How to write a great functional CV

If you're changing career, consider putting skills ahead of experience to get noticed.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 19 Oct 2016

The days when you could plonk a couple of dates and job titles on a piece of paper and call it a CV are well and truly over. In the digital world, an attractive job advert could draw hundreds of applications in a matter of hours, which means yours has to stand out.

Functional or skills-based CVs are becoming increasingly popular as a way of getting noticed. The gist is simple. Instead of being a chronological account of your career to date, the functional CV goes straight into the action by saying what you’re good at – and therefore why the employer should hire you.

When should I use a functional CV?

It’s a bold approach, but designing your applications this way is not a decision to be taken lightly.

‘I’d always use a chronological CV if you’re applying for something along similar lines to what you’ve been doing, because employers do tend to prefer the chronological approach,’ cautions Corinne Mills, MD of Personal Career Management and author of 'You're Hired! How to write a brilliant CV'.

Functional CVs on the other hand come into their own when you’re changing careers or sectors, because they allow you to lead with your transferable skills.

‘What you’re trying to do with a CV is make it easy for employers. Sometimes it’s what you did in your job before last or extracurricular stuff  that you really want to talk about up front and grab their attention with. In a chronological CV that can get hidden,’ says Mills.

What format should my functional CV take?

So if you don’t list it in order of what job you did when, how do you actually go about putting a skills-based CV together?

‘Your name, contact details and LinkedIn link go first, then your profile summarising who you are and your aims. Your list of transferable skills comes next, listed as bullet points in two columns,’ advises Ros Toynbee, director of The Career Coach.

Typically, you’d then expand on each of these skills on the 1st page, before listing your career history on the 2nd page, with bullet points of key achievements. (You can’t go too far wrong with bullet points – remember the objective is to sell yourself fast.)

‘If you haven’t convinced them by the first page or even half page, they’re not going to read on anyway,’ says Mills.

How do I make mine stand out?

As with all CVs, a skills-based one should be tailored to the job or at the very least the sector you’re applying for.

‘Take yourself away from the computer and get yourself a big piece of paper and a coloured pen. Look at the job advert you’re applying for, or four or five in an area you’re interested in, and put all the key skills from the job description on the paper, keeping them specific,’ says Mills. ‘Now you’ve got to figure out how to prove it.’

Evidence is key, agrees Toynbee. ‘Combining transferable skills with the commercial value you bring gives even greater "oomph",’ she adds.

This means making sure that for every skill you’ve identified as being important, you need to think of examples of how you’ve demonstrated it, ideally hand-in-hand with tangible achievements. Vague assertions of having good communication skills or being a team player are out; concrete examples of how you led a team through a funding crisis and still hit your targets are in.

It’s also possible to use these examples as a way of compensating for a functional CV’s inherent lack of the sense of progression that chronological CVs have.  ‘Weave it in,’ says Mills. Well-placed adjectives and openers such as ‘promoted to’ or ‘assumed additional responsibilities in’ can help paint a picture of a star on the rise.

But I don’t have evidence of those skills...

If you don’t have all the skills they’re looking for, don’t be tempted to ignore it and hope employers either won’t notice or won’t care.

For a start, your application will need to get through keyword-trawling recruitment software just to get seen (indeed, Mills advises hedging your bets with keywords, saying both ‘HR’ and ‘people management’ for example, just in case the software misses one).

Secondly, even if you somehow get through, you can’t take the chance that there won’t be another candidate who does have all the boxes ticked.

The secret if you are skill-deficient is to prepare ahead of time, says Toynbee.

‘While you are networking with intended heads of organisations ask directors and HR managers what key skills are required in the current job market. Ensure you are highlighting them if you have them, or that you are in the process of acquiring them if not,’ she says.

How long should it take?

Functional CVs, like any other, should not be cobbled together quickly. Writing one requires a lot of thought, and is far more than mere window dressing your career history, says Mills, who also unsurprisingly recommends finding a trusted 2nd pair of eyes to look over it before sending.

‘If you actually think it through carefully, you can write a much more substantial, evidenced, target CV that will not only be more likely to get through to the shortlist, but also be more authentic, so when you get to the interview, there won’t be a mismatch between this wonderful CV and the person sitting in front of them.’

Image credit: Yoel ben Avraham/Flickr

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