Writing a good resume isn’t easy, and there’s often limited feedback available. It’s hard to tell if employers enjoy reading your resume. If you’re new to the workforce and lack previous work experience, creating an ideal resume can be a massive undertaking. Luckily, experimenting with your resume format and style can help you land interviews.
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 employment gaps or a lot of short-term positions, a chronological resume calls 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, CEO of Rep Cap.
“Coupled with a good cover-letter narrative, it can help you get interviews that you otherwise would have been passed over for,” Slayter said.
What is a functional resume?
A skill-based resume emphasizes characteristics and qualities rather than previous experience. This type of resume isn’t as common as a traditional resume, but it can have tremendous results. Some companies may respond well to the creative resume style.
Functional resumes also work well for college students looking for internships or anyone with minimal experience. Focusing on your skills makes for a stronger resume than one that only lists your minimal experience. A functional resume needs to emphasize skills and abilities with concrete examples, though. A vague skill-based resume will not impress a hiring manager.
“When done correctly, a skills-based resume can definitely find the same success as a resume focused on experience, especially when you do your research on the job you’re considering,” said Soulman Bushera, senior director of technology project and contract staffing at HireStrategy. “You can easily tailor your resume to fit the job description, clearly showing how you meet the qualifications.”
Bushera also recommended including examples under each of your skills. Saying that you have leadership skills won’t excite a hiring manager. You need to include an example of being a leader to make your functional resume stand out. For example, if you served as the president of your sorority in college, draw from that experience and include an example of how you helped lead the organization. While it’s not the same as job experience, businesses will be impressed if you’ve led social organizations and shown the ability to collaborate well with others.
A functional resume is an opportunity to be creative and emphasize the skills you would bring to an organization. Each skill listed needs to include an example of that skill in practice. When done well, this resume format quickly and efficiently explains how you can help an organization. There’s value to functional resumes, and it’s important that you tailor your functional resume to each employer.
Who should use functional resumes?
Functional resumes work best for people with minimal work experience looking to earn an entry-level position. If you’re switching careers and don’t have much experience in an industry, you may also benefit from a functional resume. This resume style allows you to share transferable skills that carry over from one industry to another.
If you’re looking to switch jobs in the same industry, a functional resume probably isn’t the best option. Focusing on work history might better serve you in your search.
It’s also worth noting that the hiring process is about much more than resumes. If you want to switch careers within an industry, you should reach out to people within that new industry and ask for advice. Consider using a platform like LinkedIn to reach out to people in the field and to follow their accounts to stay informed about the latest trends and dialogue in that industry.
Switching industries may also require additional training in your spare time to develop the skills necessary to enter a new industry. In short, there’s a lot more to a career change than the type of resume you’re using. Functional resumes have their place in the job search, but there’s more to the job search process than a different style of resume.
Are functional resumes worse than traditional resumes?
The short answer is no. Functional resumes aren’t worse than traditional resumes, they’re just different. It is worth noting, though, that functional resumes can be a turn-off to some hiring managers. Including work experience is an important part of a resume, and if your focus on skills doesn’t adequately explain how those skills can help the organization, it’s unlikely that you will land an interview.
One challenge of using a functional resume is the time recruiters or hiring managers spend looking at each individual resume. Often, recruiters spend less than a minute looking at each resume. This puts those using a functional resume at a disadvantage. It’s easier for a recruiter to scan a traditional resume and see position titles, years of experience, and previous organizations worked for than it is to look through a functional resume and assign value to the skills listed.
Functional resumes might get lost in the crowd for job openings with hundreds of applicants. For openings with fewer applicants, the hiring manager might spend more time on each application. That’s an instance when a functional resume can be most effective.
Why functional resumes can work
There are several advantages to listing your work experience by skill category rather than by the 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, president and 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
The plan of attack for writing a functional resume varies person by person. If you focus the resume on your skills and examples of how you’ve demonstrated those skills, the resume should have its desired effect.
“It’s a different way of thinking, so take your time and be thoughtful,” said Bushera. “I recommend starting by identifying the skills you want to highlight and then [drafting] statements that describe your experience with each skill.”
