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Advice / Job Search / Resumes

What the Heck Is a Functional Resume, and When Should You Use One?

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When done right, your resume should showcase your most relevant experience as it relates to the role for which you’re applying. The goal, of course, is to help a hiring manager understand how your unique set of skills lines up with their needs—and that you’re the ideal person for the job.

No sweat, right?

I know, I know. Creating a customized resume for every job you apply to is no easy task. Especially if your work history isn’t an exact match for the job you want, if you don’t have recent work experience to speak of, or if you haven’t technically held a traditional job before.

Wouldn’t it be easier if you could just list all your skills out without having to worry about making your work history look cohesive? Like, say, on a functional resume?

What Is a Functional Resume?

A functional resume, sometimes called a skills-based resume, places the focus on your skills and areas of expertise, rather than on the details of your work history. So instead of simply listing your recent jobs and corresponding duties in reverse chronological order (like you would on a more traditional chronological resume), you’d select only the most relevant responsibilities from each of your past roles and combine them to paint a broader picture of your skill set.

Like any other resume, a functional layout features your name and contact information at the top and lists your technical skills, interests, and education toward the bottom (unless you’re a recent graduate—in that case it may be closer to the top).

The difference is that the body of a functional resume highlights your most important skills—such as “administrative experience” or “customer service”—with three to five bullet points that show how you’ve applied those skills in various roles. Then your work history would appear as a simple list below your skills section, where you’d only include your job title, the name of your employer, the city where you worked, and your dates of employment. (Check out our example functional resume below to get a sense of how that works.)

Because this layout places the primary focus on your relevant skills, functional resumes allow you to better tailor the content to a specific role you’re hoping to land, without having to worry too much about job titles that don’t sound relevant, gaps in employment, or an eclectic work history.

Should You Use a Functional Resume in Your Job Search?

Probably not. Whether it’s fair or not, recruiters often see functional resumes as a red flag and might assume that the applicant behind the resume is trying to hide something, like a lack of qualifications. So although a skills-based resume might be an effective way to highlight your relevant experience, this resume format greatly decreases your chances of landing an interview.

Recruiters want to learn as much as they possibly can about an applicant from their resume, so they’re going to be looking to find out which companies you’ve worked at, your tenure in each role, and what you’ve achieved in each position. When you bury these details at the bottom of your resume (or exclude them completely), a recruiter is likely to assume that your background must not be a very strong fit.

Recruiters are also notoriously short on time, often reviewing hundreds of resumes a day. They don’t want to be forced to scour your resume for relevant details—your resume should, ideally, be very easy to scan. And because functional resumes aren’t terribly common, a recruiter might have a harder time making sense of an alternative format. (Instead, you might consider using a combination resume.)

So When Can You Use a Functional Resume?

Red flags aside, there are times when a functional resume may still be your best option. For instance:

  • When you don’t have recent experience. If it’s been a few years (or more!) since you last held a traditional job, you may not want your less-than-recent work history to be the first thing a hiring manager notices when they pull up your resume. Leading with your skills could be a good way to pique a recruiter’s interest before they have a chance to review your dates of employment.

  • When you’re making a major career pivot. If you’ve collected an array of transferable skills throughout your work experience but have never used them in the context of a single role, a skills-based resume might allow you to demonstrate how your unique abilities will translate into the next act of your career.

  • When you don’t have a lot of actual work experience. Functional resumes enable you to be a little more creative with your work history and allow for some flexibility in the skills you choose to highlight. For example, you probably developed some great research skills as a student, solid scheduling experience when you headed the PTA committee, or exceptional customer service acumen that time you volunteered for that political campaign.

  • When your work history is all over the place. If you’ve held a string of short-term positions or worked in a variety of roles (I’m looking at you, freelancers and temp workers—no judgment, I’m one, too!), using a functional resume may be a great way to organize your experience into a more cohesive story.

  • When your relevant experience isn’t rooted in traditional work. Say you’re an avid cyclist or a model plane enthusiast, and you want to apply for a customer service job at a bike shop or to be a docent at an aviation museum. Or maybe you’ve volunteered in a soup kitchen for the past few years and want to land a job as a server. You’d probably want to feature the skills you’ve picked up as a volunteer or hobbyist, while also highlighting your other, more traditional experience. A functional resume could be a great way to bring it all together.

What’s a Good Example of a Functional Resume?

Similar to a traditional resume, a functional layout should still include your contact information, education, work or volunteer experience, and technical skills. The main difference is that your skills and achievements will be featured prominently in the body of the resume. If it makes sense, you can separate your skills into subcategories to make it easier to read. You may also want to consider including a brief resume summary to tie everything together.

Here’s what that could look like:

Download an Example Functional Resume

What Else Should I Keep in Mind When Making a Functional Resume?

If you’re going to give drafting a functional layout a shot, keep in mind that the tried and true best practices of resume writing still apply. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind:

  • Keep your resume to a single page (this is true for basically everyone except those decades into their careers—in which case a two-page resume isn’t out of the question).
  • Include clear, concise headlines (like “Areas of Expertise” and “Work Experience”) to break up each section, thus making your resume easier to scan.
  • Use compelling verbs to describe your skills and accomplishments (words like achieved, led, directed, streamlined, or solved).
  • Attribute a tangible, measurable outcome to each job duty whenever possible.
  • Tailor the content of your resume to the job you’re applying for, including relevant keywords where appropriate (this is for the hiring manager to skim and for the ATS to give you the thumbs up).

Whenever possible, you should stick to a traditional resume to keep recruiters from making unfavorable assumptions about your experience. But if you know that a chronological layout won’t properly tell your story in a compelling way, a functional resume may help.

Just remember that you might be starting off at a disadvantage when it comes to your resume, so you’ll also need to have a strong networking plan, a consistent application strategy, and an exceptional cover letter.