When Do I Use a Functional Format?

Show, Don't Tell

A lack of job experience doesn't have to be a liability. Using a functional resume can highlight other things that make you stand out to employers.

Without a lot of work experience to help pad your resume, you may end up with a document that looks small and insignificant. It certainly does not do justice to the skills you have.

For the first-time job seeker, a chronological resume, which lists your work experience in sequential order, may actually be a liability. But a resume is still the first and best way of introducing yourself to your potential employer.

So, how do you turn lack of paid work experience into something that would appeal to a prospective employer?

Try a different approach. Opt for a functional resume instead.

What Is It?

A functional resume highlights your skills. It allows you to put them in an order that will draw attention to the contributions you can make to the position in question, not how many other jobs you have held.

When you use a functional resume, you have to present yourself in a way that the reader will quickly get to know you.

Categories or headings are used to separate or highlight particular skills you have. Each category is then further explained by using vivid, descriptive statements that detail the responsibilities you had, the duties you performed and the results you achieved.

The more information you give your reader, the more they will learn about you and perhaps see past the lack of work experience. Make them focus on talents and attributes that you have and what you can bring to the job.

"Functional resumes allow you to group skills areas together in order to convince an employer you can fill the specific requirements of the job," explains resume writing professional Lynne O'Connor.

The Pros

Functional resumes help to separate the job from the skill. They can take an ordinary job, such as babysitting for a neighbor, and translate it into very marketable skills about infant and child-care experience. By being creative, you can introduce to your prospective employer the valued attributes of patience, responsibility and dependability.

"High school students will not have had extensive job history and experience. The functional format can better represent their value to a future employer than would a chronological format," says Frank Fox, executive director of the Professional Association of Resume Writers.

By using a functional resume, you are not presenting yourself as someone who has never worked before and who doesn't have any specific talents to offer -- which would be the result of a fairly blank chronological resume.

"Try answering the question: Why should this company hire me?" says Fox.

Use your past experiences to support your answer. Have your functional resume sum up all of your skills so that the answer is evident to both you and the person reading your resume.

For example, if you are applying for a job at a busy retail store, describe experiences that you have had keeping calm under pressure in other situations, such as athletics or academics. Put this information under a heading called character traits.

"These sections should convey personality traits that would make the candidate a valuable addition to the company's staff," says Fox.

The Cons

If functional resumes are done carelessly, they may serve to confuse your prospective employers rather than entice them. Take the time to devise thoughtful headings and categories that really underscore the skills and talents you bring to the job.

For example, make sure you avoid cliches like "people person." Rather, talk about strong communication skills and give concrete examples of them to illustrate your skill.

Make sure that you describe in precise detail what skills you have gained in a certain activity. You might want to add a short paragraph relating what the incident was and what you have gained from the experience to give the reader a broader perspective of your skill set.

Another disadvantage is that since chronological resumes are the more typical example of a resume, an employer may be puzzled by the appearance of a functional resume.

One way to surmount that is to do your homework.

Make sure that you thoroughly research the company before sending in your resume. That way, you may have an upper hand in customizing your functional resume to the type of work that the company does.

"Knowledge of the company, the position, the industry and the field will be the student's best weapon in the job-hunting jungle," say Gail Taylor, a resume writing professional.

Setting It Up

A functional resume allows you some creativity and freedom to showcase your talents by using headings and short, descriptive paragraphs to describe yourself.

Some possible categories or headings may be leadership, initiative, communication and skills. If you played an active role in a youth group at your local church, you can parlay that experience into qualities that are desirable and valuable in the working world.

By writing brief but good descriptions about what you did at youth group (setting up meetings, organizing activities or just leading the group through its regular meeting), you are communicating a very valuable skill set to your potential employer.

By organizing your life experiences into headings that describe or detail a particular skill, you can show off your talents to a prospective employer without having had many years of work history.

Think about other skills that you have learned from other jobs or volunteer situations. For example, if you worked on a fund-raising project at school, you may have learned budgeting skills, basic accounting practices or advertising and marketing techniques. Use those activities and play up your skills by detailing what you have learned.

But don't forget to proofread. Read it and read it again. Show it to others and ask their opinion.

"Take your time to create a first-class resume that showcases your skills, experience and who you really are," adds O'Connor.

"Grammar, punctuation, spelling, spacing, layout and format are the tools you use to distinguish yourself as someone who pays close attention to detail, has excellent communication skills and makes an extra effort."


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