Applicant Tracking Systems VS the Functional Resume

Functional resumes are a great tool for job seekers who want a career change. I use this format with 15-20% of my clients, and only when a functional resume really makes them look better than a chronological (normal) resume. Some people call the functional resume a "hybrid resume" or a "skills-based resume". It's valuable when you've got the skills for a certain job, but those skills were acquired left and right, and would be somewhat buried in a regular, chronological resume. You can find a detailed description of functional resumes here.

But there's a huge obstacle now for this format (or any other non-traditional resume format): applicant tracking systems (ATS). Few people outside of Human Resources understand what ATS do. Very quickly, they're a system (i.e. computer software) that helps HR recruiters deal with candidates. They assist with reaching out and contacting them, but also with understanding and ranking their resumes. And that's where the obstacle lies.

Computers are good with numbers, but very limited with language. It's already difficult for software to properly evaluate a normal resume. But it becomes almost impossible when the system is fed a functional resume. Inside the ATS, there is a "resume parser" which is looking for career information in specific places. And functional/skills-based resumes shift that information around. It creates a big mess, because the resume parser is programmed for standard, chronological resumes. Once the functional resume is digested, it's perceived as full of holes.

Are functional resumes still relevant today?

Since ATS and automated screening are so pervasive today, can we still use functional resumes, in the right context?

First, you have to make sure that your functional resume tells a much better story. Otherwise, stick to the more digestible chronological format.

Now, if you really need a functional resume, it should only be your networking resume. The resume you send or give to human beings. The resume you bring to job fairs or interviews. But for online applications (which are a great way to get interviews!(LINK)), you will also need a chronological resume, to deal with the resume screening software.

Not sure if your resume will go through an ATS?

If you're sending a resume to a contact who will probably forward it resume to HR, send both versions. In your email, you could say "I've attached two resumes with different formats. Since I'm changing careers, my skills-based resume explains more clearly how I can bring you value. But if your HR team uses an applicant tracking system (or another talent management tool), they can submit the chronological resume. The information is quite similar."

If you feel this is too clunky, just send the "normal", software-friendly resume.

So, yes, you have one resume for humans and another for machines. But many people have two resumes to begin with. (For example, Resume A is "technical" and Resume B is "management" or "coaching/teaching"). If that's your case, you will need four resumes:

  1. Chronological Resume A
  2. Chronological Resume B
  3. Functional Resume A
  4. Functional Resume B

Is it crazy? Sort of.

Is it exaggerated? No.

Remember that each resume you send has to be tailored to the specific job you're applying for. It's not a lottery! Candidates who look better on paper have more chances of getting the interview. We know it's far from a perfect process, but it's what you have to deal with.

If your functional resume truly makes you shine, that's the resume you need to give to people you network with. It's more work, but it's the better approach. Maybe things will change by 2025 or so... But until then, remember that applicant tracking systems and their resume parsers will choke on it.

Yup. Another fun fact of looking for work in the 21st century!

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