What Employers Really Think About Functional Resumes

Don’t think you can hide anything; HR veterans know all the tricks for cloaking employment gaps or skimpy experience.

Once upon a time, resume writers had a fallback format to deal with career-changers, resumes light on experience or clients with gaps in their employment histories: the functional resume. This type of resume format plays up an applicant’s experience and skills instead of showing a chronological work history.

There’s one problem with this approach: Employers detest it. For the most part, when they see a functional resume, they assume the job seeker’s got something to hide. Some of the things you hear them say about functional resumes: “A lot of buzzwords and fluff.” “Utterly unsuitable for my purposes.” “A total waste.”

They were happy to oblige Ladders with details on why this type of resume bothers them. Read on for this behind-the-scenes look at what employers think of functional resumes, along with their suggested alternatives for how to handle a bumpy career road.

Dialogue-ish prose doesn’t hide lack of experience

Adam Caller owns and runs Tutors International, a company that recruits specialist educators. His job assignments are challenging to fill, he said, so in order to get the right candidates, he plows through a whole lot of resumes.

Caller said he finds functional resumes “utterly unsuitable for my purposes.” Such resumes are so prose-heavy and information-sparse, he said, they actually disengage and distract the reader, giving the impression that the job seeker is trying to cover up limited job experience.

“I understand that covering a resume or CV in prose takes up space and gives the impression that more has been done than may have been done by the applicant, but… I prefer to see resumes and CVs that are accurate and detailed, and where descriptive prose is minimized,” he said.

Caller said it’s far more important that the writer is consistent in terms of layout and style, that she has chosen appropriately professional fonts and borders, and that she delineates header text by position and purpose.

You can’t hide length of tenure

For his part, Bruce Hurwitz, president and CEO of Hurwitz Strategic Staffing, called functional resumes “a total waste.”

“I, and every employer/client I have worked with, reject them out of hand,” he said. The reason is always the same, Hurwitz said: Employers and recruiters have to know how long a candidate stayed with former employers.

Experience is his teacher in this regard: Hurwitz said every time he’s received a functional resume and then decided contact the candidate, they’ve refused to send a chronological listing of positions. “They are hiding something,” he said. “So, in a way, a functional resume is very good; it tells the recipient that the candidate should not be considered.”

Functional resumes don’t tell employers enough

Jillian Zavitz, programs manager for the English-language training company TalktoCanada.com, said functional resumes don’t tell her what a job candidate can actually do. “They tell me what you have experience with,” she said. “For example: I worked in telemarketing for one day once. Wrote it on my functional resume: ‘I have experience in telemarketing.’ Yes, it’s not technically a lie, because I do have experience in it. But not much — and not enough to put on a resume.”

A better way to deal with bumpy work histories

Rather than having to plow through functional resumes to fill his international tutor openings, Tutors International’s Caller would rather see a clear record of key academic achievements; a list of previous employment (either paid or voluntary); and a summary of honors, interests and languages. He also likes to see GPAs, SAT/ACT results and the like. He doesn’t mind a resume being detailed; he just doesn’t want to see it puffed out with prose.

As far as how to treat career gaps or bumpy work histories, Caller prefers that dialogue-prose passages addressing such things go into a detailed application letter that accompanies the resume.

Zavitz also prefers resumes that are “clear, short and don’t include the kitchen sink,” she said. “It is easy to spot which resumes add the fluff and which ones are real.”