Functional Format for Résumés

Dear Anita –

I’m unemployed and job hunting. My work experience is in many different areas – Purchasing, Product Management, Operations, HR & Training, Management, Executive Assistant and Accounting. The areas with the most recent experience are probably not the areas I want to pursue. What’s the best way to find a job in a field that I’ve been out of for 7 years or more? What types of résumés work best for this kind of job search? Will I even be considered if my experience isn’t recent?

Multiple_Job_Functions(Small)Dear, Jack of All Trades,

You may want to try a functional résumé format (arranging content according to skills) rather than the traditional reverse chronological listing of your experience.

Who should try this? This format is best suited for:

  • Individuals with multi-industry careers
  • Job seekers wanting to change careers
  • Employees who have held many diverse positions
  • Recent grads with little or no job experience
  • Stay-at-home moms/dads or caretakers of aging parents trying to reenter the workforce
  • Those terminated from position(s)
  • Long-term unemployed wanting to make their gap in employment less noticeable.
  • Older workers who wish to deemphasize a long employment history

So, how do you transform your reverse chronology into a skills-based résumé? First, select the skills that you want to highlight for your desired position. Choose 3-5 broad competencies that you can back up with an impressive number of bullet points. Then using the power phrases I taught you in Better Résumé Words, describe your experience and accomplishments. Remember, this is not chronological, so don’t get hung up when you are mixing and matching proficiencies from multiple positions.

End with a simple listing of companies and dates for Employment History (technically making this a hybrid of functional and traditional résumés). Include Education, if applicable.

The functional/skills-based résumé style is not without its drawbacks, however. Hiring managers may feel like you are trying to hide something – like a gap in your employment history. Note that in our example résumé, only the years are given, which could hide a few months of unemployment, but not large periods such as child-rearing or caregiving for a family member with a lengthy illness.

Another potential hurdle is getting a non-traditional format through the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) so many companies now use to screen applications. Résumé parsing is how the ATS software scans documents (as well as search engines, career websites, and social media) for keywords to populate its applicant database fields without manual entry. While advances in syntactic and semantic parsing are becoming more prevalent among ATS programs, some algorithms may still get confused when they “read” information in a different form than expected. While it will transpose the commonly titled “Experience” easily, it may not find an appropriate field to place your ambiguous “Training” skills header. So don’t offend further with any fancy formatting on a non-traditional résumé. Stick to basic fonts like Ariel, Times, Tahoma, and the like, and swap those bullets on your printed resume with an asterisk (*) or simple dash (-) to prevent them from being converted to strange symbols.

Readers: Have you used a non-traditional résumé format with success?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Better Résumé Words
ATS 101: Demystifying Applicant Tracking Systems
Creating a Résumé from Scratch


Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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