Functional Resume: What Is It and How Do You Create One?

There are three main resume formats: chronological, functional, and combination. The chronological resume is probably the most recognized resume format for professionals. Its main focus is on career history, with a candidate’s most recent job listed first. Candidates with strong work histories tend to rely on this format. 

Alternatively, the functional resume focuses on skills over work history. Instead of listing the jobs you’ve had in chronological order, a functional resume lists the skills and experience most relevant to the industry or job. Job seekers that have sought-after skills or are looking to break into a new industry could benefit from a functional resume format.

What Is a Functional Resume?

A functional resume focuses solely on the skills and experience that make you qualified for a job. These types of resumes prioritize the work you’ve done, as opposed to prioritizing when and where you’ve done the work. They’re becoming more popular as the workforce evolves and people change industries.

Why workers are switching to a functional resume

In 2020, the pandemic sent 48.7 million workers home, introducing many to remote work for the first time and creating a domino effect that led to the Great Resignation. The pandemic’s economic strain coupled with the remote-work revolution caused business leaders to rethink how they hire and what makes for a good candidate

In this new era of work, companies are putting a heavier focus on skills and experience over education and work history, which means candidates must shift how they present themselves. As a result, resumes have become less all-encompassing and more targeted, with functional resumes falling into this category. 

How you could benefit from a functional resume

By connecting your skills to the potential job opportunity through a functional resume, you are immediately showing a hiring manager you can carry out the required position. For professionals that can work in multiple industries — marketing, human resources and administrative roles, for example — accumulated skills, experience and accomplishments carry more weight than time spent at a company. 

When Should You Use a Functional Resume?

A functional resume is a good format for job seekers that are entering a new career field. This transition has been a common trend over the past two years. In 2021, roughly 47 million people quit their job, with many of those workers transferring their skills to a different industry. Uncertainty, loss of control and life reevaluations brought on by the pandemic were enough to motivate workers to seek better opportunities or follow their passions. 

Since April 2020, the food service and hospitality industries — jobs that are heavily in-person — have struggled to retain workers. That’s in stark contrast to the professional and business services, which have seen lower unemployment rates. With 97 percent of workers wanting some form of remote option, in-person employees began looking at their skills in new ways. A restaurant manager, for example, has desirable customer service experience that can easily transfer to a remote role. 

When Should You Avoid a Functional Resume?

Most people are better off using a reverse chronological resume format instead of a functional resume format. Recruiters and hiring managers expect to see your work history listed on your resume, starting with the most recent position.

If you're applying for a job through an applicant tracking system, a functional resume might hurt your chances of passing through. A functional resume is better suited for when you've been referred for a job or have otherwise skipped the traditional job application step.

How To Create a Functional Resume Template

Creating a functional resume template isn’t much different than the resume formatting you are used to. The key is to replace ‘most recent’ with ‘most important’ as you are going through your various work examples. 

Understand how to position your skills and accomplishments

The first step in creating a functional resume is understanding how to apply your skills and work experience to the job you want. Put 15 minutes aside to write what makes you most valuable to an organization. From there, identify the skills and experience that are most transferable. 

Grab the hiring manager’s attention 

Once you are confident in the skills and experience you’ve chosen, pull it all together. Start by creating a headline or brief paragraph (1-3 sentences) that tells hiring managers why you are the best candidate for the job.  

Lead with your accomplishments

Your resume summary tells someone why you’re good at what you do, however, you still have to show that you’re good at what you do. The best way to show this is to add an ‘accomplishments’ section to highlight the career milestones that are most relevant to the job. To format this section, list an accomplishment, then provide 2-3 bullet points that offer more insight. 

See this in action: the most compelling resume examples are achievement-driven and supported by metrics.

Identify your skills that best match the position 

From there, get specific with the skills you can offer. List any certificates or awards you’ve received and incorporate a ‘skills’ section below your accomplishments. Similar to your ‘accomplishments section, incorporate bullet points and order everything based on its relevance to the job. Most importantly, don’t focus on your work history — even if it’s tempting to give into habit. 

If you’re transitioning into a new field, your work history doesn’t provide much insight into what you can offer in that field. You want a potential employer to know why you are a good fit, and chronological resumes won’t show that right away. Functional resumes, though, focus on what you can offer instead of your company history. 

The truth is, you have more transferable skills than you think. People skills, conflict resolution, leadership, punctuality, strong communication, project delegation and more are a few examples of soft skills that are desirable to companies. Functional resumes give you the opportunity to think deeper about the skills and qualities that make you the right person for the job. 

Wrap it all up with competencies and interests 

Once you have your primary accomplishments, skills and certificates listed, incorporate any competencies or interests that support your hard skills or give hiring managers a better idea of who you are. Competencies include skills like G-Suite, Microsoft Office and other common workplace tools, while interests include hobbies, passion projects or topics that fascinate you. 

Functional Resume vs. Reverse Chronological Resume 

The two formats are similar in that they both focus on the most relevant work experience. However, that’s where the similarities end. A reverse chronological resume still prioritizes the when and where, which is not the functional resume’s goal.

Jobs have become increasingly skilled and niche. This shift influences the way hiring managers and recruiters look for quality candidates. It also influences how candidates present themselves — which is why there are multiple ways to present your resume. 

The most important thing to remember as you create a functional resume is that dates are not important. Similar to the show-don’t-tell strategy, putting the "how" before the "when" proves you are skilled to do a particular job. 

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Lindsay Patton

Lindsay Patton

Lindsay Patton is a journalist, adjunct professor, podcast host and digital communicator who specializes in business and career growth.

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