Welcome to the in-depth guide to creating a functional resume. If you’re not sure it’s the resume you’re looking for, you’ll get the full lowdown here, or you can jump to the Resume Formats page to see your other options.
Table of Contents
What is a functional resume?
The functional resume format primarily highlights your skills and qualifications while placing less emphasis on your work experience and history.
The prevailing wisdom on functional resume formatting is that it is used to conceal or draw attention away from large gaps in employment; however, it is also suitable for anyone whose skills and experience cross a variety of fields and skillsets.
The functional resume format is closely related to the combination resume, which is becoming more popular in a day and age where people spend less time in a career vertical, and instead may have a wide range of experience across a number of industries.
Ultimately, on a single-page resume you have a finite amount of space to make the best possible case for an employer to give you an interview. So, if your job history doesn’t present a clean narrative that makes sense of your resume for the person reading it, the functional resume format can be used to pull it all together.
You’re re-entering the (normal) workforce
People who have been freelancing for some time are often challenged when creating their resume, as they may have worked for many companies on short contracts. In this case, a functional resume may be the way to go, as the reverse-chronological resume doesn’t work as cleanly.
Likewise, if you spent several years as a stay-at-home parent, the reverse-chronological resume might call immediate attention to the time you’ve been out of the workforce rather than focus on the skills and knowledge you bring to the table.
You have gaps in your employment history
Ok, let’s address this head on. No question, gaps in your employment history are not ideal. And while the functional resume is useful for helping to cover up some of these gaps (more on this below), you’re probably not going to get the job without addressing those gaps at some point in the hiring process.
Here’s the thing about gaps in your employment history: Your gaps are less important than your reasons for having gaps. In this sense, it’s really about establishing a framework of reasoning and decision-making that says the gap was more in your control than it was something that happened to you because you were unemployable.
If your gaps are due to necessity, like a family illness, they will generally be understood by potential employers and you should have no difficulty offering a genuine explanation. Remember to keep your explanation honest, to the point, and as positive as possible.
If you had a gap where you were traveling and trying different things, or went back to school, think about what drove you to go where you did and try the things you tried, or studied what you chose to study. Sincerity and passion are good qualities employers look for, and if you can speak about your gaps in this way, it will reflect positively on you as a candidate.
You are switching industries / making a big career change
Many job postings out there include a minimum experience requirement that can deter job seekers who haven’t worked in the field. In some cases, the experience requirement is appropriate; in others, it can be massively unnecessary.
People looking to switch industries or careers completely may find themselves in the ‘experience conundrum’, where they need experience in order to get experience in their new field. If this is you, using the reverse-chronological resume format might immediately call attention to your inexperience and put a damper on things before you even get going.
Enter the functional resume format. By highlighting the qualifications summary and relevant skills first, you’re making your most compelling case for a hiring manager to bring you in for an interview, while simultaneously hedging against your lack of experience.
And, for what it’s worth, many job postings will list lengthy experience requirements; don’t let these prevent you from applying anyway. For an example of how you can overcome this challenge, see Trump, Donald, 2016.
Functional resume samples
Click the image below to see a sample functional resume for a bartender:
Not the industry you’re looking for? View all resume samples.
How to structure a functional resume
1. Qualifications Summary
After your contact info at the top of your resume, the first thing the person reading it will come to is your qualifications summary. This is where you are making your elevator pitch to get the interview. You want to lay down a snappy few sentences that align with the job posting as closely as possible while also highlighting the core skills or qualifications that make you the ideal candidate.
Of all the parts of a functional resume, this is where you want to spend some quality time crafting your words for maximum impact. As it’s at the top of your resume, it’s one of the first things a hiring manager will read.
Long, boring, and irrelevant = best odds of landing in the rejected pile.
Punchy, engaging, and relevant = best odds of landing in the interview pile.
What do we mean by ‘relevant’? Relevant to the job you’re applying for. You’ll know what’s relevant by doing a bit of research on the position you’re applying for, and by reading the job posting carefully. Make note of any keywords that seem of particular importance and fit them in here if possible. Others should end up in your cover letter.
2. Relevant skills
When using the functional resume format, skills come before experience. The flow from top to bottom reads:
‘Here’s why I’m unique and awesome and you should hire me’ – Qualifications Summary
‘Here’s the relevant skills I’m bringing to the table’ – Relevant Skills
‘Here’s some information about my professional working history’ – Professional Experience
‘Here’s a snapshot of the highest level of education I’ve attained’ – Education
So how do you choose which relevant skills to list? This should be a combination of a) skills needed to do the job and listed in the job description, and b) skills you have.
Once you’ve identified the 3-4 skills that are most important for the position, you want to list 3 bullet points for each skill with examples from your life experience that demonstrate the skill in action. This is where you can get a little creative with your transferrable skills and figure out how to translate what you can do now into value for the job you want.
On specificity: The more specific you can be in your bullet point examples, the better. Specific means you can quantify what you’re saying, or in other words, you can back it up with some numbers. The difference for a hiring manager is understanding not just the tasks you did, but also getting an idea of your capability and achievements.
Ex: Non-specific: Served tables in busy pub
Ex: Specific: Served 10 table section in busy pub, averaging nearly $2,000 in sales per shift
Note: If you’re reading this while at your current job but thinking about making a career shift, start thinking about quantifying your value sooner rather than later. Figure out how the work you do adds value to the business, and specifically how your output is measured to determine that value.
Need more help with your skills section? Check out our How to Write a Skills for a Resume page here.
3. Professional Experience
The professional experience section on the functional resume is meant to show you have some experience doing something, but is not displayed as prominently so as to focus more attention on the skills and other qualifications you have for the position.
Tip: If you’re using the functional resume to conceal gaps in your employment history, then spend most of your time making the first two sections as outstanding as possible.
If your degree isn’t relevant to your field, or your last educational achievement was your high school diploma, keep this section short and sweet. Alternatively, consider changing the headline to ‘Education and Training’ and do a few relevant skills upgrade courses from an online university or local training center. This will fill out the section a little more and creates nice continuity with your relevant skills section. For more on what to include in your Education section, see our Education Writing Guide.
Tips for hiding unemployment gaps
Tip #1: Be upfront and claim it
As mentioned earlier, if you have gaps in your employment history, it’s unlikely you’re going to make it through the entire hiring process without somewhere addressing those gaps. So, if you have legitimate reason, you may choose to simply state it.
Claiming it can be a great idea for a few reasons. For one, it takes away any anxiety you may have around it; you’ve laid it all out on the table. Putting it on your resume makes it highly likely you’ll be asked about it directly, so if it’s something you can speak about with passion and excitement, it can be a real positive in an interview.
Tip #2: Years, not months
This one comes close to falsifying things, as there is a fair difference in saying you worked a job in ‘2014’ when you really worked there ‘Feb-Mar 2014’. That said, we’re on your side. The truth is flexible, but don’t bend it so far that it breaks. Getting caught out in a lie in an interview is a surefire way to not get the job.
Tip #3: Get some other credentials
Consider taking some online courses through sites like Udemy, Stanford Online, or Khan Academy. Even just taking a few interest courses shows you are an active learner, can contribute to your relevant skills and knowledge, and even be used generously to explain some of the gaps.
Tip #4: Stop sweating it so much
Put your energy toward making a compelling case for the interview in the other sections of your resume, and stop worrying so much about the gaps. You can’t do anything about the gaps now, and lots of people have them.
Figure out your best explanation for the gaps, the one that feels most honest and reasonable to you, practice saying it out loud, and put it behind you. The future is in front of you!
Questions about the functional resume format? Ask our resume experts in the comments below!