Chronological vs. Functional Resumes

Jul 26, 2021

Elizabeth Houghton

Sutton Full Potential Founder

Did you know that recruiters peruse around 250 resumes every day when hiring for an open position? Of these, just 4-5 are called for an interview. Standing out from such a large pool of candidates can be a challenge. But this is where your resume-building skills come into play.

When it comes to creating your resume, one of the most important choices you’ll make is the format. What format you use will determine whether recruiters find your profile compelling enough to consider you for further rounds.

There are two types of resume formats that you can choose from:

  • Chronological resume format
  • Functional resume format

In this article, we’ll explore the key differences between each format and see when it’s best to use each format.

What is a chronological resume format?

A chronological resume uses a chronological, date/time-based format when listing out the candidate’s academic and professional milestones. You start writing your resume by listing your latest (i.e., most current) education/professional position and then follow it with earlier ones. The last entry in your list of academic/professional achievements will be your earliest (i.e., very first) position/role you ever held.

This is by far the more popular type of resume format, which a majority of candidates use. Once all the academic/professional accomplishments have been mentioned, candidates can list their functional skills and other traits which may not have a direct correlation to the job.


Benefits of chronological resumes

  • Chronological resume format helps recruiters see your latest achievements within seconds, enabling them to judge your fit for the role quickly.
  • This format helps you show how you made your way up the academic/corporate ladder and creates a very good first impression.
  • This format is a great way to highlight key skills pertinent to your industry and your job.
  • This resume format looks very neat and organized. There is a seamless flow showing your academic/corporate path.


Challenges of chronological resumes

  • Chronological resume format can reveal any employment or academic gaps you have, and this can make recruiters question your fit for the role.
  • This resume format is not great if you’re looking to move out of your industry since it won’t help you show any skills relevant to the new industry you’re applying at.
  • This format can look too busy with more information than necessary since candidates try to list each year of academics/employment to prevent any gaps.


When to use chronological resumes?

The chronological resume format is best used when you want to show recruiters that you have sufficient experience in the industry. It’s also a more conventional format and it’s less likely for recruiters to be distracted when searching for information.

This format is also great when you have created a steady and structured academic/professional life. The chronological format can highlight this steadiness very well.


What is a functional resume format?

A functional resume is a format that prioritizes an individual’s skills and abilities rather than their experience and tenure in a particular job. This resume is a lesser-used format, purely because it has very specific uses.

When creating a functional resume, you can start by listing out your most important functional skills and abilities, followed by your least important ones. The objective here is to highlight what value you can bring to the company through your unique skills if hired.


Benefits of functional resumes

  • Functional resume format is a great choice if you are planning a mid-career change to a different industry. Since you don’t possess experience in the new industry, you can show recruiters related skills, certifications, and abilities that you believe will be an asset to the new job.
  • This format is also a great choice if you have large gaps in your academic/professional life. By choosing to champion your functional skills over steady experience, you can reduce any negative impact that the gap may have on your job application. In particular, parents or candidates with illnesses who are returning to work after a few years can use functional resume format to great effect.
  • This resume format is an excellent way for fresh college graduates to show recruiters and hiring managers what competencies you can offer them, despite the absence of professional experience.
  • The functional format can help individuals with poor employment or academic records (such as quitting often or getting fired), why their skills can still be a value-addition to the company.

Challenges of functional resumes

  • Functional resume format can reduce your ability to provide context for the skills you mention. You may not be able to give examples of any previous work experience that put these skills to use.
  • This format can look very disorganized and make it very difficult for recruiters to chart your academic/professional history.
  • There is a perception amongst some hiring managers that functional resumes are used by candidates who have something negative to hide in their academic/work history.
  • Some online job boards (ex: Monster) don’t accept functional resume formats, and this can become problematic when you’re creating an account.


When to use functional resumes?

A functional resume format is ideal when you want the recruiter and hiring manager to focus on the value you add to the workforce instead of gaps/vulnerabilities in your resume. It’s a great way to justify why you’re worth investing in, despite not having the required expertise in a field. Candidates who are typically in unconventional jobs (ex: video game tester, art therapist, ethical hacker, spiritual coach, etc.) can use the functional resume format to highlight specific skills and traits when applying for more conventional jobs.

Final words

Both the chronological and functional resume formats can work well. But, it’s best to use them when they’re appropriate for the role. In doing so, you’ll ensure that your resume has a higher chance of standing out and being shortlisted for the job.

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