On a typical resume, you'll usually find a person's work experience as the primary focus, with employers and positions listed in reverse chronological order. This format may be the standard, but it isn't ideal for everyone.
If you have gaps in your employment or a lot of short-term positions, a chronological resume will call attention to your employment history, which may be a red flag to some employers. A traditional layout might also hurt entry-level candidates and career-changers with little to no experience in their new fields or, conversely, those with extensive work experience that covers a lot of the same skills and responsibilities in each job.
One way around these issues is to use an alternative format: a functional (or skills-based) resume. The idea is to group your skills together under themes rather than present a chronological work history, said Mary Ellen Slayter, a career expert for Monster.com.
"Coupled with a good cover-letter narrative, it can help you get interviews that you otherwise would have been passed over for," Slayter said. [Got resume gaps? Here are a few smart ways to address them.]
Why it works
There are several advantages to listing your work experience by skill category rather than by employer. If you've been out of the workforce for a while, a functional resume will help you sell yourself based on the knowledge you gained while you were working. For career-changers, there's no better way to highlight your transferable job skills than by putting them front and center.
"As a business leader, I appreciate a functional resume that outlines clearly and succinctly exactly what you will bring to the table," said Phil Shawe, co-CEO of translation technology company TransPerfect. "Communicating these clearly and accurately is also the best way to make sure your career move is a win-win – you are able to bring value in your new role and for your new company."
In addition to helping you zero in on the specific skills an employer wants, this resume format can reduce redundancy when describing similar positions.
"[If] someone has worked as a desktop technician for several small clients ... it's better for that person to list their skills [under] 'desktop technician' versus listing multiple short-term contracts," said Josh Ridgeway, director of MSP delivery for staffing firm Kavaliro. "It cuts down [on] repeating [the description] for each role and shortens the overall length of the resume."
"With a lot of experience under your belt, don't be afraid to connect the dots as to [how] your experience fits … with the job, the company, and the industry – both for the audiences who will be screening your resume and conducting your interviews," added Shawe.
Writing a functional resume
Regardless of how you choose to write your resume, there are two key questions it should answer: Can you do the job, and can the hiring manager work with you?
There are many ways you can show this when writing a skills-based resume. Arthur Jordan, vice president of engineering at education technology company 2U, advised finding a way to discuss successful work and personal projects that could show off your unique abilities to an employer. For instance, you could mention your contributions to an open-source project, or that you wrote a blog post about a work problem you solved.
"Skills help you do the job, but [industry-related] projects demonstrate your ability to work towards business goals," Jordan said. "Your personal projects and passions count in determining if your new co-workers will want to work with you, and if they are even tangentially relevant to the job, they count towards skills too."
Joel Klein, founder of BizTank, which provides capital to minority entrepreneurs, said that your resume should not only describe your background and experience, but also give insight into who you are as a person.
"Are you a hard worker? Are you eager to please? How do you get along with others? All of these should be reflected so the potential employer will go for your brand," Klein said. "It's always who you are, what you can provide, what you want – all of which are the cornerstones of a good resume. You're selling your experience, your strengths and why you should be selected."
A word of caution to those writing a functional resume – don't think you can get away with not listing your work history at all. Hiring managers still want to see your track record of previous employers, even though it may not be the central point of your resume. However, you can place this section below your skills.
"The goal of this type of resume is to highlight your skills first," Ridgeway told Business News Daily. "That way, you attract the attention of the manager before they see your actual chronological information."
Slayter acknowledged, however, that an experienced recruiter will likely see through this strategy. While it's not necessarily perceived as dishonest, you should be prepared to answer questions that a hiring manager may ask about your work history.
Examples of a functional resume
Here is a sample of a functional resume that you can model yours after:Credit: Business News Daily
You can find more examples and templates of functional resumes on the following sites:
Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.