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What resume format works for you, chronological or functional?


Belinda Robinson San Antonio, TX

I'm in the process of transitioning out of the military and start my permissive leave next month. I have been submitting applications over the last two months and still no leads. What resume format works best for you? I'very seen feedback that the Functional format is ideal for transitioning personnel to display various Key Skills and Attributes. Any thoughts on this format is appreciated as I am using chronological format but I have changed each resume for the positions I'm applying for.

11 June 2017 27 replies Resumes & Cover Letters



Kimberly Smith Chicago, IL


Thank you for your long years of service! I have been a hiring director for 20+ years and we went through a major exercise here to update our "profiles" and resumes and were trained on the best way to do this to stand out today. The latest trend which I think really sets you above is a mix of both. Then regardless of the preference of the reader, you nailed it.

There should be 2 pages. First page has your Name big and bold followed by contact info. Next EXECUTIVE SUMMARY as your header - about 3 sentences about your career and what you are looking for.

Next section is a bullet point list of your EXPERTISE (header). Regardless of when or where you got it, its what you do. Main word in bold followed by a sentence. FOR EXAMPLE:
* Team Leadership: Capacity to recognize, retain and promote a team of high performance professionals, both within and outside own organization. Consistently recognized as a strong mentor for future leaders.
* Project Management: Owner and manager of a variety of cross functional and team projects bringing teaching, brainstorming, and an innovative approach to problem solving, design and execution.
Last part of the first page is the heading "Formal Education and Honors" where you list schooling, special certifications, professional recognition etc.

THEN, on to the second page, more of the traditional chronological list of all your jobs. Heading PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE. No more than one page regardless of your history because no one with a stack of resumes will have time to read it so you have to stand out fast and bold. Highlight in bold the title followed by un-bold time period. Bullet point short sentences or partial sentences if you prefer listing what you accomplished there. Not so much what you were supposed to do but what you DID do. Make sure to use the same verb tense throughout. If you have had a long career with many titles, you can leave the very early ones without bullets if they are self explanatory so you can focus more on the recent stuff that is better developed from earlier things anyway.

Depending on where you are sending it, a brief cover letter explaining what you are looking for and what you are applying for is a nice touch.

Good Luck!

14 June 2017 Helpful answer


Kathryn Haynes Grass Valley, CA

Hi Belinda,

Thank you for your service... 22 years is a long time and greatly appreciated! I have worked as a Recruiter for 23 years and have seen every resume format out there. Chronological is the way to go. You don't want to make it difficult for a recruiter to see where you've been and for how long. If you would like to provide a personal email address, i'd be happy to provide some examples. I don't recommend using any 'fluffy' language. I see a lot of people describe themselves and their experience as proven, dynamic, self aware, energetic, results-oriented, skilled, decicive, a proven leader, team player, etc. That is an ineffective selling tactic and doesn't reveal the capabilities I'm searching for. Cababilities are proven through results.

In terms of content, one size does not fit all, so you want to carefully assess what a job description is asking for, and customize your resume using key words and similar language used in the description.

What you ultimately want to convey is a 'Performance-based Profile'. You want to say what you did and what the results were. You can't fit 22 years onto two pages, so use examples of the things that created the greatest impact and relate to the top criteria of the role you seek.

It's also important to note that most job descriptions are a long list of skills and qualifications... they rarely tell you exactly what you are expected to accomplish on the job (or fix, change, improve, etc.). And more women than men will not apply to a job if they don't think their experience fits the description 100%. Try to discern if your experience meets the first three to five qualifications listed, and perhaps 70% of the rest, and then go for it. Everyone has some sort of gap, and as long as yours isn't the top three to five most important things, you should apply.

Good luck!

14 June 2017 Helpful answer


John Green Cary, NC

Writing your resume is alot like writing military performance reviews. Start sentences off with an action verb and include a wrap of the sentence that quantifies the impact to the organization.

"Led a team of technology maintenance workers." is not the same as "Reduced aircraft maintenance costs by thirty percent and $2 million by more effectively applying human resources."

Your format should have an overview paragraph at the top of between three to five well-worded sentences that describe you.

Then you should have a table of skills you possess.

Then you should list your assignments one-by-one.

Then you list your medals or awards.

Then you list your education.

You get three seconds of reading time at the top of the first page to buy the next five seconds. If you cannot capture your readers attention in three seconds, you wont get the next five.

A resume gets you an interview, an interview gets you a job. Resume must have relevant specialization. If you are going for an IT position, this might be Artificial Intelligence or Cyber-security. A general resume does not cut it in today's market. You need a specialization that creates a demand for you.


Good luck !

