Choosing the Right Resume for Your Career Story

When do you use a traditional reverse chronological resume and when do you use a functional resume? Or a combination of both of them. This is not an easy choice.

Your resume is your CAREER STORY. The purpose of the resume is to open doors and provide you the right talking points for the interview conversations. It has to interest the reader and make them curious to know more about you. By itself, it is not going to translate into a job offer. Note: at no point, do I advocate any misrepresentation of facts.

Let’s first learn more about these 2 types of resumes and also understand with the help of case studies which resume fits best for different cases.

A. Chronological Resume: This typically refers to the reverse chronological resume. A traditional resume well written can easily convey a strong case of stability and performance.

  • Components: It starts with an objective or career summary, maybe core skills, and then lists details about every experience in reverse chronological order and ends with awards, education & certifications.
  • The order may be slightly changed depending on individual requirements. Each experience would have the basic details such as company name, location, duration, jobs/titles held and their duration, responsibilities, and achievements for each job.
  • The smarter ones would focus more on achievements and also provide some context of what the situation was when the person entered the role and how s/he was able to bring about transformation.
  • Perfect for: Junior-Mid level roles and even for few very senior roles, if they have spent most of their time in few companies/similar roles.

B.    Functional Resume: Careers today are rarely straightforward. What if you have had a gap in your career, switched careers, moved too many times? In such a case, for the employer to find out your core skills and really understand your value proposition may be quite painful. Chances that your resume will move to the “no” pile are very high. Now, how do you showcase your talents if you don’t have a straightforward story? This is when a well-designed functional resume can work wonders for you.

  • Components: This resume again starts with a career objective/summary, core skills and then lists achievements by key areas/categories, followed by work history summary, education & certifications.
  • The category approach to experience is a great way to showcase key skills which are required for the job you are applying for, even if you do not have the necessary title, and to put the focus back on the skills instead of the job variety or number.
  • Perfect for: Career Gaps, Career Change, Too many jobs, Strategic Roles

7 Case Studies: Let us now understand from 7 case studies based on real-life examples, how we can choose the best resume type or a combination of them for individual career stories.

  1. Case Study 1: IT Architect with 23 years of experience across 9 companies and at least 14 years of architect experience. Next job applied for – Principal Architect at a leading software firm. Resume opted for – Functional. Categories chosen were “Leading Large Scale Technological Transformation,” “Building Organization Capability,” “Maximising Revenue, Eliminating Costs,” Within these 3 categories, the individual could showcase his strong achievements for different projects and also demonstrate how he added strategic value to the organization, led teams etc. The resume was completed within 2 pages. If he were to do the traditional way, then the resume would be at least 4 pages and run the risk of being repetitive.
  2. Case Study 2: Retail manager with 18 years of experience in 2 firms. Next job applied for – National Retail Head. Resume opted for – Traditional Reverse Chronological with functional for last 2 firms. Here, a reverse chronological resume for each firm with a clear contribution snapshot by area worked wonders. As she was applying for a next-level promotion, she needed to showcase her ability to create and deliver strategy, develop and work with partners, implement best in class promotions, develop branding, hire and mentor the team among others. This was easily achieved by a combination of a traditional and functional resume.
  3. Case Study 3: Army engineer with extensive civil engineering, contract negotiation, and management. Next job applied for – facilities leader at a leading software firm. Resume opted for – Functional. This way we were able to showcase his fitment by each KRA (Key Result Area), in this case, “Strategic Planning & Execution of Large Scale Projects,” “Cost efficiencies & improvement,” “Stakeholder Management & People Management.” With his recently acquired courses and certifications on IT infrastructure, green buildings, he was able to showcase his keenness and aptitude to learn. 
  4. Case Study 4: Analytics Team Lead with 3 years of experience. Next job applied for – similar role at another location. Resume opted for – Traditional Reverse Chronological. In this case, the traditional resume worked well. In roles such as analytics, user design, graphics, and many other skilled occupations, when your experience is on the lower side, I recommend that you also showcase your academic projects in education and also opt for industry certifications, contests etc. Creating an online portfolio for your work is an excellent add-on.
  5. Case Study 5: MD at a leading private sector bank with 34 years of experience all in 2 banks. Next job applied for – similar role at another leading private bank. Resume opted for – Functional. Here, a functional resume worked to showcase his key strengths and value he would bring immediately to the next role. Categories opted for “Strategy & Direction | Industry Leadership | Leading Change,” “Maximizing Efficiency | Optimizing Budgets,” “Organization Culture | Capability Development | Leadership Development.”
  6. Case Study 6: Entrepreneur with 5 years of start-up experience and 10 years of organization experience. Resume Opted for – Mix of Traditional Reverse Chronological and Functional. Next job applied for – Business Head at a leading BPO. In this case, the experience was divided into entrepreneurial and organizational experiences, which was further broken down into functional categories. For the business experience, the focus was on revenue, customer, scale, exposure to various components, funding etc. For the organization experience, the focus here was on leading large operations, customer management, knowledge transfer, capability building, managing risk, and managing teams.
  7. Case Study 7: Teacher with 12 years of teaching experience, gaps of 2 years and 3 years at different points, extensive volunteer experience at a local charity. Next job applied for – Principal at a leading private school. Resume opted for – Functional. This way we were able to showcase her abilities not only as a great teacher, but also an exceptional organizer, a coordinator with great track record of facilitation of school activities, extracurricular activities, and the willingness to engage with the community and go an extra mile.

These case studies are just to give you a sense of resume choices by real people. Everyone is unique and cannot be put into a box. All parameters and the jobs being applied for have to be assessed to decide which resume type to opt for.

To summarise, choosing your resume type is an important decision to increase your chances of scoring an interview and landing a job.

No matter what you choose, you need to ensure your awesomeness shines through.

Like, Comment, Connect with me. Let my experience work for you – offering the full spectrum of career coaching and career documents (Resume, LinkedIn, Leadership Bios) to help you position your career for impact. Be prepared for the opportunities the universe has. 

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