Choosing The Best Resume Format: Chronological or Functional

Your resume can be arranged in one of two basic formats: chronological or functional… also sometimes referred to as a summary resume.

  • The functional (or summary) resume distills your total work experience into major areas of expertise. For public relations this can be broken up into specific communications skills and industry expertise.
  • The chronological resume presents your skills and accomplishments within the framework of your past employers. (Actually, it should be called a reverse chronological resume, since your last job should always appear first.)

Although the information you furnish the reader may essentially be the same, there’s a big difference in the way the two resumes are constructed, and the type of impact each will have. My experience has shown that the chronological resume brings the best results, since it’s the most explicit description of the quality and application of your skills within a specific time frame.

The functional resume, on the other hand, works well if you’ve changed jobs or careers often, and wish to downplay your work history and highlight your level of expertise. If a prospective hiring manager is specifically interested in a steady, progressively advancing employment history (as most are), then the functional resume will very likely work against you, since the format will seem confusing, and might arouse suspicions as to your potential for longevity.

However, if the employer’s main concern is your technical or problem-solving ability, the functional resume can work just fine.

One final note… many people wonder if they should ever include an “Objective” on their resume.  Oftentimes, an objective can seem pretty lame, especially when it’s generally clear that you already have a PR background and are seeking to advance your career with another agency. To say “My objective is to join a progressive, fast-paced agency where I can learn,” is weak or to say “I’m seeking a Vice President role at Weber Shandwick” when you’re submitting to Weber Shandwick seems pretty obvious. However you may want to use an Objective when submitting your resume through a large Corporate HR department since it will help the HR exec to quickly screen candidates. (“Let’s see; operations people in this pile, PR people in that pile…”) Otherwise just leave it off.