13 June 2017 Helpful answer


Jerry Welsh Middleville, MI

I guess I will be the odd one in the group. I am not sure what a chronological resume is that you "make it functional" as I saw suggested a couple of times-but I work with many senior military that they spend 3 pages telling people where they have been rather than what they have done. My other concern with pure chronological is that the military may decide your last 3-5 years of your career is something you do not want to do in civilian life- i,e, IG, special project, etc. I always recommend you build a chronological Master Resume-with 22 years and your rank that could be 7-9 pages. When you receive a job posting-target the resume to the position description, giving them the terms, keywords they want-along with value. Your value comes from your awards, commendations and the quantifiable results in your EPR's. Some times people indicate Work History 2008-2018 USAF and then hit with your value. Your resume really only needs to cover the last 10 years of your work life, for CIVILIAN jobs not government. Keep in mind you still will have to fill out an application. The bottom line, you want to get to the point in that 6-8 seconds you are qualified and bring value to the position. Then move to the next stack where they read your value. Keep it relevant to where you are going (career wise). I saw a LinkedIn profile of a veteran college graduate with their weapon qualifications(social worker). RELEVANT. I understand a senior individual like yourself would not make that mistake, but to someone who does not understand military speak, it might as well say A-4 qualified as saying First Sergeant for xx airmen. You are very correct, tell your story with stories, use the STAR format, probably just Situation and Result due to your tenure, but then tell the story in the interview. Hope this has helped, you seem to understand what a lot senior military miss-"give them everything in case they see some thing they like, or you never know when that skill maybe relevant"-when you have over whelmed them with too much information. Thanks for your service and sacrifices. God Bless

13 June 2017 Helpful answer


Deb Yeagle Tampa, FL

Hi Belinda-
Thanks for your service!
Based on my experience hiring in both Government and private industry, I prefer chronological resumes with a "Work History" section at the end of your resume to substantiate your number of years experience and skills. Start off your resume with Education / Certifications and Skills section, with a "Professional Summary" that summarizes your number of years with specific domain expertise in a bulletized list, e.g., 22 years of service in the U.S. Air Force, YY years of experience in logistics, supply chain management (or whatever career field). This will make it easier for screeners to qualify you as a candidate.
Good luck!

13 June 2017 Helpful answer


Travis Davis Sumter, SC

I would say chronological and make it functional also. Try to make your resume as appealing as a nice and professional picture as it should paint a picture of, over time, gaining a lot of experience and doing a good job at what it is you do. I would not get to hung up on any one aspect of your resume such as functional or chronological, rather, I would focus on tailoring your resume to the company and more importantly to the technical recruiter or computer system that is going to read it.
I have a technical background but I got a call back on an engineering job resume I submitted a few years ago. The recruiter told me he was really excited about the QR code I added to my resume and he thought I would do well for the company thinking outside the box like that. A QR code may or may not work these days, but you just have to put yourself in the recruiters shoes and I am sure you will do well.



12 June 2017 Helpful answer


Scott Berry Carson City, NV

Hi Belinda:

I prefer chronological work history so that I can place how recent each skill set was used. What you can do to highlight the specific skills and experience the employer is seeking is to have a "Summary of Qualifications" at the beginning of your resume. Here you can describe your skills and experience that match what the employer is seeking.

12 June 2017 Helpful answer


Brian Burress Cincinnati, OH

I won't argue against Chronological as it has worked for me over the years. I will say that adding the functional points within the chronological order could be useful especially if you can highlight how you grew your skills during an assignment as well as how you used your skills to provide something value added during an assignment. With a traditional corporate resume showing how your skills and abilities have saved a company money or increased their income are can be helpful, hence the suggestion for the "value added" perspective.

12 June 2017 Helpful answer


Beth Smits Washington, DC

Hi Belinda, I just got a good tip from a headhunter on my resume, which is chronological in general. First, he suggested a summary telling 'who I am' to his client, picking out top attributes or achievements. I did this with a short paragraph (like the one you should use for your LinkedIn summary) and then three points that best describe me and that are relevant to the job I'm applying for (good for you for knowing that you should change your resume to speak to each job!). Next, I do professional experience (with jobs starting most recent), then education (with last course/achievement first) and then Other Skills (like languages) and then a "Last but not least" (title it depending on how you're presenting yourself and only if you think this information is relevant to the job) with things like nationality and hobbies. Hope this helps and thank you for your service!!

