Top Five Reasons to Avoid a Functional Resume

A functional resume can be effective in a few rare situations, but more often, this structure will hurt your job search chances.  Job seekers like the functional format because it allows them much greater flexibility in highlighting the information they think is important.  Unfortunately, using a functional resume can cause a hiring manager to eliminate you from consideration before they understand your potential.

The basic structure of a functional resume separates a job seeker’s experience from their work history.  In a chronological resume, experiences and accomplishments are grouped under each job.  Functional resumes break this pattern.  Experiences and accomplishments are grouped under functional areas, mixing experiences from different jobs.   The job seeker’s work history is then presented as a list jobs.

The functional structure makes it easy to tailor a resume to the key elements of a job.  It also emphasizes significant experiences and accomplishments.  This makes it a tempting choice.  If you are thinking of using a functional structure, consider these five reasons to avoid a functional resume first:

1. No Context for Accomplishments

Accomplishments establish your performance track record and provide the best selling point for your potential.  A job seeker who shows a clear, easy to understand and significant accomplishment in the past will help show a hiring manager what they can accomplish in the future.  This makes presenting your accomplishments a critical element of your resume.

For an accomplishment to be impressive, the context of the accomplishment must be clear.  This requires showing the job seeker’s role, scope of responsibility, the actions the job seeker took and the specific results delivered to the organization.

In a chronological resume, listing an accomplishment under a job provides some of this context.  The job description provides the scope of responsibility and can imply some of the actions that would ordinarily be taken.  A functional resume detaches the accomplishment from the job, making the scope impossible to determine.

2. Job Responsibilities Are Unclear

Understanding the job seeker’s scope of responsibilities throughout their career is important for a hiring manager to understand their performance.  A functional resume often omits this information.  The experience and accomplishments of the job seeker are listed throughout the functional areas.  They are not tied to the jobs.  The job listing is just a list of employers, job titles and dates.  If the job title doesn’t make the scope of responsibilities clear, there’s no way to know what the job seeker did.  Most job titles are ambiguous.  Even commonly used job titles vary in their scope from company to company, and some job titles are unique to a single company.  You cannot rely on a job listing to show what you did.

3. Mismatches Hiring Manager Goals

Hiring managers review resumes with specific goals in mind.  The hiring manager will look for key data points – skills, details of past jobs and accomplishments.  The hiring manager will also have a priority for each element.  For example, the first time a resume is reviewed may only involve a simple check for the number of years of experience in a role, the education and the years of experience with a key skill.  In this situation, the hiring manager is likely to read the first few lines of the resume, and then skip to the employment and education section.  Because these sections are just a listing of names and dates, they won’t do much to sell the job seeker.

You want to present information in the order that a hiring manager wants to read it.  This requires focusing on the hiring manager’s goals – not yours.  Functional resumes turn this upside down.  It encourages a job seeker to focus on what they want to promote, and can make it more difficult for the hiring manager to find the information they want to see first.

4. Implies You Are Hiding Something

Hiring managers are naturally very skeptical.  They know a resume is the best sales pitch a job seeker can write, and a resume emphasizes the positives and de-emphasizes the negatives.  This can lead to mistrust and doubt any time a job seeker presents information in a way that makes it difficult to decipher.  Using a functional structure to obscure an element of your background will usually backfire.  The uncertainty in a key detail of your experience leads to the hiring manager to assume the worst.  Instead of improving your odds, you have now created a situation where the hiring manager has a significant doubt.

5. The Least Common Resume Format

Chronological resumes are the most common format used.  In our resume benchmarking surveys, we found roughly two thirds of all resumes are chronological.  Functional resumes are rare and offer a vastly different presentation from the typical chronological resume.  Being unusual has drawbacks (implying you are hiding something), but there is an even greater problem.  Hiring managers are much more familiar with assessing chronological resumes.  They will feel more comfortable with a chronological resume and will assess chronological resumes more efficiently.  This can lead to a hiring manager missing a key detail in your resume because they don’t know where to look. It would be great if every hiring manager read every word of every resume but this is never going to happen.  Hiring managers skim resumes quickly.  If they don’t know where to look for key information and skip over it as a result, they will assume you don’t have the experience or skill they want.  You then get rejected.  Using a chronological resume makes this process easier for the hiring manager.

When writing a resume, job seekers want to “stand out” from the competition.  The key is differentiating yourself for the right reasons.  Innovative, unusual or creative designs obscure the substance of a resume.  It is this substance that will get you an interview and ultimately hired.

Provide a clear presentation of your experience and skills.  Including several significant accomplishments demonstrating your track record of success.  Package this information in a clear, easy to read structure.  Although following functional structure should usually be avoided, strictly following a chronological format is not required.  There are numerous hybrid variations that incorporate functional elements into a chronological resume.  This can often offer the best of both structures.