Resume Styles – Functional Format

There’s a lot of confusion out there about functional resumes. While the basics are consistent, the implementations vary greatly. And to make things worse, there’s often the confusion of functional resumes with skill-based resumes, targeted resumes, accomplishment resumes, combination resumes, and many others. In my opinion, these are all format variants of either the chronological or the functional resumes. I’ve discussed chronological resumes earlier, so next we need to frame the style and purpose of the functional resume. For now, suffice it to say that a functional resume touts your talents up front and your actual job history is minimized (or sometimes eliminated).

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 try 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 becomes a nurse, a soldier, or a pro football player
  • 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

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, 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 that you’re telling, not 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 major points that tell how well you could address the objective statement above.  The statements are focused specifically on your target career, relevant to the job title you’re pursuing, and show off just a couple of your strongest talents. Because resume reviewers seldom read an entire resume, this Summary has actually found its way onto the chronological resumes since it so succinctly states your talents and objectives. This is the section of the functional resumes that needs the most attention paid to it…since this is often where a resume reviewer or recruiter quits reading most resumes.

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 or Talent or Expertise section. Here you might have a sub-section on project management and call out the major roles, accomplishments and successes you’ve had as a project manager. The next sub-section is your next skill, for example, systems analyst, and you again point out your strengths with this skill. Please note that the skills need to be complementary…you’re focusing on talents that tie into your Objective statement. This is not the place to list disparate talents or to focus on irrelevant skills. Make sure that for each sub-section that you’ve listed 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 identify the company you did that work for if you think the name of the firm would be beneficial to the story you’re developing. Two or three skill sub-sections is the usual norm, but I’ve seen more on occasions.

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 finished getting your MBA, and now wanted to switch to a management position in a government agency, this section might look like:

Work History

U. S. Air Force, retired as Master Sergeant, 1985-2001

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 so as to keep the discussion focused around the Skills and Experience sections above. Optionally you might list the city and state of 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. Oh…if you call the section “Relevant Work History” you can list only the jobs that are relevant (no dates), leaving out jobs that would 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 the higher levels of position in their firms. But, for those of you without a degree, the functional format works well without an education section. 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 set in the Objective statement.

Bottom Line: The functional resume is for those that have work situations that a chronological formatted resume can’t adequately address.  Be aware that most recruiters are a bit suspicious about a functional resume, since it is usually used to hide various employment issues. I suggest you spend some 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.

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See the Index of all my Job Hunter articles on my Backlog tab.

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