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Unlike its resume siblings, the chronological and combination formats the functional resume is unique because it downplays your formal work history and focuses on your technical skills and professional know-how. It does this by dedicating multiple sections to various soft, hard and technical skills, grouping them together based on the needs of the job to which you're applying.
This format can be very risky, since it’s difficult to trace your work history. But the functional format can benefit freelancers, career changers or job seekers with long work gaps because it focuses on your technical abilities. Your functional resume is comprised of the following sections:
This section is pretty standard across all resumes, including the functional resume. You’ll want to give your full name special treatment such as a larger font size, bold font or different color choice, but you’ll also include your phone number, work-appropriate email address, and job-relevant websites or social media accounts.
You want to include a professional “elevator pitch,” that helps contextualize your experience to the requirements of the open job. You can choose a summary statement, which pitches how your professional experience aligns with the open requirements, or an objective statement, which explains how seemingly unrelated experience benefits the open role.
Unlike a conventional resume, your main accomplishments and successful projects exist under a summary of qualifications rather than a traditional work history summary. This section highlights all your job-applicable skills based on their skills sets and your overall experience, rather than tying them to specific jobs in your past employment.
This section expands on the previous section by fleshing out your additional skills with related work experience. Unlike a standard skills section found in chronological resumes, which quickly lists a few skills but rely on your work history to market your experience, this section focuses on the various technical, soft, and hard skills that can relate to a job.
The section is extremely pared down compared to the other sections on the functional resume. You’ll provide your former job titles, places of employment, and general dates of employment, and nothing else.
This final section lends strength to the rest of your resume by focusing on your academic training. You’ll highlight your relevant degrees, fields of study, and career certifications, boot camps, or training programs.
To understand if a functional resume is the best fit for you, let’s look at this format’s benefits and disadvantages.
A functional resume will always contain the following components:
In this format, place the relevant skills section before work history. This is what differentiates a functional resume format from a chronological format. At the end of the resume, you can add a brief section of extra competencies or projects that, while not completely relevant to the position, may make your resume even stronger. For example, you can include languages, professional affiliations, IT experience (for a non-IT position), etc.
Don’t include hobbies, as it’s outdated and doesn’t boost your professional image. See our advice below for effective writing advice.
Brainstorm the skills and accomplishments you bring to the table. At this stage, it doesn’t matter if some of them aren’t relevant to the job description. Do include educational background, training provided by former employers, technical skills, awards and professional affiliations.
To help you recall these items, ask yourself the following questions:
1. Did I train my subordinates or teammates on new skills?
2. Have I changed a procedure and made it more efficient?
3. Did I help the company save money?
4. Did I receive awards or prizes for my productivity?
5. Have I brought in new clients or projects for my firm?
6. Have I been promoted, or have my responsibilities increased?
7. Did I detect a problem and prevent it from escalating?
Now, list every skill you possess that’s mentioned in the job ad. Delete the elements in your brainstorm list that have nothing to do with the job position. Your relevant aptitude and achievements are what will remain.
Once you’re done, refine this list by incorporating the exact keywords that are in the job description. For example, if you wrote “communication with clients,” but the job ad says “customer service,” use the latter. You don’t know whether your resume is going to be screened by an applicant tracking system (ATS) at first. Using the same keywords that are in the job ad will help prevent your resume from getting rejected at this initial stage.
This resume section is simple and straightforward. Just list your complete name, city and state, email and phone number. Use a larger font size and/or different alignment to make your name stand out.
Write “Willing to relocate” if the position is in another city because sometimes a recruiter will discard your resume if they feel you live too far away to commute.
Provide a mobile number for hiring managers to easily contact you. Include a professional email address that includes your first and last names, but no nicknames.
You can include your professional website, online portfolio and LinkedIn profile as well.
In your summary statement, you should make your most relevant skills and experiences stand out immediately to hiring managers. It should effectively summarize your previous experience and relevant qualifications in around 50 words, and entice hiring managers to read the rest of your resume.
