you were an awesome salesperson at another company 15 years ago,
but now you’re just a low-responsibility employee with a fancy job title.”
So whatever you put in the skills section, recruiters will
skip straight to your professional history to figure out what you’re trying to
hide. But often this is just to satisfy their curiosity; they’ve already
decided they don’t like you as an applicant because you’re hiding something. Some
of them might not even bother doing this—they’ll just move on to the next application.
Obviously, this isn’t the effect you’re trying to achieve with your
You’ve got to remember that recruiters aren’t your friends,
although they may appear friendly and nice over the phone. They don’t work for
you. They work for the hiring company.
4. Skills Emphasized May Not Live Up to Expectations
Regional Recruiting Manager at The Princeton Review, said he once thought
functional resumes would be ideal for teachers. Many of the teachers he hires
for The Princeton Review work part-time, already have jobs or are full-time students, so he thought their job history
wouldn’t be as important, but his opinion changed over time.
He continues, “Someone might
emphasize a skill but not have much experience as required for the job. For
instance, being a gifted public speaker is a fantastic quality for teachers but
it doesn’t equate to having years of experience in the classroom managing
students while public speaking.”
5. Hides Red Flags
Miki Feldman Simon, Founder of I am Back at Work, an organization that helps
women re-entering the workforce says, “Recruiters
look for red flags in resumes to identify candidates who aren’t who they say
they are. Are their credentials valid? Do they have the skills the company
needs? This information is often hard to find in a functional resume.”
Even experienced and qualified candidates can look like they’re hiding
something when they use a functional resume. Your resume might show impressive
skills, but it’ll still leave recruiters wondering if you were terminated, or
if you don’t have enough years under your belt.
Disadvantages of the Functional Resume Format
Some of the reasons above may be subjective or just based on
the experience of a limited few. Below is a list of the tactical disadvantages
of this format based on its content and structure.
1. No Context for Your Skills
If you’ve got C++ or Ruby on Rails programming experience, it’ll carry more weight if you can link it to a specific job, more so if you’ve
held that job for a few years. For a recruiter, a skill listed could mean
anything from a book you’ve read to a short seminar you took, both of which can’t
be equated to an actual job where you get experience from real-world projects
and feedback from developers ahead of you in their career.
2. No Career Growth and Relevancy
Like Boyer explained, a functional resume takes all your
skills and achievements out of chronological sequence, making it harder for the
recruiters to decipher your experience’s relevance in today’s market.
After all, programming, accounting, teaching, and any job
really, are constantly evolving. You might have been a skilled advertiser five
years ago, but the market has changed so much since then.
Functional resumes also don’t show career trajectory, so
recruiters can’t tell if you’ve moved past the entry-level skills required for
your job or if you’re just fluffing up your resume with skills you don’t have.
3. Not Accepted in Traditional Jobs or Conventional Companies
Some companies and jobs like things to be done a specific
way. Sometimes it’s because they’re just used to it, other times it’s because
they’ve got a software or procedure that requires things to be done that way.
For example, some companies might not accept a resume file
and instead ask you to fill out their
online application form. Financial firms, government institutions, and other
industries rooted in tradition or legacy also frown upon resumes and
applications that don’t follow the widely used format they’ve come to expect.
4. Applicant Tracking System (ATS) Can’t Interpret Functional Resumes
ATS databases parse information based on pre-determined
headers and criteria. In this situation, the ATS can’t match your achievements
and skills with the corresponding employment because they’re in separate sections.
What to Use Instead of a Functional Resume
The question now is what can you use in lieu of a functional
1. Hybrid Resume
Between a chronological resume and a functional resume is
the combination resume or hybrid resume. The top half of this resume format is
dedicated to a list of your notable achievements grouped into different skill
categories relevant to your job, like a functional resume. But unlike the
functional format, your work history is still there to describe your
responsibilities. It’s a great choice for candidates facing the situations
- Transitioning to another
- Overqualified for their target role
Hybrid resumes are great for over-qualified applicants
because it allows you to direct focus on the skills you want to sell to the recruiter while downplaying your work history
and previous job titles.
Recruiters are people too, and they know that sometimes
people lose interest in their current jobs and move on to another industry. Use
a hybrid resume to highlight your transferable
skills at the top, so you can direct the recruiter’s focus on them. But don’t
leave your professional history empty. List the job titles you’ve held and your
accomplishments; even if they’re not relevant so at least the recruiter can
connect the transferable skills listed at
the top of your resume to a specific employment period.
Add a few of the sections listed below if you think your
resume looks bare or irrelevant because you’ve got few transferable skills:
- Volunteer activities
- Professional memberships
- Ongoing education
The truth is using a different resume
format isn’t going to be enough if you’re changing careers. It helps, but
on top of it all, you’ve got to go out of
your way to network with people in the new field you’re entering.
- CareersHow to Intelligently Ask for a Job Within Your Network
- NetworkingNetworking for Introverts: How to Connect with Confidence
- ResumesHow to Structure Your Resume
2. Reverse Chronological Resume
The reverse chronological format works for fresh graduates,
you just have to modify it. Even if you feel like you don’t have enough
professional experience and achievements, this format can work for you.
If you don’t have relevant experience, start your resume
with a detailed education section that includes relevant coursework, GPA
information, and extra-curricular activities. Then fill your work history with
details of your part-time gigs, side projects, and volunteer activities, with a
focus on transferable skills and
job-related skills. Here are some tips to help you create a stronger resume:
- CareersHow to Make Your First Job Resume Stand Out
- CareersHow to Make a Chronological Order Resume with Templates
Applicants with a strong work history, especially those
applying for a similar job should just stick to a chronological resume to keep
things simple. After all, this format is best suited for them because it
highlights their career trajectory and shows that they don’t have anything to hide in
regard to their employment.
If you’re just tired of your current resume format and feel
like you won’t stand out because your resume looks like every other one on the
pile, try one of the templates here instead:
Don’t Hide Your Career History
Re-entering the workforce after a few years? Changing
careers? Not enough work experience? It’s tempting to go the easy route and
just hide your career timeline under a list of skills. It won’t work. Not in 2018.
Try a chronological resume or hybrid resume, then add
sections or customize them to suit your needs.