Chronological versus Functional Resumes

This blog post is not about Entertainment. This post is about other industries. But if you ever find yourself needing a “day job”, this information is for you.

I see advice out there telling people that if they have certain issues with their work history, they should use a “functional” resume format, rather than the usual reverse-chronological format.

I think this advice is not quite right, although probably not for the reason you are thinking. It is true that I am an ATS specialist, and a proponent of following standard formats for the sake of ATS compliance. But I also believe that functional resumes have their place. It’s just a different place, because what kind of resume you should use is NOT connected to anything about you.

The kind of resume you should use is defined by the job or employment situation to which you are applying.

If you are applying to an advertised job with a company that has an HR department, there is a very high probability that they are using some form of Applicant Tracking System or ATS. This is even more likely if they have an online job application form or system. It is futile to send these folks a Functional format resume.

The rise of ATS and the format needs of those algorithms, have trained human HR people to look at resumes a certain way. They automatically scan the right side margin for your employment dates. They will immediately be suspicious of any functional format, and wonder what you are trying to hide. These will be the faults of your job history that you ARE trying to, if not hide, then at least obfuscate, such as multiple job changes, employment gaps not covered by college or military service, age, or too many short term gigs. Guess what? You won’t be fooling them.

They will immediately be frustrated at what they see as a “kitchen sink” resume instead of one that is targeted to the advertised position. They will immediately be disappointed that you didn’t customize your resume to their needs.

You are better off using a chronological resume, with a well-written customized summary that hits the high points of what they need, and curating your experience to fit the job. Also target your job search to those for which you are reasonably qualified.

So when CAN you use a Functional resume?

When you are applying to places that don’t have an HR department, and may not even have advertised their job.

The ideal time to use a Functional resume is when you respond to the “Help Wanted” sign in the window of a local Mom-and-Pop pizza joint or independent boutique store, or when you hand your resume directly to the small business owner or site foreman, especially for more entry-level jobs.

These folks haven’t been trained to look for gaps, employment dates, or employment consistency. They just want to know what you can do for them. Chances are, they will actually appreciate the “jack-of-all-trades” aspect of your functional resume. They’d love to see someone with dishwashing and building maintenance experience. They’d be very happy to see customer service and basic bookkeeping skills. They are perfectly delighted to see landscaping work alongside purchasing.

Still customize your summary to highlight the most relevant soft skills, and move the most appropriate functional area to the top of that section, if you have the ability to do so.

See, it’s still not about you. It’s about filling their need for a skilled worker.

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