The Functional Resume, Part A: The Nontraditional Career Path

Resume and question marks

One of the most crucial parts of writing an effective resume is choosing the right format. We usually distinguish between chronological, functional, and hybrid formats, with each having distinct pros and cons. To that end, we will be discussing different resume formats and which ones work for which job seekers. Today, we’ll look at the functional resume format.

What is it?

The functional resume is the opposite of the chronological resume, which we previously discussed here. Whereas the chronological format was all about where you worked and when, the functional format minimizes your chronological work history. Instead, the functional format focuses on your skills, key competencies, accomplishments, and highlights of experience — basically, what makes you special and uniquely qualified. There are two categories of job seekers who can benefit from using a functional template. Today, we’ll look at the first category: people who have had a nontraditional career path. The second will be discussed in a follow-up post.

the advantages

The functional resume format is the best choice for people whose chronological work history is problematic in some way. The format works well for people with unstable work histories or a lack of recent relevant experience.  If you have a history of job-hopping or short-term jobs, or if you have a large gap in your work history, this format can help cover up that fact. Likewise, if you’re applying for a job in a new field in which you’ve never worked — or if you’re returning to a field that you’ve been out of for many years — a functional resume lets you discuss your relevant transferable skills, without much emphasis on when and where you learned them.

the disadvantages

The primary disadvantage of the functional resume is that it’s hard to write. Since a functional resume is all about your unique skills and qualifications, it requires a great deal of forethought and soul-searching. You must think carefully about three things:

  1. What qualities does the company want for this position?
  2. What do I have in terms of skills and experience?
  3. How can I make what I have match up with what they want?

The process of writing a functional resume is time-consuming and complex. Additionally, since it’s a very personalized format, you may need to do major tweaks to it before applying for each new job, to ensure that your skills match up well with the job description. However, in most cases, the extra work is worth it, because employers will see you favorably, whereas a chronological format might not paint you in the best light.

The secondary disadvantage of the functional resume is that hiring managers know that this format is often used to hide weaknesses. For that reason, some recruiters are wary of taking a closer look at someone with a functional resume. However, the functional template is nevertheless the best choice for some job seekers. It is a better option than a resume that flaunts weaknesses.

Components of a functional Resume

Contact Information: Your name, physical address (optional), phone number with area code, email address, and LinkedIn URL (optional).

Personalized Sections:  This is the largest section of the functional resume, and the least rigidly structured. This is where you get to be creative. No two functional resumes look exactly alike — you need to find the best way to present your skills and qualifications. You may start with a summary of qualifications, a short paragraph of keywords describing your best skills, and then move to a “highlights of experience” section, where you detail some of your relevant experience. Or, you may start with a large, bullet-point-filled skills section, then have a key accomplishments section where you brag about the best stuff you’ve done. Or, you may divide it up into several sections of key competencies.

Look at our example for inspiration. This is a resume for a schoolteacher who is positioning herself for a career in a new field — office management. Although she’s never worked in an office before, her work as a teacher has given her the skills to supervise, train, motivate, and coordinate. So, she focuses on the transferable skills that she has, breaking them into areas of key competencies and discussing some of her achievements in each field. If you’re still not sure how to format your functional resume, review examples online and in resume books.

Work History: This section will be brief and near the bottom of the resume — after all, this is the section of the resume you don’t want to draw attention to. Each entry in this section will consist of merely your job title, company name, city and state, and dates worked.

Education: This would be the place to include academic degrees (Bachelor of Science, Associate’s Degree, etc.), vocational certifications (teaching license, LPN, etc.), and industry credentials (CPR, TWIC, OSHA, ServSafe, etc.). Remember to include the name and type of diploma earned, the name of the school, and the city and state.

References: Your references should not be a part of your resume. References should be on a separate document, one which you only provide when it is asked for. You may include a line on your resume that says, “References available upon request.”

In addition to these tips, you can visit the Career Center in person anytime during business hours for one-on-one help with your resume.

Written by Lynnette Lee.

Note: This article was originally published in 2017 and has been re-posted with updates to reach a new audience.