A Resume to Change Careers

Are you trying to get into a new field or are you getting back to work after some kind of break? If your resume is built around your work history, it’s going to be hard to switch careers or make your transition. Potential employers will see the “old you”, while you need to show them the “new you!”

And that’s where a functional resume format comes in handy. (My definition of a functional resume is similar to what some call the hybrid format. And a skills-based resume and a functional resume are the same, in my book.) Instead of structuring your resume around your work history, as with the typical, chronological format, you have to build your resume around skills that are relevant to your future job.

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To make it easier to understand the functional resume format, I’ll illustrate the concepts with a client of mine who had success with this approach. (I’m changing some details, obviously.)

Problems of the chronological format

The resume format you’re familiar with is most likely the chronological format. It’s the standard for a reason: in most cases, it works very well. With this format, your most recent job is presented first, the job you had before comes next, and so on. It probably reflects a certain career path. Which means that, from where you are currently, there is, most of the time, a next “logical” step. But you don’t want to take that step! You’re looking for something else. For a change. As a career changer, if your resume uses the chronological format, potential hirers will have more questions. “Why are you not following your logical career path?”

Here’s our example, in a chronological resume format:

Like any resume, this one needed help to stand out. And without surprise, accomplishments were lacking. Since they’re the cornerstone of your resume, I helped my client find clear accomplishments throughout his career:

The right resume format helps you showcase yourself. But if you have no accomplishments to showcase, it’ll be hard to differentiate yourself from your peers. If you need some help writing strong accomplishments for your resume, a great place to start is by trying find an e-book with tailored examples for you in the Resume Hacking collection.

The new resume format will be built around what the candidate wants to do. In our example, his ideal job was to manage a small IT team. Notice how the chronological resume would be far from adequate to tell that story.

I’m not saying the logic was totally ridiculous. There was, after all, IT experience and management experience. But it was not a cohesive whole. Especially when compared to the resume we were about to write.

Benefits of the functional resume format

The solution was fairly simple: change the format. Go functional. Skills-based.

This format allows you more flexibility, which means you can craft a message that makes more sense for the career you’ve set your eyes on. In your Experience section, instead of using a timeline, you choose a few relevant key skills as subtitles. Of course, you need to highlight skills that are needed for this job. But you also need to focus on skills where you can efficiently showcase yourself. So there’s a bit of a balancing act. For a future IT technician, here are some skills you could use: customer service, computer troubleshooting, network management. And for a future Human Resources advisor: hiring, negotiation, coaching. These skills would be the subtitles in your “Professional Skills” (or “Experience”) section. For each one, you need to demonstrate you’ve been there, done that. You can achieve this by listing specific accomplishments, or roles and tasks you were given throughout your employment. Sometimes, volunteering or personal projects can also prove useful. And bring forward recent trainings relevant to your new career.

In our example, we’ve used 5 skills (3 to 5 works well):

  1. Technical skills
  2. Leadership and management
  3. Planning and budgeting
  4. Interpersonal abilities
  5. Problem solving

The first one covers the IT part and the next three are geared to the management aspect. And problem solving is good for both IT issues and management issues. With material from the original resume, and by using as many accomplishments as possible, we can craft an Experience section that packs some punch.

Here’s what the Experience section looked like after we’d switched things around. It connects very well to a junior IT manager position:

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Finally, you need to close with a short “Work History” section where you briefly describe the jobs you’ve held. This is pretty much the skeleton of the Experience section in a chronological format. There’s no paragraphs or bullets. It just shows job title, company and dates.

Your resume could look suspicious without some chronology. Some people do use the functional format to conceal that there are many months or years where they were unemployed. If potential employers looking at your resume can’t quickly see your employment history, they might assume you can’t hold a steady job.

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In summary, if you already have a chronological resume and want to transform it into a functional resume format, here are the key steps. Your Experience section becomes a “Work History” section, presented further down, with a lot less material. The main section, titled “Experience” or “Professional Skills”, which appears first, is where you showcase yourself (through as many accomplishments as possible). Remember that your goal is to tell as cohesive a story as possible, in order to make yourself attractive to potential employers.