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Job Magician The Functional Resume:  Don't Do It!  

Lots of books tell you that you should concentrate on functional skills in your resume, and that is true – these certainly need to be highlighted.

However, the classic functional resume that doesn’t tie these to the job and setting leaves the reader in outer space.
  
But, you counter, isn’t the idea to leave your reader wanting to know more and give you a call?

Of course.

But after reading your functional resume, why should he?  Why is the functional format, with accomplishments presented out of context, so enticing?


Here are some typical tidbits from a functional resume, followed by an explanation of why they confuse the employer:

  • Maintained full profit and loss responsibility, increasing profits by 27% in a two-year period.
(What happed in the other years?  What was the industry, and what was its average profit increase during that period?  What were the profits running when you started?)

  • Led sale of business to private equity firm that enabled ownership to realize a multiplier of 9.4 times EBITDA.

    (What was the return on investment? What was EBITDA compared to the company sales and assets? What market were you in?  How did this sale compare to others in your industry? 9.4 times EBITDA is an above average multiplier for private equity investments, and wonderful if this is a $110-million company in an old guard, declining manufacturing industry, but a multiplier of 9.4 is a fire-sale price if this is a 2-year-old company occupying a fast-growing biotech niche with net sales of $17-million, EBITDA of $375,000, and assets of $3.2-million.)

  • Implemented lean principles program in my department that increased throughput by 28% while decreasing manpower by 11%.

    (Did capital spending go up?  Did production get moved to China anyway?  What happened to productivity during that [unspecified in your functional resume] period throughout the lobster trap manufacturing industry?)


The context in which you achieved something is crucial.  An increase in market share of 7% for a Procter & Gamble brand manager is fantastic, because she started with a product that already had placement in every retailer in the country, and that already had a 39% market share.  However, for a young business marketing a breakthrough product, a 7% market share gain would be abysmal. Ask the Headhunter recommends building a resume that highlights your work skills and doesn’t include any of the job titles or company names or years of service.  He’s right on one point.  Highlighting your work skills and what you can do for the employer is crucial.  However, despite what Ask the Headhunter says, the names of your employers and dates worked are critical.

Someone who started their career with Procter & Gamble had a different upbringing from the person who started with General Electric, and both certainly had a different experience from someone who started at Turnipheads Software Company. If what happened 25 years ago was unimportant, why is your college degree listed on your resume at all?  In part, it’s because someone with a Duke degree generally has more grey matter than does a graduate of Northeast Nowhere State, and the Duke grad learned under driven professors whose work ethic was probably passed on to the students.  For the same reason, your early jobs and employers are important.  

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As are dates.  Employers do want to know whether you’re going to stick around long enough to pay for their investment in training you, and also whether you were in your past positions long enough to experience the long-term results of your actions.

Functional resumes generally come from job hoppers, people with checkered job histories (lots of demotions, lateral moves and firings), and career changers.  The first two types are using the functional resume to cover things up.  The last one is trying to portray himself as something he isn’t.

Note for the career changer:  You don’t have to portray yourself as something you’re not (you’re not going to fool anyone, anyway).  If you are, for example, a consumer products marketing executive trying to move into the nonprofit world, I would still recommend that you use a resume similar to the Harcourt Potter format (click here to see the Harcourt Potter resume).  Make a few changes to the summary to make it less industry-specific, and change the titles of the functional areas to make them applicable to your new industry.

But include the functional skills with your jobs.  You’re not going to trick your reader into thinking you have nonprofit experience with a functional resume.  If the nonprofit wants a nonprofit background, there is nothing you’re going to be able to do about this.  The nonprofit will hire you because they’re looking for someone who will bring them something that people with nonprofit experience don’t have – perhaps a more businesslike approach, more concentration on a balanced budget, better marketing, better ways of bringing in money (yes, all nonprofits have budgets and need money and cash flow to exist, just like for-profit businesses).  Modify the names of the functional skill paragraphs to make them read like they are in the language of the nonprofit.

Stick to the traditional resume – don’t resort to trickery.  You won’t fool anyone.


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