don’t use a functional resume

by Ask a Manager on March 11, 2009

A reader writes:

In your “7 Things To Leave Off a Resume” article, you mentioned picking between chronological and functional resumes. Can you comment on why hiring managers prefer one over the other?

When I apply to jobs that are outside my field, I generally submit a combination functional-chronological resume so the company can see how my skills can be transferred to the new field/position but still see my employment history. Do you think this is effective, or am I hurting my chances?

It sounds like you’re using a chronological resume (one that lists your job history by position, with dates, so that it’s clear what you were doing when), with the addition of a “functional” summary. I think that’s fine — it’s when someone excludes the chronology altogether that I (and many other hiring managers) see a red flag.

For people who don’t know, a functional resume just lists skills and abilities, without including a chronological job history. Many hiring managers, me included, hate them.

Generally, the first thing I think when I see them is, “What is this candidate trying to hide?” That’s because people tend to use functional resumes when they’re trying to hide an employment gap, or job-hopping, or outdated skills (because it matters if your Web design experience is from 10 years ago or one year ago), or other things I’d rather know about. And if I do remain interested in the candidate, the first thing I’m going to do when I talk to them is ask them to walk me through their job history, with dates — and it’s going to annoy me that I have to, and if I have other good candidates I may not even bother.

So never use just a functional resume. But what you’re talking about — chronological plus — should be just fine.

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{ 21 comments }

Seattle Interview Coach March 12, 2009 at 12:37 am

I agree! In addition to the employment gaps, it’s difficult for me to understand the candidate’s career progression.

Anonymous March 13, 2009 at 7:26 pm

But then why not just use your cover letter to explain how your skills relate to the position at hand? Isn’t that what a cover letter is for?

Sorry, but I hate functional resumes of any kind and feel that 95% of job seekers truly do no understand the purpose behind a cover letter or the importance of having a great one.

Anonymous June 5, 2009 at 7:06 am

I know it is a little dated, but I have to put my two cents in on this.

I personally think that the concept managers have about functional/chronological resumes is flawed. Managers must admit they do not read EVERY resume and try to understand the applicant's experience. If you go through hundreds of resumes for the first round of interviews, you would have to do a large amount of reading to see if the skills match the job. Chronological resumes by their nature do not do this well at all. For example, I was a front line technical support person for a major OEM. Yes, the guy that tells you to reboot your computer. I also managed the team I was on because our manager had no idea what was going on. Basically, I became the manager of the team and the queue. When I put that on my chron. resume, it gets ignored. When I put that on my functional resume, I can show that I was able to effectively manage a team. And you did not have to find it because it was listed as major skill on the resume (easy to find).

People scan for keywords. The functional resume is the perfect keyword tool. Supposed you were hiring for a dump truck driver and you found a functional resume that had major headings for skills: Project Management, Business Analysis, C# Development, etc. You would not have to spend but a few seconds to see the skill mismatch.

Besides, the chronological listing of the candidate’s title should be more than enough for you to figure out what their next step is.

I guess it’s just me. Maybe chronological resume proponents like to work hard and waste time (justify their existence?). When I have it my way, I discard the chronological resumes because I don’t want to hunt for the skill set.

Anonymous December 15, 2011 at 2:48 pm

As the HR person in my office. I hate functional resumes. They often get rejected or there is something the person is hiding. I like to know what you have been doing, not what you think is relevant.

Anonymous January 6, 2012 at 12:03 am

I wonder how many older workers you have screened out or tossed out because they were trying to get you to see what they can do and not their age. Food for thought!

M-C September 11, 2012 at 3:55 am

I totally agree. I’ve added a functional summary to my chronological resume because I know those illiterate young whipper-snappers won’t read enough to see I have the experience in question..

Anonymous January 6, 2012 at 12:01 am

What I’m reading is that HR and recruiters are naturally suspicious and a bit bitter because of the work they chose to do (recruit, review, read, resumes, candidates, etc.) It would seem that this “bias” is one of the reasons that persons are continuously chosen that are not a “good fit” and are chosen because they had the right titles but not the right skills. Perhaps a functional resume is designed to highlight skills sets or place emphasis on specific skill sets needed to transition to new career. One more thing, in this day of increased age discrimination, many older more experienced and reliable workers want to show what they can do not how old they are. Just my opinion.

Ask a Manager January 6, 2012 at 12:08 am

I don’t see much bitterness, certainly not more than in any other field. In fact, I think people who hire tend to really like their work.

The simple fact is that a functional resume makes our job harder by obscuring what a candidate’s career path has been, and what they’ve done where and when. That’s not bitterness or discrimination; it’s a desire for clarity.

Anonymous January 6, 2012 at 12:58 am

I hope so because it seems like in this environment the older workers are getting the shaft. I guess you can tell that I’m an advocate of the “experienced.” I don’t agree with the “obscuring” opinion but I’ll choose to believe that when you and your colleagues see a functional resume it is not automatically thrown in the circular file out of frustration. On behalf of my 60+ year old recently unemployed parent, fighting age discrimination…I thank you for your objectivity and integrity.

Melissa October 28, 2012 at 4:47 am

Actually, all indications are showing that it is younger and less experienced workers who are facing more problems – they have a much higher unemployment rate in most Western countries than the older, more experienced candidates, and in some countries (like Spain) the unemployment rate for young 20somethings is at 30% or higher. That’s part of the reason for social unrest in 20somethings and early 30somethings.

