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Does the Functional Resume really work?

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By Lori Jazvac.

Canadian job seekers often believe that functional resumes can deal with a myriad of career obstacles, but do they really work?

First, let’s define the functional resume: The functional resume focuses on skills and experience rather than the chronological work history. On the surface, this may appear to be the best method for addressing career obstacles such as gaps in employment, but there are other choices. It is necessary to critically evaluate one’s career goals, history, and experience before employing this strategy.

In the 1990’s, functional resumes were commonly used across Canada. Today, people are facing new challenges. Typically, a job seeker’s history includes many positions, multiple employers, and various careers.  Each candidate offers a very different career history and is targeting a very specific opportunity. As a result, job seekers are encountering a whole new gamut of expectations from employers that the functional format may not accommodate.

Before writing your resume, consider these advantages and disadvantages of the functional  format:

Advantages of Functional Resume Format

  • Offers a possible strategy for dealing with long periods of unemployment.
  • Repositions applicants with minimal experience such as new graduates and career-changers.
  • Often used for those re-entering the workforce after a long period of time who have acquired transferable skills through volunteering and community leadership roles.
  • Can be applied for project-based or contractual work for several different companies.
  • Shifts focus to most relevant work experience, especially if the applicant has a relatively long work history and has held many different positions.
  • Emphasizes diverse functions, skill sets, abilities, knowledge, and experience that employers require.
  • Captures impressive achievements on the first page, giving the employer an immediate snapshot of the candidate’s expertise.
  • May be effective in unconventional fields or roles, provided that there are no employment gaps.

Disadvantages of Functional Resume Format

  • Tends to reveal an unstable work history due to gaps in career history section on the second page.
  • Does not make a clear career path obvious.
  • Outlines the skills of the candidate or areas of expertise while not making any reference to where skill sets or achievements were developed and in what context.
  • Takes a considerable amount of digging to find the truth, so this may raise suspicion.
  • Does not align with resume Automated Tracking Systems (ATS) system requirements. The database system will not be able to match the achievements with respective dates as the functional format has them outlined in separate sections that can produce disorganized results and many unanswered questions.

A Better Alternative…

According to Sharon Graham, Executive Director of Career Professionals of Canada, the functional resume actually results in highlighting gaps rather than concealing them.

Listing employment history “back-to-back” allows a recruiter to more easily see gaps in dates. Further, many employers or recruiters are adept at identifying career issues or factors that may raise red flags in a candidate’s work history or progression. Most decision makers prefer to see information in a chronological format. Therefore, leaving off a chronological piece may lead to roadblocks in career success.

The hybrid or combination resume is often an ideal option to address career obstacles, as it integrates features of both the chronological and functional formats. Always assess the list of jobs, dates and responsibilities, and achievements acquired before you choose the structural format for the resume. Consider applying the chronological or hybrid format and use the functional format as a last resort unless requested by the employer.

If you choose to use this particular format, make it reader-friendly as possible for employers. Include as much context as you can within each functional description so the employer has a better idea of which skill aligns with which job. When describing skills and accomplishments, tell where you demonstrated each, which will help the employer connect those skills and accomplishments with the experience that produced them.

Experiment with the functional format only if you are simply deriving no results from a traditional format. Consult a Certified Resume Strategist (CRS) with Career Professionals of Canada who can guide you on implementing the best possible resume strategy and a coherent plan for career success.

Lori Jazvac is a Certified Resume Strategist (MCRS). Find out how you can become a Certified Resume Strategist (CRS).

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