Chronological Resumes vs. Functional Resumes

Writing, or updating, your resume is never exactly pleasant, but it becomes especially difficult – not to mention stressful – when you’re unsure what resume format to use.

Whether you’re shooting for a specific position or simply brushing up the ol’ resume (which a successful professional should always be keeping current, in addition to managing their online profiles), it’s important to carefully consider your formatting options.

And there are several. In this post, we’ll discuss the two most common ways of formatting resumes – chronologically and functionally. What are their respective strengths and merits (as well as limitations and disadvantages)? Which should you, an accounting or finance professional, use, and when?

Chronological resumes
In a chronological resume, the bulk of the document consists of a list of your work experience laid out in reverse order, with your most recent job at the top, and your earliest (relevant) position at the bottom. Under each job title and accompanying date range, several bullet points can be used to demonstrate the key tasks the job entailed – for example, “Refined operational controls.”

The chronological resume is the industry standard; it’s by far and away the most commonly used format. Many employers prefer chronological resumes, as they clearly lay out a candidate’s career trajectory and make it difficult to conceal any unflattering information or details, such as significant employment gaps.

Clarity Recruitment President, Joe Diubaldo, says that this format isn’t only popular with employers: recruiters also tend to prefer chronological resumes.  “We see hundreds and hundreds of CVs and resumes every day,” he points out. To have to go through a candidate’s functional or other kind of resume with a fine-toothed comb, says Diubaldo, demands a lot more time on the part of the recruiter.

The chronological resume is the industry standard; it’s by far and away the most commonly used format.

The chronological format, by contrast, provides a quick snapshot of the logical progression of a candidate’s career. It can reveal if a candidate’s star is rising (perhaps because they’ve made a point of expanding their skillset and continuing their professional development), or if they’ve been on cruise control. “Chronological resumes let us track what a candidate has done and where they’ve been,” Diubaldo explains. “As recruiters, we need to be able to articulate this information quickly and concisely to prospective employers.”

Frank Wdowczyk, Senior Recruitment Partner at Clarity Recruitment, agrees. The chronological format, he says, is more efficient and straightforward than other styles. If, for example, an employer wants to hire someone with technology expertise, she’ll likely want someone who has had experience working with technology recently – not ten years ago. “A chronological resume,” Wdowczyk says, “shows me exactly when someone performed a certain task, and exactly where they performed it” – the kind of information that can be decisive for hiring decisions.

Functional resumes
The functional format emphasizes your skills and experiences, rather than your precise work history. The bulk of the document is taken up by a comprehensive list of your skills. Bullet points are used to elaborate on how you manifested these skills in various past roles (which are alluded to but not spelled out in detail).

Functional resumes aren’t particularly popular or common (except for executive positions, for which a candidate’s broader career and industry achievements will tend to matter more than any individual titles or roles they might have held). In some cases, however, the functional format can be a smart way to go about structuring your resume.

For example, if you just recently graduated from school and don’t have much work experience, or if you were laid off and struggled to find the right rebound job, resulting in a long gap in employment, or if you are looking to break into a new industry, a functional resume is likely the best course for you. It gives you a chance to highlight your key strengths and to show your experience in a more indirect way.

In some cases, the functional format can be a smart way to go about structuring your resume.

Proceed with caution, however. As Wdowczyk points out, functional resumes can arouse suspicions on the part of recruiters and hiring managers. “When I see a functional resume, my first instinct is to suspect the candidate of trying to hide something – whether it’s a layoff, or a string of shorter roles. Often, when I get a functional resume, I find myself playing ‘spot the red flag,’ as opposed to actually reading the resume itself.”

As such, it’s important that you provide as much detail as you possibly can, so as to allay these kinds of concerns.

Final thoughts
Clearly, the chronological resume is the favoured format; barring any exceptional circumstances, you should opt for it over a functional resume. There are, however, instances where you might be best served by a hybrid approach. For example, if you have some, but not much, work experience related to the jobs you’re applying to, you can recount your skills and experience first, followed by a (presumably shorter) list of pertinent past jobs.

No matter what format you ultimately settle upon, it’s important that your resume be thoughtful, well-written, and organized. Style matters, but where resumes are concerned, there’s no substitute for substance.

Let us know what you think! At Clarity Recruitment, we’re always interested in hearing from accounting and finance professionals like yourselves, who are ready for new, exciting opportunities that can take their careers to the next level. And be sure to follow us on Twitter (@clarityrecruits) and connect with us on Facebook for more great tips and advice!