Revamping Your Resume, Part 4: Chronological vs. Functional

Just as you have a fair amount of freedom over the look and feel of your resume, you also have some choice in deciding how to present your work history. If you’ve done some research on this topic, you’ve likely come across two prominent options: a chronological or a functional organization.

The traditional format is a chronological resume, which lists each position held in reverse chronological order. Emphasis is placed on job titles and employment history rather than on skills. This works well for individuals with a consistent and stable work history within one or two fields, as it reflects growth and progression over time and provides a logical structure for discussion during interviews. If your current or past employers have some name recognition and your job titles reflect increased responsibility, all the better.

Another option is the functional resume, which categorizes experiences by ability or skill. This allows the resume writer to include volunteer involvement alongside paid work, for example, under a heading like “marketing experience.” This format can be especially useful for folks who’ve jumped around professionally, have gaps in employment, are looking to transition into new careers, or are re-entering the workforce. It’s also a great choice for recent college graduates, as it provides a platform for highlighting transferable skills from extracurricular activities and part-time employment during school.

The downside? Because functional resumes are so effective in obscuring gaps in employment and selectively highlighting one’s most advantageous skills, they may arouse suspicion in an admissions officer or potential employer. For this reason, many candidates opt for a combined format that highlights selected skills at the outset and then presents a chronological work history later in the document.

So which makes sense for your business school applications? In contrast to an employer hiring for a certain set of skills, admissions staff and interviewers are generally looking for a big picture sense of your professional history. With the exception of college students and very recent graduates, for whom a functional resume provides a platform to highlight skills gained through campus involvement as well as paid employment, we therefore recommend a chronological resume for the purpose of applying to MBA programs.

We recognize that gaps in employment or frequent job transitions might make a functional resume appealing. These factors, however, will be best addressed in an essay or personal statement. With respect to your resume, you’ll be best served by giving the reader what she wants, in this case an easy-to-process, chronological picture of your educational and professional background.



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