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Functional and combination resume guide

Part 1: What's a functional resume? What's a combination resume? Do I need one? You'll find answers to these questions and more in this handy guide!

What is a functional resume?

If a chronological resume style doesn't immediately tell the reader why you suit your target role, then a functional or combination style could be a better choice.

You can create a functional resume by identifying the key areas of experience and skill required in your target role, and presenting your own experience grouped according to these headings.

This style can be a great way to show an employer how your accumulated knowledge, skill, competence and experience are a match for those required in your target role.

What is a combination resume?

Sometimes, presenting your work history in chronological order isn't the most effective way to sell your capabilities. This is true for example if you change career direction and apply for jobs in new industries or job functions. To an employer in a new industry, the names of your past employers and the names of the positions you have held may be meaningless or misunderstood.

A combination resume is a compromise between the pure functional and chronological resume styles. It presents your skills and experience grouped by functional heading, and supplements this with a brief employment history. The functional skills presentation shows why you are suited to the job, while the employment summary gives the reader insight into how you have arrived at this point in your career.

Employers are often keen to know about the positions you've held and companies you've worked for in the past, even if they aren't directly relevant. The functional style is often criticised because it leaves this important information out. For these reasons, the combination resume is more common than functional style.

When should I use them?

Both styles are often appropriate in these situations:

Career change

You're looking for a job in a new industry or function and plan to use your skills, knowledge and competencies to build your case for employment.

Unrelated or irrelevant experience

If you've worked in roles that have no relevance to your target role, or your work history might not be understood (and therefore undervalued) by an employer, it can make sense to focus the reader's attention on your skills rather than on where you worked in the past.

Career gaps

If you've been unemployed for an extended period or there are other gaps between jobs that you really don't feel like explaining in detail, then a functional style can be effective because it does not show the dates of your previous employment.

Frequent job change

Again you can obscure the fact that you've held many positions or have jumped from role to role in a short period of time, by using a functional resume stlye.

Overqualified / age

A chronological resume style would draw undue attention to your aggregate work experience or total years in the workforce, which may result in you being discriminated against.

Conservative industry

The alternative functional resume and combination resume styles are not well received in your industry, employers instead preferring a chronological resume style. This is often true of industries like banking, law and accouting.

Underqualified / early career

You are a student or otherwise are in the early stages of your career, and would like to include evidence of your skills not gained from traditionally paid employment, such as through volunteer work, college association participation and so on.

Remember, if there are aspects of your career that are not flattering, a judicious choice of resume style can help to get you through the pre-screening process and into an interview. Just remember that you'll probably be asked about the details of your past employment (which you should answer truthfully!), so you might not escape having to explain why you've moved jobs frequently etc.

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