Every job applicant knows how to write a resume. Few know how to do it well. Fewer still are candidates who know how to strategically format a resume to their advantage. After all, a resume is a resume, right?
Not quite. There are three types of resumes, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.
- Chronological resume: Highlights your work history and most recent job title first. It’s the most commonly used format for resumes.
- Functional or Skill-based resume: List your skills and accomplishment first, while shifting focus from your employment history.
- Combination resume: A qualifications summary or achievements summary highlights the most notable parts of your career, but your work history will still include details of your job description, skills, and other accomplishments not included in the summary.
Whether you choose to use a professional resume template, or start from scratch, today we'll teach you some key considerations to figure out when to go with a functional resume versus a chronological or combination resume. First, let's look at what the benefits of functional resumes are.
The Unsung Merits of Functional Resumes
“Functional styles emphasize skills and abilities over a vertical career progression,” says Erik Episcopo, Career Adviser Genius. It highlights your skills and accomplishments, regardless of the length of your career, the job titles you held, and the industries you’ve worked in. In short, it gives applicants with limited experience, or non-traditional career paths a better fighting chance.
5 Situations Where a Functional Resume Works Best
1. Career Transition
Functional resumes are great for highlighting transferable skills that will be applicable to your new line of work.
Your job title and job description as a UX designer might not translate to an impressive resume for an Android/iOS Developer position. But your experience in software development and knowledge of different programming languages will.
2. Resume Gaps
“Functional resume are great when a candidate is
either going back to where they were earlier in their career, or if there is a
gap in their employment, such as if they’re taking care of an ill parent or
child”, says Bill Humbert, Recruiter
and Talent Acquisition Consultant.
It’s also good for discreetly presenting work histories with employment gaps due to layoffs. You can do this by listing employment dates without the months, as compared below:
- Graphic Designer, XYZ Productions, May 2009 - October 2012.
- Graphic Designer, ABC Web Design LLC, April 2013 - Present.
Versus Without Month
- Graphic Designer, XYZ Productions, 2009 - 2012.
- Graphic Designer, ABC Web Design LLC, 2013 - Present.
the example above, the five to six month gap is less obvious because only the
years are listed. Unfortunately, this
isn’t a fool-proof strategy, as recruiters who read hundreds of resumes a day
are used to this tactic. It’s just a band-aid strategy to downplay employment
gaps enough for recruiters to see your potential.
To avoid any confusion and conclusion jumping on the part of recruiters, include a brief cover letter explaining the employment gaps. Don’t’ be afraid to tell the truth. Recruiters are humans, too, so they understand layoffs, restructuring, and the need to take care of ailing parents.
3. Fresh Graduates with Limited Work Experience
Chronological resumes aren’t the best fit for fresh graduates because they don’t have much experience in the first place. And in many cases, whatever work history they have is either unrelated to the job they’re applying for, or not considered as ‘on-the-job experience’ by recruiters because it’s part of college, and not an ‘actual job’.
It’s better for fresh grads to start their resume with a list of skills learned through course-related projects, volunteer experience, extra-curricular activities and internships, and then briefly list their academic achievements and employment history. Listing ‘photography skills’ under work history then citing the school’s newspaper as ‘employer’ won’t hold much weight in the eyes of employers.
4. One Employer, Multiple Roles
Maybe you were lucky to land a good job in a solid company that knows how to take care of its employees. So you stayed with them for years. But that doesn’t mean you didn’t grow in your field.
You might have held different positions, worked in different departments and acquired a diverse set of skills, even if you stayed put in one company.
Because you’ve had only one employer, a chronological format that relies on career progression and mention of different companies in the employment history won’t do you justice. A skill-based resume, on the other hand, emphasizes your achievements and skills. It also helps you side skirt hesitations about what you ‘might have missed,’ as a result of working solely for one company.
5. Candidates that Rely on their Portfolio
Marissa Klein, founder of Choice Personnel Inc staffing agency, describes why designers should use a functional resume and not over-rely on their portfolio alone:
If you’re sending a resume and portfolio straight to a hiring manager—not a recruiter who hires for multiple positions in different industries—there’s a huge possibility that hiring manager is experienced in hiring on the basis of a portfolio’s merit. But if you’re applying online, uploading onto a platform, or submitting to recruiters, you MUST have a functional resume in order to be seen and reviewed correctly
Functional resume for designers should look more corporate—with roles, skills, and dates as HR would traditionally expect to see them. And not just a list of random projects thrown together.
The recruiters I talked to for this tutorial are split when it comes to functional resumes. Some recruiters said using this format, especially when you’re not changing jobs or field of work isn’t to the applicant’s advantage. Others say it’s a less than usual format in some circumstance but just the right format for some high level positions.
Here’s What They Have to Say
Bill Humbert, Recruiter and Talent Acquisition Consultant says:
Generally, I am not impressed with a functional resume since it is so difficult to determine when the candidate performed specific tasks. But then, most managers like chronological resumes for the same reason.
Bernard Morgan, General Manager of Computer Recruiter says:
Functional resumes work well for senior management positions, where what you can do is more important than what you have done. Obviously your employment background is an important foundation, so you must include enough detail to bolster your application.
Michelle Riklan, former Senior HR Manager and current Resume Writer, agrees:
Job descriptions for CEOs and senior executives are varied and extensive. Functional resumes are preferred for senior roles because it gives them freedom to display achievements front and center of the resume – be it a 25% increase in sales, a 1M to 1B growth, or opening a new office abroad – so it’s not lost and buried in their extensive job description.
