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A guide to writing a functional resume that stands out

December 30, 2022 - 12 min read

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Types of resumes

When to use a functional resume

Writing a functional resume

4 tips for writing a great resume

A resume that functions

Most hiring managers spend approximately seven seconds looking at a resume. That’s all it takes to decide whether you’ll get an interview

While they’re certainly noting your work experience, they’re also looking for things like typos, life experience, and education.

If you’re a recent graduate or newly employable, you might not have extensive industry experience, so it’s best to flaunt other notable qualities. That’s where a functional resume comes in. 

A functional resume is what one uses to focus on relevant skill sets and qualifications and omits work experience. We’ll differentiate between this skills-based resume and other resume types and note when the former is most appropriate, as well as how to write a functional resume.

Types of resumes

Here are the most common resume types and their function: 

Functional resume

This skills-based resume focuses on non-work areas, like transferable, soft, and technical skills and where they were acquired. If you lack work experience, this is a great way to show you still have the qualifications for a job. 

Chronological resume

This is the most common resume type. It outlines your professional history and education chronologically, typically starting with the most recent experience. You can list tasks and responsibilities you had for each position and in any relevant programs to show how you’ve gained relevant experience throughout your professional life.

Combination resume

A combination resume uses a mixture of chronological and functional resume formats. The skills section is typically listed first, with work history underneath. This comprehensive overview gives hiring managers a thorough understanding of what you bring to the table. 

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When to use a functional resume 

While combination resumes give hiring managers the most well-rounded understanding of your experience, functional resumes are a better fit for the following circumstances: 

  • Career change: You’re changing professions mid-career or late in life and have little to no relevant work history. 
  • New grad: You recently graduated from your college or university program and haven’t yet attained professional experience.
  • Big career break or sabbatical: You have a large employment gap that might look worrisome on an application.

Writing a functional resume

We’ve outlined the key sections of a functional resume with examples:

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Contact information

Put essential details like the following in the top right-hand corner of your resume: 

  • First and last name
  • A work-appropriate email address
  • Phone number
  • Your city and country
  • Links to your website or portfolio
  • Links to up-to-date professional social media, like a LinkedIn profile

Summary statement

Include a 2–4 sentence statement about your professional identity and why you’re applying for this position. Make sure to personalize this to each job ad and organization. 

Here are a few examples:

Recent graduate 

Recent graduate of [program name] from [university name]. Experience with [list skills acquired through internships or other experiences]. Knowledge of [areas of study that apply to job description]. Detailed-oriented and a resourceful problem solver [or other soft skills listed on job description]. 

Why it works: Highlights experience and demonstrates basic knowledge relevant to an entry-level position.

Career change 

Results-driven [or other soft skill] [field or job role] with over [number] years of experience in [industry]. In-depth knowledge of [hard skills]. Strong [skills] with a commitment to [value]. Recipient of [certification or award]. Achieved the [name a specific example of an accomplishment with stats, if possible]. Ability to thrive in fast-paced environments

Why it works: Places strong emphasis on hard and soft skills that are transferable to the desired company or industry. 

Significant gaps on resume

[Job title] with [years of experience]. Seeking to [goal] at [company name]. Have [most significant/relevant work accomplishments with stats]. Spent the last [number of years] developing my [2–3 soft skills]. 

Why it works: Explains what this person did during the career break and reflects accomplishments or acquired skill, like being a new mom or caregiver.

Skills section

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Skills and qualifications are the center of any resume. 

Carefully read the job description, study the company's values and mission statement, and align your language to both.

Outline three hard skills that are required or valuable to the job role, and be specific about how you acquired and used those skills with action verbs and statistics.

Imagine you’re transitioning from a sales to a project manager role. Highlight commonalities between the roles and use examples from your previous position to show proficiencies outlined in the job ad. 

Here’s an example:

Sales management

  • Acted as liaison between clients and the sales team. Managed five accounts for tech development companies and led and organized more than 10 employees.
  • Implemented digitized sales interface and increased team productivity by 25% and turnover by 45%, resulting in 2.5M in sales.
  • Increased sales quota by 230%. Exceeded sales quotas for six consecutive years.

Education section

Use this space to outline degree specifics while highlighting honors, achievements, or relevant courses and certifications.

4 tips for writing a great resume

Now that you know what to include in your functional resume, it’s time to start writing. Here are four tips for building an effective document:

1. Match the job description

Hiring managers spend a lot of time perfecting the job description to make sure they get the best candidates. Write down the requirements, responsibilities, and skills, and create a checklist you can mark off as you include each on your resume. 

Portrait-of-cheerful-young-manager-handshake-with-new-employee-functional-resume

For example, if a job ad mentions they’re looking for people who can “work independently and meet deadlines,” be sure your resume emphasizes a history of successfully working on your own and borrows their phrasing. Try including language like “comfortable with team and independent work” and “deadline-oriented” in your summary, skills, or work experience sections.

2. Show your hunger for learning

Curiosity is an essential trait for a successful career and a behavior that many employers actively seek out. Demonstrate a love for learning so hiring managers understand how you’ll approach obtaining new skills and experiences.

Like all hard and soft skills on your resume, show rather than tell. Describe experiences where you learned new tools, studied a certification, or polished a craft to advance your career or improve performance

3. Make it look good

Hiring managers often sift through hundreds of resumes to fill a position. And an applicant tracking software is likely taking a first pass at your resume, scanning it for essential keywords and moving it along. A cluttered resume with inconsistent formatting could be the difference between getting put in the “Yes” or “No” pile. 

Here are a few general rules to increase your chance your resume is chosen:

  • Guide the eye: A hiring manager wants to know one thing: do you have the experience and skills that fit the job description? Use white space, an easy-to-read font size, and appropriate headers to guide the eye to the most important information. Avoid overcrowding — it creates a frustrating reading experience. 
  • Don’t go business casual: Comic sans on a resume is the equivalent of showing up to your first day in sandals and bathing trunks — it’s not appropriate. Use professional typefaces such as Arial, Times New Roman, or Helvetica. Avoid bright colors or creative design elements if it isn’t relevant to the job posting or industry.

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  • Stay consistent: Consistency will take you far on a resume. It shows attention to detail and professionalism. Make sure bullets are the same style and formatted the same across the page, headers are the same size and font, and spacing is consistent. 
  • Try a template: If this is your first resume or you expect to make drastic changes to a previous one, try using a free template. Online resume builders offer a variety of styles with different customizing options to help you create a document you feel confident about.

4. Get a second opinion

Fresh perspectives are invaluable. Once your resume is created, ask for constructive feedback. If possible, reach out to someone with industry experience as they’ll better understand what employers are looking for. Friends and family with professional experience can also offer a fresh take if that’s not an option.

A resume that functions

Learning how to craft a good resume is an integral part of the job search. If a functional resume is the format that works best for your needs, pay careful attention to aligning your skills with what your potential employer is looking for to stand out from candidates that use the traditional resume format.

Don’t worry too much about lacking work experience. Show off personal achievements and skills with a comprehensive and well-constructed functional resume and you’ll have a good chance of getting that first interview.

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Published December 30, 2022

Erin Eatough, PhD

Sr. Insights Manager

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