Anonymous February 11, 2012 at 5:01 pm

The underlying problem we as a nation (in the US) face, more than the up and coming (emerging) nations is excessive greed coupled with extreme laziness. HR staff who are too lazy to read through a resume. Bankers who want millions (or billions) ‘just because’ and then dont want to pay taxes. The laziness of management (and perhaps even insecurity) of having someone more experienced (or smarter) than them working around them. Think of managers as parents: you are successful only if you wish your ‘progeny’ to be smarter and better off than you. Gather people around you who are SMARTER than you and you will be a HERO.

Bewildered Lily March 24, 2012 at 6:56 pm

This makes me mad to be honest. Why not do the job you’re hired to do and actually read the resume? I think a functional resume is great. It highlights a person’s qualifications to the specified job right up front. Sure, you might have to ask a few in depth questions during an interview, but isn’t that what an interview is for and isn’t that a part of your job description as well? If there are so many people throwing out functional resumes without reading them, that’s very unfortunate and rather lazy.

Also, I want to point out that not every person who writes a functional resume is trying to pull the wool over your eyes. I have eight years of experience in a clerical position, but because of recent job recessions I’ve been forced to take whatever job comes my way. I’m not lazy, and I had bills to pay, so I wasn’t about to wait around for a job in my field to open up. If I write a chronological resume nobody would hire me because while I was looking for my ideal job, I worked in retail so I could put food on my table. Why? Because again people are too lazy to look down to the next job description I have and read that I have extensive skills in an office setting. So how do I solve this problem? That’s right, I use a functional resume so you can see exactly what my skills are right at the top of the damn page!

Job gaps, job hopping, no career direction; those are things you find out in an interview. Honestly, part of me is glad you’d throw away my resume. Why would I want to work for such a lazy company?

Ask a Manager March 25, 2012 at 4:39 pm

In this very crowded job market, many employers don’t have any incentive to wait until the interview to find out those things. They want to know what your career progression has been right up front, and if you don’t tell them, they’ll just turn to the hundreds of candidates who do. You need to realize that with this much competition, there’s just no incentive for them to call you in to get this basic information when others are giving it up front.

Melissa October 28, 2012 at 4:49 am

But then, can you address the question of how a person in Lily’s position – someone who is experienced in her field, but had to work unrelated jobs to get by – can make sure her resume doesn’t get tossed by a hiring manager who reads only the first 2-3 jobs on the list and doesn’t get to her clerical experience?

Ask a Manager October 28, 2012 at 4:18 pm

She could start with a Relevant Experience section and then put the other stuff after that, in an Other Experience section.

Jamie EC December 27, 2012 at 2:57 pm

This^ Relevant, then other experience. Still gets the message across.

Also, it may be frustrating but please keep in mind – especially with online applications – that recruiters often come across hundreds of resumes for one position. In addition to that, they may be required to fill multiple roles at once. This translates into them having very little time to thoroughly read a resume. I once worked for a company and received over 100 applications for a receptionist position, on top of having 15 other open positions to fill.

I agree with Alison, why should they have to call you in for an interview to ask about your achievements and related experience when numerous other candidates already provide that information?

Pamela September 9, 2012 at 12:25 pm

About Me: I am a recent grad with an AAS in Web Development. I am pursuing a Bachelors in Web Development starting this fall. I just graduated this past summer with my AAS degree. I have limited work experience in my field and I haven’t work in a long while. I’ve tried finding work, but having a busy full-time college schedule it has been quite hard. But, now I am free and looking for work. Please help me out on what kind of resume I should have. This is what I currently do with me resume:

On my resume I list the categories and the appropriate information underneath them in the following order: Objective, Skills, Education, Work Experience. Is this a functional resume, chronological, or both? Because I’ve been unemployed for so long (almost two years now) I don’t want an employer to see I haven’t worked in so long. I rather them see first my web development skills, then my web development education, then they can see I had a two-month web development internship. Finally they can finally see I last worked two years ago as an Administrative Assistant. Is this a good strategy?

Also, under Work Experience, I do list that during the two year gap between my last job and now that I was in school full-time.

Pamela September 9, 2012 at 12:27 pm

egats! I am sorry for the typos…

Ask a Manager September 9, 2012 at 6:32 pm

You have a combination functional-chronological resume, which is better than purely functional, but most employers still don’t like them. We want to see what you did when and where.

Also, get rid of that objective!

Pamela September 9, 2012 at 7:32 pm

Thanks for the reply and the help. I’m desperately seeking work in my field and any advice is appreciated. I going to take out the objective and rework my resume to be chronological. Thanks :)

Audrey October 2, 2013 at 8:31 am

I think it’s all a racket! I’ve been using a chronological resume for years. Since the economy went south it’s been hard to get/keep a full-time job, so it’s mostly been a lot of temp work, independent freelancing and 6 months here, a year there…and I here that HR’s and Recruiters don’t want to see that on your resume. So, if you leave out all the work you’ve done, that’s not “agency experience a must” or “must have 5-10 years” TO MAKE SURE YOU EAT TOMORROW, then the resume looks pretty skimpy, with gaps…and apparently that’s bad too! So, after years of no responses, taking my MBA off my resume in hopes that people will higher me and not think “hmmm, she’s gonna want xyz amount of money”, spending upwards of $1000 to have my resume professionally done, keywording etc. I’ve decided maybe to go to the hybrid functional resume, listing skills and talents and accomplishments over the years (because, God forbid, people should actually gain those and try to contribute them honestly to a job) and then a listing of the relevant positions plus years worked. Not quite sure why anyones resume is treated better than any other resume…it’s a resume, and it’s you’re job as an HR/Recruiter to read them, no bias, no judgement on the style of resume, but the performance, skills and talents of the person behind it.

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