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The Functional Resumé: Focus on What You Can Do

A resumé is a tool designed to get you an interview. An effective resumé is a 1 or 2 page summary that presents your education, skills and work history to a potential employer and shows that you’re a good fit for the job.

The chronological resumé and the combination resumé are most common resumé formats. Both include details about your employment background.

But what if you don’t want to focus on your employment history. For example, you might be:

  • looking for work for the first time
  • re-entering the workforce after raising a family
  • making a career change
  • wanting to use talents or abilities you didn’t use in your previous jobs
  • wanting to focus on skills you’ve used in several unrelated jobs
  • looking for work after a period of illness or travel
  • looking for work after serving time in a correctional facility

If you’re in any of these situations, you may want to think about using a functional resumé. This format lets you organize your resumé around your skills, abilities and accomplishments rather than your employment history.

A functional resumé highlights what you did, rather than where and when. It focuses on specific skills you have gained—through school, hobbies, paid employment or volunteer work—that relate directly to the work you’re seeking. With a functional resumé you might decide not to include your employment history or you might simply list previous employers without giving specific dates of employment.

Be aware that not all employers like functional resumés

Employers may prefer to see the details of your employment history so that they can assess your background. On the other hand, keep in mind that the best resumé for you is one that effectively highlights your skills and accomplishments. If a chronological or a combination resumé points to gaps in your past employment, a functional resumé may still be your best choice.

What does a functional resumé include?

A functional resumé includes two key elements:

  1. A career objective. Describe the type of work you’re looking for and your most relevant qualification(s). An objective will help you select and organize the skills you want to focus on. After you’ve written your resumé, you can decide whether or not to include the objective in the final copy.
  2. A list of key skill areas or functional areas. Highlight 3 to 6 skill areas that relate closely to the job you’re applying for. Support each skill with an example of how you used it in a work, school or volunteer situation.

Use the following outline and examples to help you prepare your own functional resumé:

  • Outline 
  • Example 1 (PDF)—an experienced worker returning to the workforce after a long absence
  • Example 2 (PDF)—career changer

Use a functional resumé to emphasize your skills and abilities

The functional resumé can help you introduce yourself and your experience to an employer without focusing on your work history. This type of resumé highlights how your skills relate to the requirements of the job. It can be a good choice for you when you want an employer to focus on what you can do in the future, rather than on what you've done in the past.

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