Say No To the Functional Resume – Guest Post by #Postac Coach Darcy Hannibal

Dr. Darcy Hannibal

By TPII Post-ac Coach Dr. Darcy Hannibal

A functional resume provides all the details of your skills and accomplishments at the beginning of your resume and separate from your employment history, usually separated into job category function subheadings. This is then followed by a work experience section that just gives the basic employment information (employer, job title, dates) and, lastly, the education section. By contrast, the chronological resume has a section on work experience, in reverse chronological order, with the skills relevant to each job described under the basic employment information for that job. This is then followed by the education section.

When someone asks me for resume advice, they often either present me with a draft resume in a functional format or ask my opinion of this format. When I ask them where they heard about it or got this advice, it is usually from a well-meaning career counselor or the website at their university’s career center.

If you go to your university’s career center, they will likely provide many varied and ornately crafted sample resumes as guides. Most of these are an over-formatted and disorganized mess to read for a hiring supervisor. If you are someone who likes looking at resumes all day and coming up with new and interesting ways to format a resume, then I can see how a functional resume seems like a simple solution to help a client with their work history insecurities. But it’s a mistake.

The audience for your resume is prospective supervisors and most of them do not enjoy reading resumes and cover letters. The resume is just a means to an end—finding the best candidate for the job. They want to get through it as quickly and painlessly as possible, so they can get on with other more pressing duties that are a much larger portion of their job.

A functional resume is a pain to read for a prospective supervisor, so my policy is I do not work with clients who insist on using one. It is never, ever, a good idea and here is why:

  • Functional resumes are an immediate red flag to an experienced hiring supervisor because:
  1. This format is often used by someone trying to hide that it has been a loooooong time since they’ve used the skills needed for the job. Sometimes that is not a problem, but it depends on how much things have changed in key skills areas.
  2. The applicant doesn’t want to do the work of describing their skillset, showing me the depth of each skill (evidenced in the work history) and how they match this particular job.
  3. OR they don’t really have any jobs where they used much, if any, of these skills. They are just listing a bunch of skills or interests because they want to make it look like they match the job ad, when in fact they don’t. They are applying for jobs they want, but are not qualified to fill.
  • When it comes time to check references, hiring managers need to be able to connect each of your referees with a job and the associated skills in your resume to determine what each referee should know about the applicant’s experience. If they can’t do that for a particular section of your work history they want to verify, they might ask you for information from an additional referee they can talk to. A functional resume completely disconnects your skills from your work history.
  • If the job requires that the candidate have a lot of depth in certain skill areas (performed and cultivated in multiple jobs over time), then the history of that depth is completely absent.
  • You are making your prospective supervisor’s job hard. And on a task they just want to get through as quickly as possible, so they can move on to other tasks that are more pressing and more fun. Why would they want to hire you if you’re making them spend too much time finding out whether you fit the job? I want to hire people who make my job easier, not harder.

As I hiring supervisor, I often see #3 above. As a post-ac coach with TPII, however, our clients are almost always in category #1 and #2. If you’re in category #1 or #2, my advice is to carefully articulate your skillsets within each job title you’ve had so that it shows how you match the qualifications of the job you are applying for. If you are at a loss as to how to do that, then working with one of TPII’s career coaches is a great way to learn how. If you are in category #3, you are applying for the wrong jobs. You need to apply for jobs (or use your current job, volunteer work, or additional training) to build the skillsets that will make you competitive for the jobs you ultimately want. Sometimes these are lower-level jobs and sometimes they are adjacent jobs, needing skills you currently have, but with opportunities to build the skills you need.

It is hard work to get past the work history insecurities you are feeling with a post-academic career transition, but TPII clients are typically more employable than they give themselves credit for. The functional resume is often such an appealing crutch that I have a hard time convincing people how much it hurts them. So, if you’re still not convinced, please do an internet search for other articles on functional resumes. You’ll find some writers opposed to them and some for them. Oddly, many who are for them, somehow get past their opening descriptions of a functional resume without realizing they should change their article from a “how-to” into a “why you should never submit a functional resume.”

Sometimes people get interviews or jobs despite crappy job documents, but usually only if their awesomeness is hard to hide no matter how bad the documents were put together. And, honestly, most people in an applicant pool have job documents that range from mediocre to awful. Someone with great job documents really stands out, even if they don’t have all the skills.

About Karen Kelsky

I am a former tenured professor at two institutions--University of Oregon and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I have trained numerous Ph.D. students, now gainfully employed in academia, and handled a number of successful tenure cases as Department Head. I've created this business, The Professor Is In, to guide graduate students and junior faculty through grad school, the job search, and tenure. I am the advisor they should already have, but probably don't.

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