Writing Your Own Functional Resume
Now we get into the nitty-gritty of resume writing. In this section, I’m going to break down the basic parts of a skill-based resume then explain its purpose and typical approach to content. When available, I’ll also show you snippets of how these elements look like in real skill-based resumes. Names and other private information are either blurred out or changed.
Download our free PDF worksheet on Power Words for Writing a Functional Resume before getting started.
1. Contact Information
Includes your name, mobile number, professional email address—no usernames like partygirl_21 please. You can also include your website URL and portfolio here.
It’s the second part of your resume, positioned directly below your name and contact details. It’s also called “Professional Summary”, “Career Highlights” or even “Personal Profile” in some cases. Because you only have six seconds to catch a recruiter’s attention, the summary should describe the most attention grabbing and impressive tidbits about you as an employee.
You can go with a bulleted list, a first-person narrative, or write it from a third person’s point of view. The latter is recommended for managerial and executive positions.
Notice how the above example draws your attention by asking a question, something many resumes don’t do. According to Riklan, the resume writer mentioned earlier, Ned managed to secure a more senior level position with the help of this resume.
Skills can be categorized into three types:
- Job-related: Learned at school or on the job, and are relevant to your target position. For example, a Web Designer’s skills might include knowledge of Adobe Creative Suite, understanding cross-browser compatibilities, and fluency in HTML and CSS.
- Transferable Skills: Applicable to different roles and industries, and are generally emphasized when you’re in career transition. Transferable skills could be people-related, such as managing a team, communicating well, or negotiating. But it can also be general tasks, such as gathering information, working with vendors, and change management. Check this guide if you’re not sure what your transferable skills are.
- Adaptive or Personal Skills: Include character traits that are hard to prove on paper but is important in showing the kind of employee you are, such as ‘an honest, team player with a can-do attitude’.
You might think adaptive skills are only important if you’re a beginner with not much job-related skills to boast of. But in reality, many employers look for candidates with a good mix of all three skill sets. After all, for most positions it’s not hard to find candidates with the right job-related skills. What’s hard is finding people who can work well with their team and understand the company’s corporate culture.
Below is an example of a skill-based resume for an IT Director position, which was customized to focus on the candidate’s leadership, negotiation, and IT skills. All his transferable and IT-related leadership skills are at the top, while his technical skills are itemized and grouped below it.
Your resume has to be tailored to the job you’re applying for so make sure the skills listed in the ad are also in your resume. And if you can, back it up with specific experience and ‘power words’ so it doesn’t look like you just copied the job ad.
Here is a job description example: “Expert knowledge of Adobe Creative Suite, InVision, Sketch, or similar tools.”
Now modified with personal experience and ‘power words’ in your resume: "Created graphics and designs for restaurant flyers, travel brochures, and marathon events using Adobe Creative Suite, Sketch and InVision.”
Only include accomplishments relevant to your target position. Employers won’t care if you’ve won a hotdog eating contest in a previous job, but they care about awards for leadership, great service to the company and other job-specific matters.
If you’re in transition, say from healthcare to tourism, I suggest replacing industry specific words with general terms. Words like ‘patient’ and ‘doctor’ can be replaced with ‘clients’ so recruiters won’t think your achievements are only applicable to the healthcare industry. Don’t forget to quantify your achievements through percentages, time saved, or a monetary amount.
Common Formulas for Writing Accomplishments:
- Situation + What you did + Result
- Work challenge + Action + Result
- End result + Why it was needed (situation) + Action
Ask these Questions to Determine Your Accomplishments:
- Have I received awards or special recognition for my job?
- Have I increased the efficiency of certain procedures in my work?
- Did I help my team save money or accomplish more with fewer expenses?
- Have I won new clients or projects for the team?
- Have I led or managed a team for a certain project?
- Did I identify a problem no one realized? Have I prevented an issue from escalating?
- Have I been promoted?
- Have I ever taught my team mates new skills?
Put your accomplishments in a bullet list, and if necessary, group it according to the top three to four skills for your job. Your accomplishments can also be used to prove the skills listed in your resume.
5. Work History
If you’re in transition or have limited work experience, don’t forget to include internships, personal projects and volunteer work in this section. No one said your work history should be limited to paid roles.
If you’re a freelancer or have worked on multiple part-time or project-based jobs, you can list your employment history chronologically. Just write the name of the organization you worked with, the work duration, and a short description of each project or job.
6. Education and Training
List the degree you got, major and where you studied. Include seminars, online courses, and training, too. If you speak another language, you can add it here or in the skills section.
Whether you put a graduation date or not is up to you. If you graduated more than 20 years ago, some recruiters say not listing the date minimizes your risk of encountering ageism.
Add Pizzaz With These Extras
Your functional resume is complete. You can send it as is, or jazz it up with these extra credibility-boosters. Don’t be scared to get creative. Just remember that everything you add should improve your image to potential employers.
Consider the following:
- Portfolio: Thumbnails of your portfolio or a link to your website.
- Testimonials: References are usually ‘available upon request’ and only asked for when you’re at the last stages of the application process. But no one said you can’t put in a good word about yourself, in advance.
- Links: Add a link to your Github, LinkedIn, or other professional networking site.
- Download our free PDF worksheet on Power Words for Writing a Functional Resume, which includes a resume checklist to make sure you're hitting all the right points.
Use a Professional Resume Template
We have a number of professional resume templates available for purchase on GraphicRiver. They have numerous features to build a chronological resume, functional resume, or combination resume.
Many of these templates also have additional creative options for displaying your portfolio, include a well-branded cover letter template, and more. All these features can help you stand out visually and land that job you're applying for!