Functional Resumes May Not Be the Answer

Yesterday a friend forwarded me a resume for an HR professional. It presented the job seeker’s story in a functional resume format, providing a long list of bulleted skills and accomplishments without tying each of them to a particular employer. The individual’s employment history was barely a footnote at the end of the resume.   Recently, I have heard many people telling job seekers the new way to write a resume is based on a functional format.  This advice is often provided by academics, career coaches and others not directly involved in the hiring process.  I’m told that a state unemployment office is teaching job seekers to only write functional resumes.  I appreciate these people only want to help job seekers make a good first impression.  I haven’t argued my opinion on this topic, until now.  Functional resumes may not be the secret weapon that people are looking for.

Just to clarify, a functional resume stresses the qualifications of a job seeker with less emphasis on a specific employer and/or dates.  You know these resumes.  They have paragraphs full of “fluff,” before you get to what they actually did and where they did it.  Functional resumes use a whole page to tell you about “management skills”, project management skills, creativity skills, etc., and then end with work history with dates and location (no job titles)…

Functional resumes have been around for years but this new trend scares me.  There are a lot of people out of work and too many well-intentioned people are giving job seekers bad advice.  Recruiters often skip over the “fluff” anyway and go directly to the last paragraph to see if the job seeker has anything worth reading about.  Do resume writers think they are cleverly avoiding the inevitable questions?   That functional resume simply goes in the “no” stack.”

Why don’t most recruiters like functional resumes?  This may be because recruiters are too busy and maybe a little a little lazy.  Functional resumes take time to read.  I don’t like functional resumes because I prefer chronological resumes.   I know that what someone likes to see on a resume can be subjective but I don’t know recruiters that prefer functional resumes.  I don’t even know any recruiters that like functional resumes.  In fact, most recruiters I know skip over functional resumes (even though they might not admit it out loud).  Just to make sure I was on the right track, I asked several recruiters before writing this article. In general, functional resumes “make me think the person is hiding something.”

Functional resume are often recommended when someone is looking for a job outside of the area of their experience. They are also sometimes recommended if the job seeker wants to “spin” something.  Recruiters are way too smart for that.  Just give us the facts.  You can get creative (even a hybrid of a functional/chronological resume) where you share skills, talent, and accomplishments in general without tying to a specific job is OK.  People need to know that functional resumes are not for everyone and job seekers need to think carefully before using one.

I’ve heard people claim that “the functional resume helps avoid any discrimination issues” by minimizing the length of a job seekers work history and, therefore, his or her age. Some also claim that employers who are disinclined to hire currently unemployed people might be so overwhelmed by the job seekers’ skills and accomplishments that they don’t realize that the person isn’t currently employed.   To these people I say “Get over it!”  A good recruiter will find the right person for the job without regard to age, but they need to see what a person HAS DONE first.

We need to stress that to get a job, start by telling a recruiter what they want to know – not what you think they should want to know.  As I said earlier, where did you work, what was your job title, and then what did you accomplish there is a good place to start.

I believe there that people have landed jobs using functional resumes.  However, I bet many of these candidates bypassed the normal recruiting process through a referral or by possessing some challenging-to-find technical specialty.  They may have a special background that a functional resume helped highlight what they could do better than a chronological resume, but was probably the exception.  My point is that, in general, functional resumes aren’t for everyone and we need to let the hard working people out there know it.

While applicant tracking systems (ATS) have streamlined the resume review process recruiters still like to see a chronological resume.  I don’t think that the resume will ever go away (even though I have heard futurists discuss this) because recruiters want to see the flow of a person’s career. The chronological resume has survived so long (and LinkedIn emulated it in their profile) because it works.

Non-recruiters who give advice on resume writing forget that the audience for a resume is the recruiter (and ultimately the hiring manager). Resumes don’t win job seekers prizes for being clever. While skills, accomplishments, and experience may be what get the candidate in the door, hiding those qualities among a long list of bulleted paragraphs won’t get the job seeker to the doorstep.

If we want to connect the right person with the right job, we need to be more deliberate in educating job seekers on the best way to communicate who they are to prospective employers.  The functional resume trend isn’t good for most job seekers.  Let’s do the right thing and coach and guide individuals in the right direction and do our part to get America back to work.

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