When to Use a Functional CV and How to Create One

When to Use a Functional CV and How to Create One

A functional or skills-based CV focuses on your skills, qualities and accomplishments rather than your work history. It is structured according to your individual skills to draw attention to your career achievements. When is a functional CV right for you? And how do you create one?

Most CVs follow a reverse chronological order, starting with your most recent job going back to your education. By creating a functional CV that emphasises your skills, you automatically stand out from the crowd and attract the attention of recruiters.

Why using a functional CV may be a red flag to recruiters

Many recruiters look unfavourably on functional CVs for the following reasons:

  • They think you’re hiding something

While there are plenty of reasons to use a functional CV, it’s not one of the most common formats. Recruiters may think that you’re hiding something if you don’t include all the necessary details about your job and your employer.

  • It’s hard to connect the dots

Time-poor recruiters generally don’t have a lot of time to read your CV. They want to know where you’ve worked and where you’ve learnt your skills. With a functional CV, they have to do a bit more digging for a holistic view of your career history.

  • ATS may not be able to read them

Many companies use ATS (Applicant Tracking Systems) to scan and sort through CVs. Since these are sometimes programmed to look for keywords in job titles, your functional CV may be overlooked because the specific keyword was in the wrong place.

When to create a functional CV?

That said, it can be beneficial to use a functional CV when you don’t have a straightforward career history and you want to highlight your transferable skills. In a number of situations, you may want to take the focus off employment dates and draw attention to your skills:

  • You want to emphasise your skills for your desired job

Say, you’ve been blogging in your free time and you want to apply for a position as a content specialist but don’t have relevant experience from your current job. A functional CV can be a great way to highlight skills and experiences gained outside of work.

As most CVs follow a standard, reverse-chronological format, you’ll stand out from the crowd. You’ll not only demonstrate your work experience, but also your transferable life skills, adding to your value as a candidate.

  • You want to change careers

If you’ve only worked in one job, industry or company for most of your career, you may be at a disadvantage if you want to change careers. This is where a functional CV can help.

When you don’t have the exact experience required for your desired job, you need to emphasise your transferable skills and relevant experience. These may have been gained from projects or activities outside of work.

  • You’ve ‘hopped’ from job to job

If you’ve changed jobs frequently or have had a lot of jobs within a short period of time, recruiters may think that you lack staying power. A chronological CV will draw attention to the job-hopping and make your career history seem erratic.

Having multiple jobs can be an asset to your next employer if you present your skills in the right way. Unlike other candidates, you’ll be able to draw on a wide range of skills and experiences to demonstrate your suitability as a candidate.

  • You have little or no work experience

As a graduate or a school leaver, you may not have extensive work experience to fall back on. This will be immediately obvious in a chronological CV which starts with your most recent experience.

A functional CV draws attention away from your work and gives you the opportunity to mention projects that you’ve completed at university or schools that are relevant to the job application. You can also include achievements and awards.

  • You’ve taken career breaks

There may be any number of reasons why you have gaps in your CV. You may have needed to take time out to care for family members (children or parents), to travel around the world or experienced periods of employment through no fault of your own.

In a chronological CV, career gaps are immediately noticeable as everything is ordered by date. These may leave a recruiter questioning your credibility as a candidate.

With a functional CV, you have the opportunity to demonstrate that you’re a suitable candidate despite the gaps in your CV. For example, you may list ‘Project Management’ as a skill and include the instances where you’ve managed projects, whether at work or in your personal life.

How do you write a functional CV?

When writing a functional CV, you’ll need to make sure that you still include important information such as your contact details (name, address, phone number, email address and Linkedin URL). You may need to add more details, depending on your country of residence, e.g. identification number in South Africa.

In addition, it’s good practice to include the following information:

  • A personal statement or personal profile

This is a positioning statement consisting of 4-6 lines that summarises your career history and states your career goals.

  • List relevant skills as separate headings in a ‘Skills Summary’ section

This is the most important part of your CV. Start by reading the job description carefully and identify 3-6 relevant skills required by the employer.

In your CV, apply bold formatting to each skill and mention specific examples as bullet points. The key is to group experiences together so that there is a common theme. This allows recruiters and employers to quickly establish whether you have the right skills for the job even if your work history isn’t directly related.

For example, if you’re applying for a managerial position but have little traditional experience, your skills section may look like this:

Leadership

  • Shift leader at McDonald’s, managing rotas for 10 employees.
  • Chair of university debating group.

Coaching and mentoring

  • Provided training (work processes, safety guidelines) to new staff at McDonald’s.
  • Supported new students through university mentoring programme.

Communication

  • Effectively handled customer complaints at McDonald’s as well as managing conflicts among staff.
  • Presented my thesis to a panel of 4 using Powerpoint.
  • Work experience

Even if you don’t go into detail, you will still need to list your work experience in this section. Keep it short, including only your position, company name and year of employment to provide a rough time span of when you worked there.

You may not want to include every single position you’ve ever held as this would defeat the point of a functional CV and draw attention to glaring gaps. To complement the ‘Skills Summary’ section of your CV, only mention the jobs that back up your skills.

  • Education

If you have a long career history, there’s no need to go as far back as your school education. Instead, focus on your university education (if applicable) or any further training courses you have completed.

  • Volunteering/hobbies and interests

Consider adding separate sections for ‘Volunteering’ and ‘Interests and Hobbies’ to help paint a well-rounded picture of you if you haven’t already referred to them in the ‘Skills Summary’ section of your CV.

To boost your chances of landing an interview, include activities relevant to the job description.

Final note

Don’t let your imperfect work history hinder you from landing the perfect job. With a functional CV, you can focus recruiters’ attention on what you can do rather than where and when you worked.

The key thing to remember is to tie your skills and experiences to the target job description. When you can do that, you’ll have just as much advantage, if not more, as a candidate with a linear work history.

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