Looking for work is hard, especially when there’s so much advice floating around about the best way to approach your job search. But what a lot of people forget to mention is that each job seeker’s work history and experience is unique, and that can affect how you structure and write your resumes and cover letters.
There are two main types of resumes — functional and chronological — that job seekers can use to highlight their professional skills or experience, depending on which they’re trying to draw attention to.
Here’s a closer look at functional and chronological resumes to help you determine which resume format is more likely to get your application noticed by potential employers and hiring managers based on your personal work history and skill set.
What Is a Chronological Resume?
A chronological resume is probably what you think of when you picture a typical resume. It lists your work experience at the top of your resume in reverse chronological order, with your most recent job first.
A reverse chronological resume format focuses on employment history before other sections like education or skills.
Chronological resumes include job titles, company names, employment dates, as well as position-specific achievements and responsibilities. Here’s an example of the work experience section in a chronological resume:
Marketing Manager, Company A, 2019 to Present
- Hired, trained, and managed a marketing team of eight employees
- Increased regional online sales by 20%
Marketing Lead, Company B, 2017 to 2019
- Assisted marketing manager in onboarding and training new hires
- Developed a social media campaign that increased engagement by 75%
Marketing Coordinator, Company C, 2016 to 2017
- Assisted project managers with internal and external marketing campaigns
- Conducted UX research to assist with the creation of new product manuals
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What Is a Functional Resume?
A functional resume, also called a skills-based resume, has a skills section before the work history and education sections. The skills section in a functional resume comes after your contact information and professional objective and is typically divided into different skill categories. Under each skill heading, you list your specific skills or achievements related to that category.
A functional resume still includes your work experience, but the emphasis is on your professional skills and achievements first and your work history and education second. The skills sections can include achievements and job duties from a variety of previous roles. The skills sections in a functional resume may look like this:
- Developed social media campaign that increased engagement by 75%
- Conducted UX research to assist with the creation of new product manuals
- Increased regional online sales by 20%
- Experienced in analytical techniques for problem-solving
- Hired, trained, and managed a team of eight employees
- Conducted weekly meetings to review progress and set goals
- Organized monthly team-building activities to increase employee engagement
Work history in a functional resume is shorter and less detailed than in a chronological resume, only including brief details about responsibilities and duties.
When Should You Use a Chronological Resume?
Chronological resumes are common, and most people use them without thinking. But chronological resumes work best when you want to demonstrate your career growth and professional experience over time in a particular industry. They work best for job seekers who:
- Have grown a specific career path
- Have consistent work experience in one industry
You should consider a chronological resume if your goals include the following:
1. To Highlight Career Growth
Job seekers who have consistently worked towards developing their career path and who can demonstrate their professional growth can benefit from chronological resumes.
Perhaps your first job was as a marketing intern, but over the years you worked your way up to a marketing manager. That’s something you want recruiters to notice, and you can make it obvious by listing your progressive work experience at the beginning of your resume.
Many employers like candidates who are ambitious and who are passionate about what they do. Working hard to move your career forward and climbing the corporate ladder shows that you are dedicated to your profession and that you have what it takes to succeed.
2. To Communicate Industry Experience
Have you been consistent with the industry you specialize in, regardless of your employer? A chronological resume can help you to communicate your dedication to and experience in your area of focus.
This is great for job seekers who want recruiters and hiring managers to see how they’ve grown and honed their skills in a specific industry. For example, if you’ve advanced in multiple marketing roles for different employers, a chronological resume showcases your deep and varied experience in the marketing field.
Hiring companies like employees who can hit the ground running, and you can prove that you’re ready to do that by listing your extensive industry experience front and center.
When Should You Use a Functional Resume?
Functional resumes or skills-based resumes are great for job seekers who have atypical work experience or career growth. Instead of focusing on employment history, this type of resume highlights the key skills, responsibilities, and achievements you’ve collected over the span of your work experience, not from a specific employer, industry, or career path.
Functional resumes are ideal for job seekers who:
- Apply for jobs in new industries or career paths
- Have limited job history
- Need to highlight a lot of technical skills
- Have changed employers multiple times
- Have large or multiple employment gaps
Consider a skills-based functional resume if your goals are:
1. To Transfer Into New Industries and Careers
Sometimes job seekers apply for careers in industries they’ve never worked in before, while others may even go for roles they don’t have experience with. But just because you haven’t worked in a specific position before doesn’t mean that you haven’t gained the skills you need to get the job done. Often, skills from different industries are transferable. For example, management and communication skills are generally relevant regardless of whether you work in software or transportation.
A career change doesn’t mean any previous work history you have becomes irrelevant — it just means that you may need to format your resume to make your transferable skills apparent.
Functional resumes show hiring managers your relevant skills before your work history section, which can demonstrate that your qualifications go above and beyond a specific industry or job title.
2. To Compensate for a Limited Job History
Have you been working in the same role for a long time with little career growth? Then a functional or skills-based resume might be ideal for you to use during your job search.
Even if you’ve held the same position for a long time — either with a single employer or multiple companies — that doesn’t mean you haven’t expanded your skills along the way. You’ve probably taken on a variety of responsibilities and worn many different hats because of how experienced you are.
In this situation, a chronological resume can make your career history look thin or stagnant. On the other hand, a functional resume can show off the additional skills and responsibilities that you have under your belt outside of your job description. This can help hiring managers to see that even though your title hasn’t changed, you’ve still grown as a professional.
