Functional Resumes Are Not a Panacea

Thumbing through the most recent Readers Digest magazine, an Ask Laskas column caught my eye. I’m sorry I can’t link to the actual column because it’s not included on their online version of the magazine, but here is the scenario described on page 59 of the May, 2010 print edition:

“Wondering” explains that hubby was laid off after 20 years at the same job. For the last decade, he has been very involved in Alcoholics Anonymous, mentoring, speaking, and holding volunteer offices.  She wants to know: should he include this A.A. leadership experience on his resume? She believes he should, but Mr. Wondering understandably drags his feet.

Ask Laskas answered that some employers would admire his work, while others might unfortunately discriminate against him. Her recommendation to resolve the dilemma? Include the A.A. experience but showcase it in a functional resume.

I don’t know.

Many HR pros and recruiters hate functional resumes. When we review a resume, we like to see the context in which accomplishments took place. We want a clear snapshot of career progression over time. The typical functional resume does neither. Rightly or wrongly, it reminds me of the childhood trick I used when faced with organizing  my dresser drawers: I would neatly fold the top layer of  t-shirts in the futile attempt to hide the jumble of mangled garments underneath. You know what? My parents were onto my tricks, and HR folks aren’t much different; they will see through the facade (if it exists) or they may reject the resume outright if it doesn’t flow or is frankly just too much trouble to read and follow.

Also, Laskas didn’t mention this, but Mr. Wondering should think ahead to his phone screen and interview and prepare for inevitable probing  questions about the organization he represented when speaking, mentoring and otherwise exercising the leadership qualities showcased on his resume. Hmmm, how does he plan to handle that?  Writing a functional resume doesn’t make the fundamental issue [whether alcoholism, employment gaps, terminations] go away.

Rather than recommending a particular resume format, here are a few quick suggestions for Mr. and Mrs. Wondering:

  1. Focus efforts: I don’t know the nature of the job he lost, but he could try aiming applications toward organizations most likely to be receptive, whether social services, addictions or small organizations that might appreciate his broad experience.
  2. Diversify experience. I would suggest he widen his volunteer efforts to balance his resume. He can continue to support the A.A. while lending some energy to other causes, whatever they might be:  Head Start, Habitat for Humanity, employment, hospice, community development, etc.
  3. Employ Expertise. The services of a really good, reputable resume writer could be a sound investment. If the money issue is insurmountable, at least consider an initial consult to ask for advice geared to his specific situation.
  4. Use Twitter. If he can’t afford the resume help–or even if he can–I recommend networking with career and resume professionals on Twitter. Use Google to find a list of career specialists (here’s one). Start following interesting people; each one will lead him to others. He could take half an hour a day and start  engaging with people, making sure conversations go both ways. As he feels comfortable, he could ask for help either by throw out a general question (e.g. tweet: “Functional or chronological resume, what’s your pleasure?”) or by approaching people individually by direct message (DM). They probably won’t re-write his resume for free, but most will lend their expertise and opinions and at least steer him on the right course.

I’m sure there are lot’s of other good ideas out there. HR pros, recruiters and career strategists, what other suggestions do you have for Mr. and Mrs. Wondering?

Disclaimer:  Can I just mention (in case you’re wondering) that I don’t have an arbitrary hatred of functional resumes? One of the best resumes I ever received was a hybrid version that broke down experience/expertise by HR discipline accompanied by a concise but detailed chronology of work experience. It was a thing of beauty, a work of art,  recruiter porn. But I digress…

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