TIPS & MYTHS

KILLER MYTH #2:
THE “FUNCTIONAL” (OR “SKILLS-CENTERED”) RÉSUMÉ

 

SUMMARY: When people call me and say that they’ve sent out lots of résumés and gotten no response whatever, the usual reason is that they’re using a “functional résumé.” “Functional résumés” never worked for anyone. (Unless the hiring person was exceptionally foolish.) Normally, employers drop these résumés straight into the trash.

The idea of the functional résumé looks like it started out long ago as the half-assed theory of some “creative” résumé writer who didn’t know even the basics of their job—a very common motive for that kind of “creativity.” It got into print (this was before the Web), and has been picked up and repeated by résumé “experts” ever since, as they copy and re-hash what others have already written. That’s all there is to it.

 

THE STORY:

“Functional résumés” (also called “skills-centered” résumés) don’t show skills and experience in connection with your job history—what you did for each employer. Instead, they give only a list of employers, job titles, and dates, and put everything else—skills, experience, projects, etc.—in a separate skills section, with no chronological framework or links to when or where the skills were exercised.

HR people and hiring managers HATE these résumés, since they don’t back up your claims with a concrete, verifiable history, don’t allow readers to form a picture of what you did at each job, and give no idea of how recent is your experience in any particular skill or subspecialty. There’s not even any assurance that the skills listed were ever exercised in a professional context at all. Functional résumés go straight into the trash—there are always many more résumés in the pile.

Talk about “functional” versus “chronological” résumés is an example of the terminology hype that is very common in the résumé business. The distinction between functional presentation and chronological presentation is a mildly interesting theoretical distinction, and can help you learn about how to approach the treatment of certain elements within a résumé. But in practice, virtually all good résumés are chronological—the only non-chronological element is the brief summary section at the head of the résumé, which gives highlights intended to show that the rest of the résumé is worth reading.

Professionals in healthcare and some other fields may use purely chronological résumés, with no highlights section. On the other hand, hands-on IT and tech people often benefit from a longer functional section, but that’s in addition to a full chronological section, not instead of it—these résumés can run to five or six pages. And in IT résumés, the functional section consists mainly of lists of software and hardware names—not soft skills. The art is finding the right balance for each job-seeker, and using each in the right place in the résumé. This will mean, as I’ve said, that the chronological side is very much dominant, because only that will give employers the history needed to back up the claims of competence.

In fact, leaving out the history and just listing skills is well known, among employers and among résumé writers, as a way to cover up a lack of experience, or, even worse, a problem background. If you look around, you’ll see a fair number of résumé services that make a selling point of this in their websites.

You’ll also see a good number of résumé professionals who will tell you, as I am, that functional résumés are no good at all. But this is recent. When I started out (in 2008, with an earlier version of this article), there weren’t a lot of people in the résumé business pointing out the problem.

And others, such as career counselors, freelance writers, your friends, and your relatives, are even slower to get the word.

Even now, you’ll find nationally known and highly certified résumé consultants who tout résumés that are almost purely “functional”—that is, they list most or all major skills and achievements separately from your job history. Somehow, it doesn’t seem to occur to them that employers may be aware of this obvious trick.

They don’t seem to have gotten the word that their résumés are being tossed into the trash. That’s probably because these are people who, though they may have started out writing résumés professionally, now make their real money from lecturing, coaching, and selling books. (That’s one of the economic realities of the résumé business.) They clearly have no serious professional writing or editing background, and don’t do research to see if their practices actually work.

In fact, “functional résumé” is an old, old buzzword (it goes back before the Internet), a concept that keeps getting repeated in books and articles by people who just copy from older sources and don’t check their facts.

Functional résumés never worked, and they’re even more disastrous in today’s age of automated résumé processing. Résumé-processing systems are focused largely on identifying the history, by detecting dates and company names followed by bullet points. They also look for sections with common titles like “Education”. What they don’t look for, and don’t prioritize or perhaps even process, is assertions with no traceable connection to history. In short, automated résumé processing systems—call them ATS, AI, or whatever, don’t like functional résumés any more than human recruiters do.

Don’t take my word for it:

Try doing a Web search for the following phrase: functional resumes don’t work. Also, try recruiters hate functional resumes—or, if you think that’s a biased query, try recruiters like functional resumes. You’ll see many discussions of that topic, and if you read the comment threads you find, you’ll see many comments from HR people to the effect that functional résumés get thrown immediately in the trash. In more recent threads, you’ll learn that ATS systems are apt to reject them too, before a human even sees them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The man who sees two or three  
generations is like someone who
sits in a conjurer’s booth at a fair and
sees the tricks two or three times.
They are meant to be seen only once.”

— Arthur Schopenhauer,   
  (Studies in Pessimism)   

 

 

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