CV length

Red Alert Resumés

Why red alert resumés send out a warning signal.

I’m going to come clean. I hate functional CVs. With a passion.

As someone who reads possibly hundreds of CVs a week, there is nothing more frustrating than reading a list of qualities and so called achievements and still having very little idea of what the candidate did, does now and where he/she did or didn’t do, what they claim they could do in the future.

See how confusing it is?

Smoke screens
The notion of a functional CV seems to be put forward by career columnists and consultants who no longer work, or have never worked, in search and recruitment.  It is one of the major red alert resumés

Ironically what totally functional CVs do is send out an immediate warning to any savvy recruiter that something isn’t aligned with the required job profile. Functional CVs are in effect a smoke screen. They are a band -aid thought up to help candidates feel better, without necessarily producing better results.

Functional CVs take time to figure out and most recruiters do not have the time to work anything out at all. Those abstract ideas included in a functional CV are supposed to supplement content not distract from it, or worse still , replace it. We want ” eureka,”  not head scratching moments. No content at all will almost certainly mean hitting the reject pile.

Functional CVs are based on self assessment. To give them any meaning metrics are needed. “Strongly entrepreneurial ” could mean anything from running a garage sale, to your own business. Turnover figures and market demographics are needed. So why not say you ran your own business with dates and figures and save everyone a lot of time.

“Financial acumen ” is another one I frequently see. If this acumen is gained in a Fortune 500 company, or as a School Treasurer with a budget of millions of Euros, then that sends out a different message to managing a lunch group with a budget of several hundred, kept in a tatty envelope in a desk drawer.

Context matters

Functional CVs send out the following possible messages:
• There could be a lack of required experience or gaps in a CV (including time off for parenting)
• There has been some short term roles still seen by some as job hopping.
• There has possibly been a termination (firing or redundancy)
• There could be unrelated work experiences
• There are possibly skills acquired outside the workplace rather than in it: volunteer work or social or sporting activities
• Most recent work experience is not relevant to the job, but past experience is
• There perhaps has been a period of self-employment, freelancing or consulting
• There are concerns about age at both ends of the spectrum

Identifying transferrable skills plays a key part in the creation of a powerful resume. For me, their rightful place is in a strong mission statement, which is a quick snap shot of your skills and achievements. But they do need to be put into context, with a clear career chronology and details of your educational and personal development background. One line manager I dealt with recently almost binned the functional CV of a potential candidate because he thought it was a long (and very boring) cover letter, not a resume!

The antennae of any experienced recruiter are finely attuned to identify immediately the lengths anyone might go to hide their concerns. Elaborate camouflage techniques can jeopardize chances of being selected for interview, just as surely as a straightforward explanation of your circumstances and the actions you have taken to deal with them. Understanding those challenges and gaining insight into yourself and the skills that were required to overcome them will prove to be vital, not just in the creation of a resume but in the interview process.

Being up front can help

  • If you lost your job last year – say so. Lots of people did. If you retrained, attended courses and volunteered that sends an important message about how you responded to the challenge.
  • If you are in a certain age demographic, then I agree, don’t put your date of birth, simply because you maybe cut by ATS. But do make every effort to be up to date and current – and say so.
  • If you have relevant experience early in your career you might need a refresher course or to completely re-train. Do it and then say so!
  • Avoid the use of the word ”problems”. Of any kind. Recruiters home in on that word and then avoid it like the plague.
  • If you have been fired – don’t say so, but be prepared to offer a constructive explanation. If you have been fired repeatedly, then some self-examination or professional support would seem imperative.
  • If you took time out to raise a family – say so . What you did during that period to stay professionally connected will show.
  • If you are young and trying to demonstrate potential and have very specific achievements which you can highlight with metrics. Say so.
  • If you freelanced, set up your own business or consulted – say so. That requires very different skills to being a full time employee. What are those skills? Share them.

So on balance, is it really best to deal with any issues up front and early?

I think so.

11 thoughts on “Red Alert Resumés

  1. Tanveer Naseer

    Thanks Dorothy for sharing your experience on this. You’re right about how there’s so much information on “how to” write such and such a style of resume. And yet, there’s very little being written on why or how these formats are perceived by those who peruse so many of them as you do.

    These are valuable insights you provide and I hope many job-seekers out there will find it and benefit from it. Thanks for sharing, Dorothy.

  2. Judy

    Thank you, that was insightful. I have lived and worked in several countries, had 3 distinct careers, taken a break to be a stay-at-home-mom and done a lot of volunteer work. Trying to convey what I have done/can do using a conventional format just didn’t seem to work very well as many things overlapped time-wise. I am currently using a functional CV and have received 2 job offers with it at 2 different times. I have kept it brief – one page of skills & achievements – grouped into categories ( eg communication, leadership, organizational) – and one page of chronological listing of the places I have worked (company, title, dates), and my education. I know my situation is unusual but I think that for a few of us a functional CV can work.

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Judy – thanks for you comments and congratulations on your job offers. That was exactly my point – functional CVs are used when a candidate has experience and a career path which is not necessarily aligned with the requirements of the profile. You would have perhaps had job offers no matter what type of CV you used!

  3. Julian Blumenthal

    I have often wondered why it is so important to hide periods of unemployment. It is not like it never happens to anyone. I do like the idea of showing you used the time wisely.

  4. Anne Egros


    I think you raised a very important point for job seekers. A lot of people think that by “fixing their CV they will find a job, well they might but the truth is, we are in s buyers’ job market so you have to stand out of the rest of the pack. Most of people tell too much, less is more. save details for interviewers to ask for.

    Think like a “small entrepreneur” : who are your target companies, industries, job functions? With Google, Linkedin, Twitter search information about companies: brochures, websites, customer comments, ask people in your network to introduce you to insiders. Select what is relevant in your CV to apply for a job in each company you are looking for and send a personalized letter (always good to have a name ). Then if asked send a light version of your conventional CV describing how you helped your previous employers and your achievements. Making your CV tailored made for each company is hard work but who said it is easy to fin a job nowadays ?

  5. Anne Perschel

    Dorothy and Commentators – The hybrid of functional and chronological works for people who are moving to new industries/roles or returning to same. It allow the seeker to create an accomplishments or skills section w/out reference to dates so relevant experience appears early on. Otherwise, the information the reader most needs to see gets buried lower down in the details.

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Thanks Anne – I agree and for me that information is most effectively included in a powerful massion statement which can include transferrable skills. If this is effective it will prompt the reader to carry on. A CV where the functional content is too lengthy immediately sends out the message that somewhere along the line the requirements of the profile are not being met.

  6. Pingback: Staying on message: A job search challenge | Dorothy Dalton

  7. Pingback: Waiting for the bounce – surviving long term unemployment | Dorothy Dalton

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *