Resume Advice: Beware The Functional Resume

Need some resume advice that works? One of the most common questions I’m asked by job seekers is whether they should use a chronological resume or a functional resume. Our guest expert, Kristen Fife, is an experienced recruiter and resume writer. She has a lot to say about effective resumes. Here is Kristen’s resume advice:

Many of my clients have questions about the different types of resumes. Could you please explain the differences between the main types?

Kristen Fife Resume Expert

There are three types of resumes: chronological, functional, and the Curriculum Vitae (CV). The CV is used more in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. With the number of immigrants to the US importing this type of document, it is important to acknowledge and know about it as a major format. In the US and Canada, a CV is primarily used in research and academic circles. A CV includes an extensive list of projects and publications.

A chronological resume lists your employment history in reverse chronological order by company with a brief description of the work you did. Generally this includes the company, location, your title, dates of employment, basic responsibilities and key accomplishments. A functional resume is a list of both soft and hard skills and experience followed by a brief employment history showing company, title, location and years only.

Which type of resume do you believe is more effective?

My resume advice is to stick to the chronological type for most situations. I believe that job seekers do themselves a disservice by using a functional resume. Here are some reasons that I usually recommend chronological resumes instead of functional ones:

1. Hiring managers and recruiters want to see a progression of your skills as it relates chronologically to your work history. A list of skills followed by a bunch of job titles gives no indication what you have been doing in the last 3-5 years. There is no context for how you gained the skills and how they have been applied. A functional resume gives no information of career progression and how you take ownership of your career and move forward.

For example, a few months ago I was hiring a senior accountant. I had a candidate send me a functional resume for the last 15 years. I asked her for a chronological resume instead, and she basically copied/pasted her functional skills into each and every job. She had worked at both larger and smaller companies throughout her career, so there should have been some differences. She should have been taking on more responsibility at smaller companies and more training opportunities at larger ones. The message she gave was that she had no ambition, no motivation to better herself and she seemed like she was just looking for a paycheck.

2. Most recruiters source candidates using computer searches. Functional resumes don’t tend to come up in keyword searches. Boolean searching uses algorithms that search for the number of times keywords are repeated within a document. So listing your skills once in the skill section equates to it coming up as a low stack rank in a search return, which means that you will probably not be invited in for an interview.

3. Functional resumes have a bad reputation. Hiring managers and recruiters believe that functional resumes are used by job seekers who need to hide some information like a long gap in employment or outdated skills (the very things hiring managers *don’t* want). If you have a long gap in your employment, be up front about it.

So it sounds like your resume advice is strongly weighted against the functional resume, for some very good reasons. Are there ever any circumstances under which you would make an exception?

The best time to use a functional resume is if you are in a truly portfolio based career such as producer, PR/Advertising, or freelancer w/ multiple clients concurrently. If you are using the same skill set across different clients, that is when a functional resume makes sense.

OK, you are very convincing in your arguments in favor of the chronological resume. When you give resume advice to clients, do you tell them that there are any “must have” sections of a resume?

Full contact information is the number one thing that should be at the top of your resume. Remember, the more ways a recruiter has to reach you, the better the chance that you will get contacted. You should have up-to-date email addresses, as well as the best phone numbers to reach you. (Note from Many privacy experts recommend that you omit your street address to protect yourself from identity theft, and an increasing number of recruiters understand the need for this omission).

Also, a “Career Summary” section has become the standard and is preferred/appreciated in most industries now. It basically takes the place of the skills listing on a functional resume, but in a more targeted and concise fashion, and should be tailored for each job/industry. Remember, a resume is not a legal document where you list everything you have ever done. It is a marketing tool you use to get your foot in the door. Include only the relevant skills and accomplishments for the position you are targeting.

Here are some guidelines about the Career Summary:

A) Numbers tell the story: % of productivity increased, $ saved/earned, budgets managed, people managed, size of project, etc. Use metrics if you can.

B) No more than 5-7 bullet points.

C) One of the most important pieces of resume advice is to have a targeted focus. Don’t give your reader generic glop. Everyone works well on a team, is organized and motivated, has great communication skills, blah blah blah. Give your reader solid examples of what you have done. Think of crafting your resume as you would go into an interview. These days most companies use some form of behavioral-based interviewing, the premise of which is that past performance and behaviors are a likely indicator of future work style and accomplishments. Use the Career Summary section to show your strengths and skills.

D) You have the top 2/3 of a page to catch your reader’s attention. These days most resumes are sent electronically, so when we open the document/email, it is that prime real estate that needs to be compelling enough to make us want to look more.

Any other words of wisdom?

Yes, a word of caution. My resume advice is to avoid using a template where you fill in the blanks, such as the Microsoft Word Templates. For one, they tend to waste a lot of white space. Second, they show no creativity and personalization.

Also remember that you want your resume to be readable, so putting lots of tables and columns embedded within the document makes that difficult and does not scan well in Applicant Tracking Systems. (Have you ever gotten an email where several of the characters come out as strings of junk? That is what happens to your resume if you use columns and fancy formatting). Keep it simple.

Thank you, Kristen. This is excellent resume advice!

For more resume tips, please see’s Resume Do’s and Don’ts.

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  1. I’m 45 years old returning to the work place after having different kinds of jobs that worked around my children hours- with that being said the jobs that I’d desire no longer exists or require a masters degree and my resume has no focus. I’m trying to making multi functional. What do I do?

  2. Janet Scarborough Civitelli, Ph.D. says:

    Allison, even if the jobs you really want “no longer exist or require a masters degree,” you probably can identify which jobs that do exist would be a better fit for you and which ones will be worse. Rather than list all your work experiences, include the ones that fit with the focus that is the best of the possible ones you could choose. As you can probably guess from reading the article, I’m not a fan of multifunctional resumes because I think they tend to cause job seekers to get ruled out of everything.

  3. Tasha J Sayah says:

    I have a resume that focuses on 2 different career fields child care and office/clerical. I’m trying to figure out how to use for both fields. I thought functional resume would be more fitting, I’m not so sure after reading the above literature. Also I have the same description for couple of jobs but it describes exactly what I did at those jobs. I would really like to make my resume stand out and look professional.

  4. Hi Tasha,
    How you present your experience is going to depend on what sorts of jobs you are targeting and how recent the experience is. If you have been doing both in somewhat equal amounts, you still need to focus on what you are looking for. Obviously, if you are looking at a nanny or para educator role you would want to focus on your child care experience; but don’t forget that admin/clerical skills can still be useful. You *cannot* have had exactly the same accomplishments at all positions. Focus your resume to the jobs/ at hand. One job may require stronger data entry or word processing skills, another might emphasize Excel or project coordination. You will want to target your resume to the position/s you are looking at.

  5. Today I’ve broken my rule to avoid resume advice. I have plunged down the rabbit hole and come up 3 hours short, with lots of directly conflicting advice: hide your job gap with a functional resume vs. DON’T!; hide your age by omitting your grad date vs. DON’T!; use columns to organize information and save space vs. DON’T!; keep your prof summary to 1 to 2 sentences vs. 3-5. Most of it does agree on the following: 1) If you’re over 50, age discrimination is illegal (lolz), and it sucks to be you; 2) be better, have more time and money for training, meetup or industry networking, education and free internships. do it fast! [because many job seekers are looking for a job in order to earn a living and don’t have reserves]; prove to companies that you have something to offer them by finding something they need done and doing it for them for free… I guess.

    This is all pretty insane. I’m getting the impression that the number of words written across the internet on the topic is at least partially meant to obscure the confluence of sexism, racism, ageism and classism mechanisms. The one-sentence acknowledgment of any of these factors (usually ageism) on many sites serves to recognize and nullify. It’s the real story around which layers of nonsense advice creates enough cognitive dissonance to distract from the possibility that there are few places for people over 50 in the job market.

  6. Janet Scarborough Civitelli, Ph.D. says:

    Josie, I know it is extremely frustrating that resume advice is so often contradictory. Recruiters, hiring managers, and career coaches all have subjective opinions. I write about job search strategies that I’ve observed are effective. As for sexism, racism, ageism, and classism, yes, the job market suffers from all of those things. We can simultaneously work to improve the economic and labor system and help individuals become employed. That’s why I support grant and tax-funded employment counseling at the community level so that everyone who wants it can receive support.

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