What will deliver the knock-out punch? A chronological or functional format?

With so many people avoiding the proverbial career pigeon-holing, managing vocational shifts, gaps in employment, and irrelevant employment durations all while trying to leverage their skills, there is a new movement afoot to more closely examine the ‘pluses’ of functional (or skills-based) résumé formats. In fact, I recently met with a top-notch human resources professional who bluntly told me, “If applicants are over 35 years old, I’d much rather receive a functional layout so I can see what you can do and what you’ve done.” Now that’s pretty revolutionary!

There are pros and cons of utilizing both formats, which will be detailed in a moment. On top of that, consider this: the format you choose which fits your needs best might actually be the complete opposite of what the hiring manager prefers.

So, now what to do? Which format will ultimately provide you with the ‘best foot forward’ and deliver the knock-out punch to a prospective employer?

The best rule of thumb to use when determining which layout to use is to decide the following:

Am I trying to showcase my skills and abilities?


Am I trying to provide a chronology of progressive advancement and stability in a particular field?

A better way to understand this is to look at the formats and how they communicate your background:

Shows where you worked, what title you held and when you worked… and oh, by the way, here’s what you did

Shows your skills and accomplishments under those skills… and oh, by the way, here’s where you worked, what title you held and when you worked

The Pros and Cons of Chronological Résumés
Chronological formats, for the longest time, have enjoyed status as the ‘industry standard’, particularly when people had long-term employment stints… as in back in the days when our parents worked at the same company or two for decades until retirement. Gone are those days! Mobility is vital to keeping one’s career vibrant and well-armed with new skill sets.

However, chronological résumés do have a loyal following. Many human resource managers were trained in this format and therefore have a preference in seeing this style. They are often suspicious of different styles as a result, but that mindset is slowly getting broken down. The downside of chronological formats is that it literally pigeon-holes a person- the natural inclination of the reader is to search for the employer, job title and employment dates, then review accomplishments and skills. This automatically typecasts an applicant for a particular field and employment level in the mind of the hiring manager. For applicants who might want to catapult themselves into a different industry or rise to a new career level, this can be very frustrating, and stymie those very efforts.

The Pros and Cons of Functional (Skills-based)Résumés
As mentioned before, functional formats are newer, and many human resource/hiring managers are somewhat suspect of this style. “What is this person hiding?” is often a question asked by hiring managers when presented with a functional résumé. However, many professionals are learning that this format can actually be more helpful in more clearly conveying an applicant’s expertise areas with bulleted accomplishments under those umbrella skills. The employment experience is listed later in the document, rather than presented front-and-center, thereby emphasizing the applicant’s skills rather simply listing the employer first.

The advantage of this overall format is that allows you to showcase your career specialization, reduce repetition of similar job descriptions and leverage your skills into new career pathways. Many baby boomers seeking ‘encore’ careers that shift their direction from their ‘vocation’ to their ‘avocation’ are utilizing this format to capitalize on their strengths and expertise.

For those who are a bit faint-hearted, there are ‘combination formats’ which can include accomplishments-oriented and creative formats (i.e. for visual arts and graphic design-types of jobs), and can accomplish a clear communication of both skills and stability of employment simultaneously.

Determining which format to use truly requires understanding which style best suits your background, while at the same time, you should research who might be reading it and what is exactly they prefer as a résumé style!