Chronological vs Functional resumes

Written by Nick Thompson, our VP of Recruiting for hi-tech industries for over 15 years. He has seen hundreds of  thousands of resumes. Here are his thoughts…

First, we should probably define the differences between a functional and chronological resume.

FUNCTIONAL RESUMES highlight skills and experiences no matter when they happened in your life history. For example, for a Software Managerial role; I could detail out my experiences using various software languages and how I used them in projects. Then I could dive into my managerial experience and leadership capabilities. Under all of that is usually a listing of date ranges and the associated jobs that correspond to my career.

CHRONOLOGICAL RESUMES typically include in reverse chronological order: The job title, followed by bullets, or paragraphs, that describe the specific skills and experiences that are associated with that particular job. This would include any leadership experiences, or initiatives you originated or implemented during the tenure of that role.

Which one is ‘better’?

First and foremost, we will assume both versions have the appropriate experiences and skills detailed out, so the only difference is the formatting discussed above.

I can only answer this from my personal perspective as a reviewer of hundreds of thousands of resumes (the number is closer to half a million, which is real, and conservative, I did the math!)

When reviewing a chronological resume, most times I scroll to the most recent job experience to see if I hit the jackpot and the candidate is doing exactly what I am looking for. Then I work my way down through the past jobs to judge if the person brings to the table the full scope of what I need, or fills in shortcomings the most recent role is lacking. This is a subjective process that is based on the hiring company’s criteria for the role.

Compare that to reviewing a functional resume, where I end up having to read through all the skills and experiences that sound amazing for the role I am working on. Woohoo, I struck gold! I make my way down to the employment listings, to see the experience I was looking for was from 15 years ago! For the last ten years this person has been running a Llama farm! (Pause while I  pull out what little hair I have remaining) Not that there is anything wrong with Llamas (Watch out they spit!), but companies generally want the applicable skills/experiences to be more up to date. Now I either disqualify the person or have to talk to them to suss out if they really do have the right experiences. All of this is a much longer process than with a chronological resume.

For example, the skill ‘ability to lead large groups’ looks great in the functional resume. It takes on a different meaning when that same statement appears in a chronological resume under the job title of ‘Llama herder’.

All of this is not cut and dry though, another type of resume, which I would argue is the best, is a bit of a hybrid of these two. You can have some skills and experiences up top, but ALSO follow up with chronological detail so we can see WHEN you accrued/used the above mentioned skills.

I will be driving this home almost every time I speak of resumes, but the purpose of a resume is TO GET THE COMPANY TO WANT TO TALK TO YOU FURTHER. That’s it!

Using that benchmark, the functional resume more often than not creates uncertainty in the reader about the qualifications of the candidate to fit the role. Whereas a well written chronological resume can accomplish the goal of gaining attention at first glance.