When to use a functional resume
For a very large majority of job seekers, the chronological resume is the format of choice. And I suggest that everyone first develops one of these and tries to make it work. But for some people with various work history challenges or unique career goals, a functional resume is truly a reasonable choice.
So, what events in your career history should point you to a functional format? Here are a few reasons and examples:
- Making a dramatic career change – sales rep to a nurse, retiring veteran, pro sportsman
- Entering the workforce – a young graduate with no work experience in the chosen degree field
- Excessive career gaps – independent consultant, parent returning to work, job hopper
- Overqualified or senior citizen – wanting to downplay age or have less responsibility
Steps to writing a functional resume
The functional resume starts like all other resumes with the Contact information section. Put your name (first and last), your phone (cell), your e-mail (personal, not business), and your address (at least city & state) at the top, in any reasonably professional format.
The Objective statement is next. Yes, we need an objective line with the functional format. Not the old “I want you to hire me so I can live comfortably on your dime until I retire!" but a strong statement, something like “An award-winning Sales Rep with 10 years of experience in the Telecom and IT community is looking to lead a small sales team or small marketing department." This element of the resume is important, because with the functional format the reader is dependent on the story you’re telling, not on the history of your work experience. This statement sets up the story that follows.
The Summary of experience (or qualifications) is the most critical part of the functional resume. This is a paragraph (or 3-5 bullets) that spins the tale of your talent, experience and qualifications. These are the major points highlighting how well you could address the objective statement above. The statements are focused specifically on your targeted career, relevant to the job title you’re pursuing, and show off a couple of your strongest talents. Because resume reviewers seldom read an entire resume, the Summary has found its way onto the chronological resume since it so succinctly states your talents and objectives. This is the section of the functional resume that needs the most attention since this is often where a resume reviewer or recruiter quits reading.
Since your functional resume is more about your skills and talents and less about your history and progressions, the next section is usually a Skills. Talent or Expertise section. Here, you might have a subsection on project management, where you call out the major roles, accomplishments and successes you’ve had as a project manager. The next subsection is your next skill; for example, "systems analyst," where you again point out your strengths.Please note that the skills need to be complementary…you’re focusing on talents that align with your Objective statement. This is not the place to list disparate talents or to focus on irrelevant skills. For each subsection, you need to have between 2-4 bullets (or sentences if you prefer the paragraph format) that draw from your prior work experience. You might even identify the company you worked for if you think the name of the firm will be beneficial to the story you’re developing. Two or three skill subsections is the norm, but I’ve seen more on occasion.
Work History is often the next section, but this is where the functional format agreement usually ends. With a speckled job history (or none at all), this section could be left out of the resume. If you have a moderately contiguous employment history, then you would list it. For example, if you had been in the Air Force for 16 years as an artillery specialist, worked for 8 years as a machinist and line manager in an auto factory, just completed your MBA, and now want to switch to a management position in a government agency, this section might look like:
Ford Motor Company, Manager, 2001-2009
Notice that there are no details regarding the tasks or roles you performed at these two jobs. The functional resume presents only minimal job-related data to keep the discussion focused around the Skills and Experience sections above. Optionally you might list the city and state where you held the positions if you feel this is relevant to your objective. If you have had several jobs, lots of job gaps, or overlapping contracting gigs, you might list the firms, the title, the location, and leave off the dates. And, if you call the section “Relevant Work History," list only jobs that are relevant (no dates), leaving out jobs that will be a distraction to your objective.
The Education section is actually an optional section. Most firms today want most of their employees to have degrees, especially at higher level positions. But, for those of you without a degree, the functional format works well. Still, I suggest keeping this section in the resume if you have a degree.
There are a few other optional sections: Training/Development, Awards, Certifications, Organizations, etc. These are added only if they strengthen the storyline you established in the Objective statement.
BOTTOM LINE - The functional resume is for those that have work situations that a chronologically formatted resume can’t adequately address. Be aware that most recruiters are a bit suspicious of the functional resume since it is typically used to hide various employment issues. I suggest spending time reviewing as many samples of functional resumes as you can. But remember, the key to making this type of resume work is to keep it focused on a very narrow objective and have all elements of the resume supporting the objective.