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Not proud of your work history?
Worried that employers will reject you because you hopped jobs too many times? Don’t want to draw attention to employment gaps? No work experience in the industry you’re transitioning to?
The Internet says the functional resume format a.k.a. the skills based resume is a solution to most issues with employment history.
The Internet is wrong.
Truth is, the functional resume format is dysfunctional.
Luckily, there are way more effective methods of dealing with quirks in your work history.
They’re easier than you think. And I’ve got you covered.
This guide will show you:
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What is a functional resume?
Here’s the best definition of a functional resume:
A functional resume format focuses on your skills and abilities rather than your work history. That’s why it’s also called the skills based resume format. It lets you emphasize what you’re good at and takes the pressure off of your work experience.
And here’s how to write it:
You start a functional resume with a skills summary. It goes right below your contact information.
You list your abilities under specific skill headings (or skill categories). For example: “Leadership,” “Customer Service,” or “Business Management.”
Below each heading, you make a list of bullet points that describe the tasks, assignments, and projects that you’ve completed that show you have those skills.
The skills summary is the most important part of writing a functional resume.
What does the functional resume format look like?
Here’s a sample functional resume skills list:
Below the skills list, at the bottom of your resume, you put your work experience.
Finally, you enter your highest degree of education.
See the problem?
You don’t have to link your skills to your job experience or explain how you got them.
What does that mean?
That the recruiters won’t believe your vague headlines like “training capabilities” or “managerial skills” if the rest of your resume doesn’t give solid, verifiable proof.
Want to get some ideas on how to use a resume format to help you land the interview? Read our complete guide on resume formatting “3 Resume Formats: How to Choose the Best One [Examples]” for resume format examples, samples, and expert tips.
Thirty or so years ago there used to be only one resume format. It was reverse chronological.
It was elegant, plain, simple, easy to write, and understandable for the recruiters (it’s called chrono-LOGICAL for a reason).
Then the 90s happened.
And they brought us some really ridiculous trends - soul patches, JNCOs, chain wallets, Tae Bo, and, last but not least: the functional resume.
Luckily, in most cases, the human race grasped just how absurd these things were.
Yet some still believe that the functional resume is a thing.
Let’s make a quick comparison of the functional resume layout and two other types of resume formats. You’ll see that even the best functional resume will hurt your chances of getting hired.
Unlike the functional resume format, the chronological resume emphasizes your work history. You begin with describing the peak of your career - your most recent job - and follow with previous positions listed in reverse chronological order.
The chronological resume is the most typical resume format. The recruiters are familiar with it and will process it in a flash.
And it has an additional edge:
Nowadays, many employers use Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) for scanning job applications.
The ATS has been designed, primarily, to read reverse chronological resumes.
So if you submit a resume in this format, you can be sure that the ATS won’t choke on it.
The combination resume format, as the name implies, combines the features of a functional resume and the reverse chronological resume.
Like the functional resume, it opens with a summary of your skills. The difference is, the combination resume format is all about linking those skills with your professional experience.
This way, you emphasize your skills and provide tangible evidence of your abilities and knowledge.
Have a look at this table summing up the differences between the three resume structures:
|Reverse Chronological Resume||Functional Resume||Combination Resume|
|Chief focus||Work experience / Education||Skills||Skills and work experience|
|Work experience section||At the top, relevant||At the bottom, irrelevant||In the middle, relevant|
|Skills section||In the middle, relevant||At the top, relevant||At the top, relevant|
|Layout||Professional and traditional||Non-conventional, confusing||Professional and creative|
|Application Tracking Software (scannability)||Scannable||Non-scannable||Scannable|
|Main advantage||Easy to read, universal||Conceals flaws in work history||Emphasizes and validates skills|
|Main weakness||Very common, might require tweaking||Suggests you're hiding something||Suitable for few candidates|
|Good for||Virtually all candidates||Creative jobs, Military transitioners, Candidates who don't want to seem overqualified||Career changers, experienced professionals|
|Not ideal for||Career changers||Students, experienced professionals, career changers, entry-level candidates||Entry-level candidates, students|
Who might benefit from using a functional resume template?