3. To Highlight Technical Skills
Some hiring companies need you to have all kinds of technical skills like fluency in specific design programs, programming languages, or marketing applications. For many hiring managers looking to fill technical roles, the skills requirements are more important than the roles a candidate has held or the other companies they’ve worked for.
Loading your technical skills upfront can help an employer to quickly and easily gauge whether you are qualified for a position.
4. To Deemphasize Job Hopping
Job hopping can happen for a number of reasons. You could have been fired or downsized, or the position may have only been short-term to begin with, such as a temporary contract. Regardless of whether you’ve switched employers of your own accord or it was decided for you, too much job hopping can give potential employers the impression that you have professional commitment issues.
Functional resumes take the attention away from your employment timeline and put it on the skills you bring to the table instead.
5. To Downplay Employment Gaps
Employment gaps can happen for a variety of personal and professional reasons. You could have taken time off to travel or to raise a child, or you could have used a sabbatical to write a book or pursue a hobby.
But, to an employer, long or sporadic employment gaps in your career path can bring into question how up-to-date your professional skill set is. It’s important to show hiring managers that you’ve stayed on your game by positioning your skills and abilities near the top of your resume.
In this situation, be sure to highlight activities you’ve done in between jobs to keep your professional edge sharp, such as volunteer work, freelancing, contributing to articles or doing interviews, and anything else that conferred transferable skills that are relevant.
A Third Option: The Combination Resume
If neither a functional resume nor a chronological resume is a fit for you, a combination resume could be what you need.
A combination resume has a brief skills section beneath your contact information that includes your most relevant hard and soft skills related to the position you’re applying for. After that, it has a work history section that lists specific jobs along with your duties and responsibilities during each role.
Because most recruiters and hiring managers do want to know about your previous work experience, a combination resume can be a way to blend what hiring companies like to see with the skills you want to show them.
Which Type of Resume Do Employers Prefer?
Different hiring managers prefer different resumes. However, chronological resumes are the industry standard, meaning you should use functional resumes with care.
Because skills-based or functional resumes act as a way to deemphasize and downplay work history, some recruiters find them to be deceptive. This can get your resume tossed into the rejected pile before a hiring manager even bothers to actually read it.
If you decide to use a functional resume format, use these tips to make sure it strikes a balance between highlighting your skills and demonstrating your relevant work experience.
Tips for Writing a Good Functional Resume
1. Use Quantifiable Achievements
Anyone can say they have soft skills like communicating well or being adept at problem-solving. If you really want to impress employers, you need to show them that you can get results. If you increased sales or customer engagement or saved your previous employer money, include the numbers in your skills section.
Whenever possible, use real numbers and achievements to prove your professional worth. They’re much more impactful than listing soft skills and personality traits.
2. Tailor It to the Employer
Your resume isn’t for you, it’s for the employer. You need to show them that you’re the right person for the job. Try not to use it as an opportunity to tout all the skills you’ve accrued over the years. Instead, tailor them to the job description and employer that you’re aiming for.
Use keywords from the job posting itself and stick to the skills and achievements that are relevant to the role.
3. Don’t Try to Hide Information
Using a functional resume may get your foot in the door, but if you do get an interview, potential employers will probably ask you for more information about your work history, including employment gaps or job hopping. One way or another, you’ll have to address your job details at some point.
When using a functional resume, you still need to include professional work history, albeit with less emphasis. Be honest and upfront about your previous jobs, and if there are any you don’t want to talk about or address, don’t include them.
4. Use a Cover Letter
Cover letters are standard for any job application, but they can pair well with a functional resume to help explain why you’re applying for a position and how you can benefit a company. You can even use them to explain a job loss or employment gap, which can help to give context to a nontraditional resume format.
5. Include a Summary or Objective
Including a summary or objective can help you to explain your career path and goals. It gives potential employers an overview of what you’re aiming for and why you’re applying for their open position.
6. Consider a Combination Resume When Possible
If you do have some work experience in the role you’re applying for, or you’ve worked in the industry before, consider using a combination resume. You’ll still get the benefits of front-loading your skills, but you’ll appease hiring managers by including your work experience and job details as well.
This can be beneficial during interviews because you’ll have reference points to work off of when answering questions related to your past experience and employers.
Where to Find Resume Templates
Resume writing can be challenging and it’s easy to make mistakes. If you aren’t sure where to start with formatting, designing, and organizing your resume, you could probably benefit from using a template. Take a look at these resume builders to see which works best for you:
- Google Docs. Google Docs has a variety of free templates for you to choose from, but you’ll need a Google account to use them.
- Microsoft Word. Microsoft Word includes both standard resume templates, which are free to edit online, and premium resume templates that require a Microsoft Office subscription.
- Indeed. Indeed has a number of free resume templates to choose from.
- Canva. Canva’s free version offers a variety of different resume formats and styles.
Regardless of whether you choose to use a functional or chronological resume style, make sure that you choose a professional resume template that looks clean and well-organized. Avoid templates that look too cluttered or that don’t fit the format that you need.
Applying for jobs and waiting to hear back can be a nerve-wracking process. And it’s even more stressful for people with atypical career paths and work history. But just because you aren’t a standard applicant doesn’t mean that you won’t make a great employee who brings relevant skills to the table.
Whether functional, chronological, or a mix of both, choose a resume format that best highlights your individual professional path and use it to prove that you’d make a great hire.
Which type of resume do you prefer to use? Has it been successful in getting you interviews?