12 June 2017 Helpful answer


Teresa Greenwood Hartford, CT

Hi Belinda,
I am in the corporate world and can say that I prefer to read chronological resumes. You may want to ask for feedback to read your resume since the issue may be the format and presentation of the information. You want to highlight the key skills that are transferable to the job that you want,, use lingo meaningful for the industry, and make it relevant to helping the company be successful.
thank you for your service, All the best,

12 June 2017 Helpful answer


Richard Filippi Rye, NY

Just as important as the format is the content. I recommend taking a page and folding it half. On the Left write down your accomplishments. On the Right what skills you needed to achieve those accomplishments.
When writing your resume start with the Action words and Skills. As an example, rather than:
Repaired a plane
Attention to detail and managerial leadership allowed my squadron to achieve consistently high ratings on Aviation Repair.
Who would you want to hire?
Also join LinkedIn and connect with Alumni groups (Aviation specialists, etc.) former colleagues, supervisors etc. Ask them for insights as well. You HAVE qualities you take for granted but make a big impact on others.


Lex Levin Ellicott City, MD


As a professional resume writer, I urge you to NOT use the functional resume. If you are applying to Federal jobs, you must use the classic reverse-chron resume (last job first). If you are applying to the private sector, the functional resume has a reputation as a format that's often used by people with major gaps in their resumes or issues they're trying to hide... so using that format could be a red flag for some HR folks. Stick with reverse chron, it's the way to go, and put all those skills and abilities into the job blocks where they belong.

Best of luck!


Jerry Welsh Middleville, MI

Everyone has given you good feedback. I do not know why functional resumes come up in TAP, they are for folks with no accomplishments!!!! If you are to look at a different formatted resume the combination would work, but be sure and get your dates up close to the top, that is why the functional is not good-the functional does not use dates and that really is a big no no with recruiters. For instance immediately following your Summary and the columns of skills, then put down Work History: USAF 2007-2018 THEN list your accomplishments by section i.e. if you are HR then your Record Keeping STARS, Your Promotion/Mentor ship Stars etc. I saw a number of folks indicate list #$%-that sells value. If you want to list your entire time in the USAF, that is fine or it may be requested on the application. It is up to you, but sometimes retirees, especially with degrees and 20+ years of experience come across as over qualified. First civilians with 20 years of experience may have had 8 positions during that period of time and be requesting big bucks. While I am no saying sell yourself short, but if they disqualify you based upon 20+ years, give them what they ask for, if the opening wants 5 years experience, then you have 5+. If the salary meets your goal, then you and the company win. Thanks for your service and God Bless.


Steven Mathews Spring, TX

I have helped over 100 people in the past 3 years obtain new positions by helping them create a Top 1% Resume. The "secret" is to show your value to the company, and specifically to the hiring manager. I am willing to help you for free, no strings.
I am a retired USAFR officer. I know how to take your operational military experience and translate those accomplishments into commercial value statements.
Email me at should you wish to proceed.


Ernest Charles III Cypress, TX

Thanks for your service to our country first and foremost...Secondly when I got out the Corps, I was going through the same issues so what I did is completely reformatted each resume submitted to meet the requirements that they were looking for. Make sure everything that you've done in the military matches up to their description. For example , if you had people police call then that's part of management. Thanks again for your service and much success to you and your family


Sara Katz New York, NY

Just seeing this, but definitely chronological. Good luck!


Joan Hutton Vero Beach, FL

NEVER Functional! They simply don't work. "What you do is relative to where you are at'. You can translate military experience into civilian. Please check out directions on our website under 'Candidate Resources'. We place healthcare leaders but the premise is the same no matter the field. My son is a vet.
Joan Hutton, President & CEO


Sarah Bates Fallbrook, CA

Take a look at this web link for a modern version of a resume. If I needed a resume this is the one I would choose. The formats change frequently–and for different industries as well.
I like this one:


Julia Rivera Burbank, CA

Hi Belinda,
I answer you as a veteran who has made the transition to a civilian career and as a supervisor responsible for staffing a department. Since your resume is a two dimensional introduction to who you are as a professional, it is also an opportunity to articulate who you are as a person. Professional chemistry is very important and I certainly look for that when deciding who to interview and hire for my own team.

Take some extra time to write a cover letter that summarizes who you are as a professional but also speaks a bit about who you are as a person and how you are to work with. Your voice is very important and the resume is just the logistics of what you have done, not the essence of who you are.

Also, for companies or hiring managers who don't have experience with veteran or even woman veteran candidates, they may be unsure as to what we are like. I have found that there is a lot of awe expressed when people learn about my military background but it can also be intimidating. As you know, we have done things and had responsibilities that most people wouldn't volunteer to do themselves and may think we would be difficult to relate to.

The key to the cover letter is to write it in a tone that is relatable which means spelling things out (no acronyms!) and explaining things in civilian terms.

I wish you the best of luck in your next career and am happy to help further if I can.