Start with your degree or job title, and the number of years you’ve been in the workforce. Continue listing your relevant expertise, and quantify this experience with tangible results. You can mention awards, recognition or accomplishments.
Let’s compare two professional profiles. Here is an ineffective example of an executive secretary’s profile.
When you list your accomplishments in this way, the recruiter can picture you doing the same for their company.
Remember the proficiency and accomplishments you brainstormed before beginning your resume? This is one of the first of two sections where these skills will be front and center.
Start by thinking about the top three skills that directly apply to the open position. Once you have those three skills, you add a short bulleted list under each skill that includes examples of practical applications for each of those skills. You should have at least three to five bullet points underneath each section with the appropriate job responsibilities.
For example, if you’re a sales associate and chose customer service, sales, and cash handling as your three skills, you could write a summary of qualifications that looks like this:
Your remaining skills fall into one of three categories:
Job-related skills: Mention technical expertise acquired academically or on the job. For example, a digital marketing executive’s experience might include fluency in Google Analytics, knowledge of social media management, and knowledge of best practices for sales funnels.
Transferable skills: These are commonly included for a career transition, and are skills you learned in one field or job that can apply to a different type of job. For example, as a sales manager, you could have learned how to develop standards for conducting hiring interviews.
Adaptive or personal skills: Describe the personality traits you possess that make your work better. These are harder to prove on paper, so back them up with achievements. For example, “Worked with high professional ethics, achieving outstanding results in the annual legal audit.”
This section allows you to feature additional skills that fall outside of the three main skills you feature in your summary of qualifications section. You’ll feature your additional skills in the standard bulleted format you’ll see below.
Unlike the combination or chronological resume, which recommends that you only feature six skills under this section, your functional resume encourages you to feature six to ten skills. We advise that you chose new, unique skills that aren’t repeated in the previous section.
As we mentioned before, your work history will be concise in a functional resume format. Include a list of company names and job titles in chronological order. Dates for each position are optional.
You can follow this simple format for outlining your job history:
For example, a skilled cashier who’s worked multiple short-term stints during holiday seasons at various stores could list their experience as such:
In a functional resume, the recruiters will want to know more about you by the time they reach this part of the document. Your resume may help you get your foot in the door, but a recruiter will probably ask you more questions about your work experience if you are fortunate enough to receive an interview.
If you have limited work experience, you can add internships, volunteer work and personal projects as well.
Your educational background should also be brief and relevant. Provide the name and location of your university, add your major and the type of degree obtained. You can include your GPA within five years of graduating if it is 3.5 or above.
Mention important seminars, courses or other training if you feel it will boost or validate a skill.
It’s common practice to include the year of graduation, but is not mandatory. Minimize the risks of encountering ageism by omitting the year.
Let’s take a look at the other two resume formats. The resume format most appropriate for you will depend on your professional experience and the requirements of the position you’re seeking. Keep reading to find out how these resume formats differ and which one is best for you.
A chronological resume concentrates mainly on your work history and the details of the jobs you’ve had. A functional resume emphasizes your skills and accomplishments. Think about whether your skills or your previous positions strengthen your resume. What will recruiters find most interesting about you? If you’re in any of the following situations, read carefully to decide which of these formats is best for you:
Position requirements: If you have the work experience recruiters are looking for, a chronological format can make that clear. However, if you believe you have the required skills, but they were acquired from training or secondary activities rather than job duties and experience, a functional resume is better.
Changing careers: A chronological resume is a better way to display progress in your work responsibilities. If you want a job that will keep you in the same career path, this format is great. Conversely, it’s hard to identify a timeline of professional growth in a functional resume. If you want a position in a different field, a functional resume might be the better choice.
Starting a career: Lack of experience is in plain sight in a chronological layout. If you’re a student or have recently graduated, your skills and accomplishments are probably more appealing than your work history. If that’s the case, a functional resume is a good choice.
