Human resource departments (especially in large companies) often use computer systems to increase their efficiency in handling resumes. So, you may have more than one resume—a traditional resume to bring to an interview and a scannable resume.
Scannable resumes are scanned into a computer system and become part of an employer’s database of resumes. Employers can then “ask” the database to find resumes that match types of experience, education or skills needed for a given position. The database creates a list that lets the employer know which resumes are a “match” for the position. Obviously, you want the database to put your resume in the list of matches. We’ve compiled some guidelines relating to formatting and to maximizing your “match” potential.
These formatting tips will help you create a resume that scans
nicely into the database.
Use white or light beige paper. If you use dark paper, the scanner may not be able to distinguish the text of the resume from the paper its printed on.
Use standard font styles. If the scanner doesn’t recognize the font, it will substitute unattractive (and meaningless) characters (for example ????). Use common fonts such as Times New Roman or Courier.
Use standard font sizes. Generally, you should use 10, 12, or 14 points. (Avoid 10-point Times New Roman.)
Use left justification. Scanners can have difficulty with extra spaces created by full justification.
Use bolding or ALL CAPITAL LETTERS for emphasis. As long as the letters do not touch (as in fancy font styles), bolding or using all capital letters is your most effective way to draw emphasis to parts of your resume (i.e. with headings).
Avoid italicizing and underlining. Italicizing and underlining tend to make the text look “smudged” and difficult to read when scanned.
Avoid graphics, lines, borders, shading, and boxes. Although graphics, lines, borders, shading, and boxes can be used effectively for print resumes, these elements do not scan well.
Avoid punctuation. The database may not be able to recognize words with punctuation. For example, it may not recognize manage, as manage (note the comma). Instead, use vertical lists to separate information.
The tips above relate to formatting the resume so that it will make the most important parts of the resume—your contact information, work history, education, and other skills—recognizable to various databases. Just as important as making the resume recognizable to databases is to make the resume search-friendly. Employers use keywords to search within databases for resumes. Let’s look at a few tips to maximize the “matches” between the employers search and your resume.
- Spell out acronyms or abbreviations. Generally, you want to spell out any acronyms or abbreviations. For example, you may want to spell out Artificial Intelligence rather than mention it as “A.I.” However, you may want to keep acronyms or abbreviations if they are considered industry jargon (more about jargon in tip number 4). For example, CPA might be more commonly searched for than certified public accountant. If possible or applicable, you may want to include both the acronym or abbreviation and the spelled-out word.
- Use nouns and not verbs. While in a traditional resume you would most likely use action verbs (such as manage, direct, supervise), in resumes that will be scanned, nouns (manager, director, supervisor) should be used.
- Increase your use of key words or terms. Key words or terms extend the “use nouns” tip. These are the essential characteristics of the job—education, previous employment, skills, and accomplishments. Key words or terms may include previous job titles. Often, you’ll want to use key words for your field (which relates to the industry jargon tip below). These key words may be found also in job ads (especially if you’re submitting the resume for a specific job).
- Use industry jargon. You’ll want to use words everyone knows, also known as buzzwords or descriptors. These words are often specific to your industry or profession.
Although the formatting tips and maximizing for matches tips are unique to the scannable resume, in other respects the scannable resume will be much like a traditional resume. You’ll still put your name first on the page, and you’ll still include contact information after your name (each item should begin a new line: name, address, phone number, email address for a scannable resume). The biggest difference, however, is that a scannable resume will not be visually appealing, whereas the traditional resume usually is.
The tough question: should you send a scannable resume or a more visually pleasing traditional resume? The answer depends. You should have updated versions of both, but you may use them in different ways. As we’ve alluded to in the introduction, you may send in your scannable resume so that it can be scanned into a searchable database, but you should bring your traditional resume to the job interview. Ultimately, you need information to make the decision. You need to know if your resume is going to be scanned. The employer may ask for a scannable resume, or you may want to call the human resources department and ask if they would prefer a scannable resume. You also may include both a traditional and scannable resume with your cover letter and indicate that the scannable resume is for that purpose.
Our final tips for mailing the scannable resume: when you mail your scannable resume, mail an original (not photocopied) that is printed (ideally with a laser-quality printer) on one side only. Don’t staple or fold the resume.
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