Hiring managers love examples and data. If you list leadership as a quality, be sure to include examples and data that back that up. For example, saying you helped implement new training procedures for new hires at your previous organization, shows that you’re able to take initiative and help lead new endeavors within an organization. Examples and statistics boost your resume and make it more meaningful in the eyes of hiring managers.
Regardless of how you choose to write a 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 toward 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 toward skills, too.”
You may even decide to work on a hypothetical project for the company you’re applying for to help complement your skills-based resume. If you’re applying for a marketing position, try crafting a few blog posts for that company and sharing them as examples. If you list writing as a skill, those examples will help back up your functional resume and lend credibility to the resume.
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.”
This doesn’t mean listing “good work ethic” on your resume, though. A hiring manager wants to see examples of your skills. Saying you have a strong work ethic doesn’t mean anything if there’s no way to verify that. Include examples of those skills in practice to impress during the hiring process.
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.
Functional resume template
When it comes to finding a resume template, there are thousands of different offerings on the internet. Admittedly, the sheer number of potential templates can be overwhelming. When it comes to seeking out the best resume template for your application, keep it simple. Look for resume templates that are sleek and don’t distract the reader. Remember that hiring managers may only spend 10-15 seconds reviewing each resume during the initial screening process.
We’ve copied and pasted a functional resume template from Microsoft Word below. We like this template for a few reasons. First, it’s simple and easy to read. While it might be a little bit boring, there’s nothing on the page that will distract the reader. Second, skills and abilities are listed toward the top. If you want to make a successful functional resume, put your skills toward the top of the page. Third, the resume still includes work history. It’s important to keep work history.
Address, City, State and ZIP Code | Telephone | Email
Skills & Abilities
Job Title 1 | Company | Dates From – To
- This is the place for a brief summary of your key responsibilities and most stellar accomplishments.
Job Title 2 | Company | Dates From – To
- This is the place for a brief summary of your key responsibilities and most stellar accomplishments.
Degree 1 | Date Earned | School
- Related coursework:
Degree 2 | Date Earned | School
- Related coursework:
For college students or recent graduates, adding detail related to your education is likely beneficial. If you’ve been out of school for a few years, include your college degree, but you don’t need to include related coursework. Current students don’t even need to include coursework, although there are some instances when it could be helpful.
It’s also not completely necessary to include an objective, as that often gets overlooked by hiring managers. A cover letter can dive deeper into your career goals and how you feel you fit into the company. A skill-based resume should focus on skills, so removing an objective is a good way to free up more room to discuss your skills and abilities.
The template included above isn’t perfect, but it’s a basic resume that serves as a good starting point. You can be more creative with your functional resume format as long as it doesn’t become too complicated for a prospective employer to quickly peruse.
Looking at a functional resume example is a good way to decide what you do and don’t like about certain templates. It can be helpful to use a resume template that makes good use of white space. Some resume templates also fit more text onto one page than other templates. That’s worth considering when going through the resume writing process.
It’s a good idea to look through resume samples and other templates when putting your functional resume together. Find a design that works for you and go from there. Sometimes it can benefit you to experiment with different designs and wordings to see which options help you land the most interviews. You may want to create a resume sample and send it to peers to have them take a look and offer feedback.
Take advantage of your peers and the free resume templates available online and through platforms like Microsoft Word. Using a template can give you an idea of a functional resume format and how you might want to design your resume to engage hiring mangers looking at your resume during the initial screening process.
For the most part, the functional format features skills listed above work history. You may also include information on your education and previous honors and achievements. Be sure to include at least some professional experience in addition to your skills and abilities.
The bottom line
Functional resumes can be a good way for job seekers with minimal work experience to stand out in a crowded stack of resumes. They can also be useful for career changers. If you do elect to use a functional resume, be sure to explain your skills clearly and give examples of your skills being put to use.
A functional resume isn’t a free pass to exclude your previous work history, though. Hiring managers want to know about your past employment, even if it’s minimal. Include your work history on your resume, even if skills are the focal point.
Much like with a chronological resume, tailor each resume to the job you want. Your resume should vary slightly for most job applications regardless of whether you’re using a chronological format or a skill-based resume.
“Regardless of the type of resume, it should always tell a story and paint a picture of what type of employee they may hire,” said Bushera.
Additional reporting by Nicole Fallon. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.