Work gaps: Since functional resumes don’t focus on employment dates and positions held, gaps in your work history are less obvious. An experienced recruiter may still notice that extensive work history is missing, so be prepared to address this at your interview.
The combination format uses information from the functional and chronological resume formats. The following points will further help you determine which of the three resume formats you should choose.
Focal point: A combination resume, just like a chronological layout, shows your job positions and their related duties, and the length of time you held each position. However, it highlights expertise developed in each of those positions. Ask yourself how similar your work history is to the job you want. If your skills are more relevant to the job at hand and you have outstanding achievements, a functional resume can emphasize that.
Repetition: In contrast to a functional layout, the combination format can be repetitive when skills are listed in more than one section. This is not a problem with functional formats because they don’t include a detailed work history, in which skills information would likely be repeated.
Hierarchy of position: Recruiters are usually more rigorous when they search for a senior managerial candidate. In this case, a functional resume could work against you since it’s not as detailed as a combination resume. Weigh the benefits and challenges your personal circumstances present to select the most suitable format.
This format is not for everyone. You should only use a functional resume if you identify as one of the following job seekers:
Career-changer: Most hiring managers and recruiters look for candidates in similar job tracts who demonstrate previous experience in their field. They might overlook a candidate who is looking to change careers merely because you don’t have formal experience for the job. However, a functional resume can help you contextualize your past experience based on the transferable skills that apply to the needs of an open job and hopefully land you an interview.
Long gaps between jobs: There are so many valid reasons why you have gaps between jobs; a tough job market, returning to school, or stepping away to care for family. These circumstances are easy enough to explain in a cover letter or interview, but they stick out like alarming red flags on a resume without the right context. Since a functional resume doesn’t focus on jobs and dates of employment, it’s easy for you to put your talented best foot forward.
Freelance: A freelancer can have multiple, overlapping projects followed by long periods of quiet. These part-time gigs can be hard to feature on a standard resume, especially if they’re short-term projects rather than year-long commitments. A functional resume lets you showcase the skills and achievements you developed over years of collaborating with multiple brands and teams.
Short-term contractor: Similar to a freelancer, you probably have highly-developed skill sets developed over multiple projects, but the short-term nature of those projects can alarm hiring managers and recruiters without the right context. The functional resume lets you showcase your skills and impress managers enough to earn a job interview, where you can add context to your work timeline.
There's a variety of articles that share one common misconception: Recruiters hate and distrust functional resumes. However, that opinion is normally gathered by surveyors after questioning a small sample of recruiters. The truth is that it’s a matter of opinion — some recruiters might dismiss your functional resumes, others may like it.
But, it is true that functional resumes are less likely to be positively reviewed by recruiters than chronological or functional resumes for the following reasons.
Applicant tracking systems: Also known as ATS, these programs are commonly used by companies to scan and approve resumes with matching qualifications before forwarding the documents to hiring managers. These programs can eliminate as many as half the candidates before the first pass, and look for specific resume sections following specific formats. Since the functional resume has unique sections and layouts, it’s less likely to successfully pass an ATS. We recommend using this resume if you’re applying as a referral candidate, or have a personal connection within the company.
Lack of timelines: Most recruiters do scan resumes for your work history and, more importantly, loyalty to former jobs. Many recruiters prefer candidates with long periods of time at their former jobs, as it indicates loyalty and long-term commitment. Since the functional resume downplays your work history and avoids detailed timelines, this can hurt your chances of leaving a good impression. We advise opening your resume with a summary statement that clarifies your history with short-term employment — it can help contextualize your functional resume.
There is one main difference between a functional resume and a chronological resume: the first showcases your professional skills, the latter your professional work history. Both the functional and chronological resume summarize your technical abilities and break down your experience, qualifications and achievements, but they follow unique formats to do so.