Resumes & Cover Letters

Chronological vs Functional Resumes: What is the Difference?

February 22, 2021

Picking the right format for your resume can help you craft a document that successfully promotes you as an appealing job candidate. There are a variety of formats to choose from, each with its individual pros and cons. If you are considering which format to use, you will likely need to decide between chronological and functional. In this article, we w explain what chronological and functional resumes are, the primary differences between them and which you should choose for your job search.

Read more: Resume Samples and Examples for 2020

What is a chronological resume?

A chronological resume is a document that lists your work history and accomplishments in reverse chronological order. This means that your most recent job is listed first, followed by each of your previous positions, ending with your earliest (typically up to a combined 10-year period). A chronological resume usually includes an objective statement or summary at the top of the page. Chronological resumes also feature your educational background, either alongside your certifications or in an individual section. In a chronological resume, your skills and other qualifications are typically listed toward the bottom of the page.

Chronological format is the more traditional way to write a resume and is the preferred method for many job candidates and employers.

Read more: 6 Universal Rules for Resume Writing

What is a functional resume?

A functional resume focuses on your skills and abilities rather than your work history. The goal of a functional resume is to prove to your reader that you are capable of carrying out the duties required by the job you are applying for. Functional resumes begin with an in-depth overview of your professional skills and qualifications. This typically involves a bulleted list under each entry that concisely explains how you have used the skill successfully in the workplace.

Any certifications, educational degrees and licenses are listed together on a functional resume. Many functional resumes also include a work history section, but it is typically brief and listed beneath your skills.

Read more: 10 Resume Writing Tips to Help You Land a Job

Differences between chronological and functional resumes

There are several key differences between chronological and functional resumes, including:

Structure

The most obvious difference between chronological and functional resumes is their physical appearance. A resume's format dictates what information is included and how it is positioned within the document. Chronological resumes typically begin by listing your name, contact information and an objective statement or summary at the top of the page.

Next, a chronological resume would feature a comprehensive overview of your past work history, in order of the most recent to earliest. In the bottom half of a chronological resume, you include separate sections summarizing your educational background, skillset and certifications.

Functional resumes are formatted much differently. They also begin with your name and contact information, but then typically move right into a detailed overview of your professional skills and abilities. You can write this overview in paragraph form, but using a bulleted list is typically more organized and easier to read.

The list of skills can also include professional accomplishments like awards, certificates or commendations. Your educational achievements and relevant work history entries are typically listed together near the end of a functional resume.

Read more: 3 Best Resume Formats With Examples

Focus

Chronological resumes focus on past experience while functional resumes prioritize future potential. When you are writing a chronological resume, your goal is to give your reader a structured overview of where your career path has taken you thus far. A chronological resume shows growth and maturity by telling the story of where you started, how you advanced and what you are working toward.

Conversely, functional resumes are less concerned with where you came from and more so with where you are going. Functional resumes focus on portraying you as a competent and skilled individual with the potential to succeed in your potential employer's workplace.

The evidence for your value is not based primarily on your practical experience, but rather on the specific skillset you could bring to the job. A functional resume convinces potential employers that you are more than equipped to handle the job's requirements and that you would be an asset to their team.

Perception

These resume styles also differ in how they are perceived. Most employers are more familiar with chronological resumes and some may see functional resumes as disorganized or incomplete. Other employers may be looking for candidates who can succeed in a particular industry and may disregard chronological resumes that feature work history in another field. Both chronological and functional resumes can successfully promote you as a job candidate, but their impact depends significantly on the attitude of your reader and the specific requirements of the open position.

Which style should you choose?

Choosing between the functional and chronological formats when writing your resume depends primarily on how you want to promote yourself. Consider the following when structuring your own:

  • If you are an accomplished professional who is looking for a higher position in your current industry, a chronological resume can show how and where you acquired your experience and your familiarity with the field.

  • If you have held a variety of job titles and are looking for an entry-level position in a new industry, a functional resume can help you highlight your skills and shift potential employer's attention away from your inconsistent work history.

  • Chronological resumes are most beneficial for job applicants with a structured work history and a clear career path.

  • Professionals who got an entry-level position in their degree field and who have worked their way up to a higher position in a company should probably use a chronological resume.

  • Functional resumes are advisable for individuals who have a non-standard work history or who have gaps in their career timelines.

  • Professionals who are looking to make a mid-life career change can also benefit from using a functional resume to highlight their skills and their potential for success in a new role.

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