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The Chronological Format vs The Functional-Chronological Format: Which One Should You Use for Your Resume?

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When drafting your resume in preparation for your job hunt, it is important to consider which resume format you want to use: the Chronological or the Functional-Chronological. Each one has its advantages and disadvantages, so it’s especially important to understand your situation and pick the one that will present your experience, accomplishments, and education, among other things, in the best way possible.

The Chronological Format

In this type of resume, you discuss your work background in reverse chronological order, detailing all your employers, their locations by city and state, your dates of employment, your job titles, and your key accomplishments and responsibilities.

Elaborate on the jobs where your activities are the most pertinent to your job objective. Say little, if anything, about your other assignments. This way, the prospective employers will focus on your strengths and qualifications. In the event that you've held more than one position at a company, concentrate on the job that's the most important.

List your accomplishments in the order in which they will present the strongest case for your capability. Also begin each one with an "action" word (don't begin by stating, "I. . . ") and use numbers to convey their extent. In addition, indent your accomplishments and precede. This type of layout will make your accomplishments stand out.

When thinking about your different activities and accomplishments, be sure to include anything you've done that was new and different or, more important, innovative, and resourceful. Also state the specific benefit the company derived from your work.

If your background is administrative and doesn't lend itself to visible accomplishments, then state your responsibilities, indicating their scope when possible. For example, cite the number of people or forms you processed each day, the dollar volume of the project you worked on, or the size of the facility, department, or company at which you worked.

When discussing responsibilities, it's acceptable to do so in a paragraph instead of in separate sentences preceded by a dash or bullet. Responsibilities are usually less dramatic than accomplishments and therefore don't warrant this special treatment.

In the event that you haven't worked in many years and are now reentering the work force, include any relevant part-time jobs or volunteer work. If your life as a college student has come to an end and you’re beginning your job search without having had a full time job, cite any part-time jobs and summer employment. Also note the portion of your education you may have paid for.

Possible titles for this section include "Experience," "Work Experience," "Professional Experience," and "Work Background."

The chronological format is best for job-seekers whose experience consists of progressive growth into positions of increased responsibility, since this format automatically emphasizes growth. Also, due to the prominence of employers' names, the format will highlight the fact that you've worked for prestigious companies, if this was the case.

The chronological approach can also present certain problems. First of all, if your current or most recent position doesn't directly relate to your job objective, you may instantly be disqualified as a candidate. Employers usually prefer to hire people who are currently performing closely related work, since this will enable them to make an immediate contribution. This is a particular problem for job-seekers who are trying to change careers as well as for individuals whose pertinent experience appears toward the end of their resume. Often, these people's resumes aren't read in their entirety and employers fail to learn about their qualifications. (The functional-chronological format will prevent this situation from occurring.)

Second, this format may force you to include experiences that you would prefer not to mention, such as a reduction in responsibilities or having held positions that are unrelated to your job objective.

Third, because the chronological format includes dates of employment, it will reveal periods of unemployment and job-hopping, as well as the fact that you have spent only a short amount of time in a certain position, should any of these be the case.

The Functional-Chronological Format

In this format, you discuss your accomplishments and responsibilities according to function, or type of activity performed, and then state your employment history in reverse chronological order. Including job titles is optional. Since the functional headings immediately call attention to your strengths, it's less important to use bullets or dashes to highlight your accomplishments.

There are four advantages to the functional-chronological format:

First, you can instantly set forth any part of your background (the experience may be buried in a chronological resume).

Second, you can convey that you have expertise in several functional areas. For example, you can highlight a dual capability in any of the following; administration, data processing, engineering, finance, manufacturing, marketing, research and development, or sales; or you can include knowledge of a particular industry, product line, or service, or the fact that you have a particular set of skills in a certain area. This latitude is especially useful to senior-level job-seekers who have both breadth and depth of experience.

Third, because the format begins with strengths and accomplishments, it diminishes the impact of liabilities such as job-hopping and periods of unemployment. These shortcomings aren't noted until after qualifications have been clearly established.

Fourth, the format will conceal a history of unrelated positions, a background that is frowned upon by employers since it demonstrates a lack of career direction.

The functional-chronological format is especially effective for job-seekers who want to make a career change, since it doesn't start with their most recent experience, which is usually inapplicable, as the chronological format does. Career-changers can also highlight those parts of their backgrounds that would usually appear toward the end of a chronological resume such as community activities and hobbies when they would demonstrate their qualifications for the position they're pursuing.
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