Julia Rivera
U.S. Army veteran


Roddney Hackstall Greensboro, NC


When you have time, do you mind sharing any progress you have made based off the advice you received here? Thanks


Jim Starr Saint Louis, MO

Hi Belinda-
Thank you for your service. I had similar concerns and the advice I was given related to playing up my experience with various tools/technologies/methodologies up front, at the start of my resume, rather than perhaps starting with a career objective and then listing experience. Likewise, when detailing experience, I always look for opportunities where I can note tech experience that may relate directly to the tools/technology that may be a part of the position I am applying for. Overall, my basic resume approach is to create something where, within a few seconds of looking at it, the hiring person thinks..."I want to talk to this person...". I hope this helps. Thank you.


Jim Rohrbach Evanston, IL

Hi Belinda!

My question: What is it you want to do? Forward your resume to me and I'll review it, give you my feedback. Jim "Da Coach" Rohrbach email:


Glen Alleman Longmont, CO

All good answers, I would add though that the Resume is a "sales" document.
Stating what was done is the past is useful but the "buyer" wants to know what you can do "in the future." How can you add value to the business in the job that's being advertised?
I start with "what are my capabilities" addressed to the needs ot the job opening on the first page. This starts with an executive summary of what those capabilities are and most importantly what is the "value" of those capabilities to the hiring manager.
Then (in a two column and 3 row table in my case) a summary of all your capabilities, not just the ones they are hiring for.
Next (on the 1st page) you can put any recent professional experience in the military that is applicable to the needs of the firm.
This should follow the "rule of three" (Goggle will find that) since you're still "selling"
Page two can be a summary of past experience, education, and more details of what "value" was delivered from those engagements.
The critical fact is to describe your capabilities and some unit of measure of "value"
"I managed field troposphere communications managing 3 staff, and achieved the highest rating for uninterpreted services while operating in hostile conditions."
The "buyer" wants to know "what you did of value" along with who you are, how you got to where you are.
This approach comes from Proposal Writing where the "win theme" must be stated up front and the support for that "claim" comes later.


Robin Schlinger Atlanta, GA

As a Resume Writer and Career Coach helping folks transition from the military for over 15 years, I recommend a Chronological resume.

When I started writing resumes 16+ years ago, we would write functional resumes for many folks transitioning from the military. However, this was BEFORE most resumes got read by Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) for screening and rejection before being referred to a human for further reading. ATS does not really know how to score or read purely functional resumes (they score by keywords and number of years the keywords were used). Therefore, to apply for jobs you need a Chronological resume.

You can have a functional Summary - and then break down each job description into functional information. It is important to convert military "jargon" into the keywords (job description and requirements) in the job announcements you are applying for. To differentiate yourself from others applying for the job that also meet the job requirements, you MUST show your accomplishments in each job (and in the summary).

If you have been working for many years (as you have), your work is much more important than the education (but you can mention your education in the summary). Include your Professional Work History before your Education section.

The advice for 1 page is WRONG. In the past, before ATS, and only humans read resumes, you could have 2 pages. Recent studies asking recruiters (see, Fortune 500 companies (per webinars I have gone to with Gary Crispin - head of a coalition of top HR folks from Fortune 500 companies), and Career Directors International asking companies the average length of the resumes of people ACTUALLY HIRED in the past 6 months or year reveal that the average length is 3 to 4 pages or more.

Therefore, with more than 20 years of military experience, you write a resume AS LONG AS IT NEEDS TO BE to show your career history.

This is especially important if you want to apply for Federal jobs. Make it have all information in it (up to the length allowed for the job announcement). You can't score for information not in your resume. Federal resumes MUST be chronological (since they only can score what is in each job), and have all required information.


John (Casey) Roach Greenwich, CT

Ms. Robinson,

As a Senior Master Sergeant you have various specific skills the most important of which, from my vantage, is leadership. Your challenge is not chronological or functional, it is what do you want to do and why are you qualified for a position in that field. Having transitioned from the Army many years ago, another challenge you may encounter is, assuming you are seeking a position in the private world versus the public or governmental, you have to take a step back and recognize that your new colleagues may be much younger and yet are your boss or peers. While I was only in for a few years as an officer, I quickly learned you have to relax. You have been accustomed to telling folks what to do and expecting them to do it.
Try and determine what you want to do, how your skills match up to the demands of that particular position and go for it. As an aside, attend some school to broaden your education. You will have to interact with folks in the private world and this will help you get acclimated to civilian life. It will also underscore your interest in broadening your skills.

If you want to talk, you may call: 203-861-5934


Don Vanpool Waukesha, WI

I would really recommend chronological. Most employers will want to see your progress and jobs in a linear layout. I have interviewed 100s of people in a Fortune 5 firm and I have actually never seen a functional resume.


Belinda Robinson San Antonio, TX

All, thank you for your valuable feedback! I will continue to stay with the chronological format as it has worked well for me with adding and removing content to match each position and I will be more up front with telling "my story" of experiences that is relevant to the industry.

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