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Chronological vs. Functional: How to Format Your Resume

by John Nicholson, Resumes That Jump
Originally published: Jul 28, 2009

The conventional wisdom among resume writers has long been that there are two main ways to format your resume:

  1. Chronological - this groups your work experience by job, in reverse chronological order
  2. Functional - this groups your work experience by skill area, and then lists all of your companies, positions, and dates in a quick summary near the end of your resume

Sample Chronological Section

ABC Industries (New York, NY) 2006 - 2008
Senior Software Developer

  • Supervised team of 4 developers.
  • Initiated new project management process that increased on-time software delivery by 30%.
  • [And so on ...]

Sample Functional Section

Project Management

  • Utilized Microsoft Project on 8 major software projects.
  • Initiated new project management process that increased on-time software delivery by 30%.
  • [And so on ...]

In the last 5 to 10 years, a third format has emerged -- the "hybrid resume" -- that combines the above two. In most interpretations, it keeps the chronological "base" and adds a skills-focused introductory section. In my opinion, this is what a chronological resume always should be, and it confuses things to call this a "hybrid". I prefer to just call it a chronological resume; if it's missing a skills-based intro section, then it's just a deficient chronological resume.

Which format should you use?

Generally the advice from experts is to use chronological if the job you're seeking is a natural progression from your existing experience, and to use a functional resume if you are changing careers, have big employment gaps, or if the skills you need for the job at hand won't be obvious from a chronological presentation.

I disagree, and think a chronological format is almost always the best approach. Even if a chronological resume is going to expose skills or employment gaps, it's still better than a functional resume in nearly all cases ... for two big reasons:

  1. Functional resumes are unconventional and confusing. I think it's somewhat natural to think about people's skills and experience based on where they were at the time they picked them up. Whether it's natural or not, it has become natural for hiring managers and recruiters, since most resumes are chronological. You may think that, by throwing a less frequently used format in front of your readers, you'll stand out more. Maybe, but you'll be frustrating them in the process -- as they try to figure out which experience goes with which job -- and that's not how you want to stand out.

  2. Functional resumes cause suspicion. Recruiters see resumes all the time, and they're well aware that most people use a functional format to hide a skill or employment gap. As Louise Fletcher explains, functional resumes cause recruiters to go into detective mode -- trying to find out what you're hiding -- or to just toss it aside.

So don't let experts sell you on the need to evaluate and choose from numerous resume formats. There's really only one option that's right for you: a chronological resume.