For all of the others, the functional resume format is a high-risk choice.
Want to find out more about how to create a resume in a different format? Check out these comprehensive guides on how to write them: Chronological Resume Template & 20+ Examples [Complete Guide]
In case you’re still wondering, here’s a quick answer:
Because the recruiters and hiring managers hate it.
First of all, it’s a waste of their time. And their time is precious.
Hiring is fast and furious:
Corporate jobs attract around 250 resumes. Now, guess how much time, on average, recruiters take to read each of those resumes.
Here’s what they look for during those six seconds:
And what does a functional resume do? - It hides or omits pretty much all of the above.
It forces the recruiters to read between the lines or follow up with questions.
And they just won’t be bothered to do it.
Because the recruiters are not your friends. Nor do they work for you. They have no interest in selling you.
Once the recruiters are done with scanning hundreds of resumes, they have to present the best candidates to hiring managers and provide solid reasons that these candidates are worth hiring.
Functional style resume gives no such reasons whatsoever.
And it has way more shortcomings.
Have a look:
For years, creating a skills based resume has been recommended as the best way to camouflage employment gaps or lack of job-relevant experience.
It’s become a flashing neon that screams “I’m trying to hide something!”
Think about it:
You’re applying for the job because you think you’ll meet the employer’s expectations. Whatever your past was, it’s made you who you are today - a perfect candidate for this job.
Think about your resume as a way of telling the story of how your experiences made you an ideal contender for the job. A functional resume provides no narrative.
By leaving off key details such as dates of tenure and education, or schools you’ve attended, you make the recruiters suspicious:
One, your qualifications become questionable. Two, it looks as if you were hiding dates because you don't want the recruiter to guess your age. Paradoxically, this opens you up to age discrimination.
You know exactly what information the recruiters and hiring managers are looking for.
And what does a skills based resume format do?
Hides this information.
Submitting a functional format resume is just as ridiculous as replying to job interview questions by: “I’m not gonna tell you.”
Hey there, students! You might have read somewhere that a student functional resume template is something worth considering. IT IS NOT! There are loads of better ways to land your first job and we’ve made a handy guide to show them to you. Check it out: How to Write a Resume with No Work Experience [A Complete Guide].
If the skills based resume layout is worthless, does it mean you have to stick to the reverse chronological one?
There are some easy tweaks that can make a functional resume advantageous!
Let’s have a look:
Our resume builder will give you tips and examples on how to write a good resume objective or a resume summary. You can easily copy them straight into your resume - it will save you a ton of time. You can create your resume here.
Inside our resume builder you will find tips and sample resume sections for your resume.
Apply these strategies, and you’ll have the best functional resume out there.
The only thing is - it’s not really going to be in the standard functional format. Those simple tweaks are all it takes to transform your functional resume into a combination resume.
The combination resume format might be your best bet. And it’s not that much different from the functional resume template. Check out our comprehensive guide for resume examples and expert tips on how to use this format to highlight your skills: “Combination Resume Template & 5+ Examples [Complete Guide]"
Job seekers with an imperfect work experience history are vulnerable.
That’s why they’re often tempted to create a functional resume and hide what they’re ashamed of.
The Internet is filled with skills based resume templates and samples that are completely useless. Most recruiters and human resources specialists hate this resume format because it excludes everything that’s of value to them.
Instead of writing a functional resume, try a slightly different resume setup:
You can still highlight your skills, but you have to relate them to specific experiences and achievements.
You also need to include dates of employment and education on your resume - without them, the recruiters won’t be able to say anything specific about your career to hiring managers.
If you’re trying to write a skills based resume with no experience to list, include a resume objective. Focus on what you can offer your employers and how they will benefit from your skills.
You’re targeting a career change and want your resume to highlight your skills? Want to learn more on how to tweak your functional resume to make it more efficient? Give us a shout in the comments, and we’ll answer your questions!
Michael is a writer and a resume expert at Uptowork. When he's not busy passing on career advice, he's probably somewhere out there swinging a tennis racket, reading Russian poetry, or enjoying his triple espresso.