Preparing a Scannable Resume
In many organizations, applicant tracking software is used to manage resumes and other documentation related to interviewing. This permits quick access to a huge number of potential applicants for any given position. Databases often have tens of thousands of stored resumes at anyone time.
The Scanning Process
Your resume (and often, your cover letter) is scanned by a computer and produced as an image. The OCR (optical character recognition) software views the image of your resume and tries to identify each character as a letter or number. It is important that your resume's format and content are designed for two "audiences": One, the computer and the scanning software requirements, and the other, the human recruiters and managers. If your resume is scanned accurately and contains the appropriate "key words" describing your skills and experience, you'll be considered for more positions that match your qualifications.
These tips will help to maximize the software's ability to scan your resume accurately:
- Choose white, pale ivory or pale gray 8 1/2" x 11" paper, printed on one side only.
- The contrast between the type and the background must be clear. Avoid paper which is textured, flecked or pastel colors.
- Use a laser printer and black ink, preferably; an inkjet printer will produce an acceptable copy as well. The scanner needs crisp, high contrast type.
- Use standard typefaces such as Helvetica, Arial, Times, and Times Roman. Letters and numbers must not touch or run into each other. This makes it difficult or impossible for the scanner to read a character accurately.
- Use font sizes of 10 - 12 points for text and 11 - 14 points for headings.
- Use boldface and/or all capital letters for section headings. Do not use italics (where letters sometimes touch each other), underlining, shadows, reverse type (white letters on a black background).
- Do not use vertical or horizontal lines, graphics, boxes or columns.
- A resume should not be just "noun based". The people reviewing your resume later in the process will want to read descriptive statements of your contributions.
- Include both key words and descriptive statements to meet the needs of the software and the interviewer.
- A two page resume should be long enough to include both key words and well-written accomplishment statements. Although the computer does not care how many pages your resume is, a human being will be reviewing it at some point and will not want to wade through multiple pages.
- Use jargon and acronyms specific to your job and industry. Spell out acronyms for human readers who need to understand them.
Choose key words which are an accurate and honest reflection of your background and experience, and are words and phrases used by employers to describe your qualifications.
There are several ways to determine what key words to use on your resume:
Analyze the wording in classified ads that relate to your job. Make note of those words or terms that appear most frequently.
- If you are working with a recruiter, try to get a job specification sheet listing the qualifications.
- If you know someone in your occupation that has recently been hired, ask to look at his or her resume.
The bottom line is that a human recruiter or manager is still going to be reviewing your resume. However, your resume must successfully "pass" the scanning process to progress to the next step. In following these guidelines, you will be able to use this technology to your advantage in your job search.
- Place your name at the top of the page on its own line, with a standard address format below your name. List each phone number on a separate line. Omit parentheses or brackets around area codes.
- Date ranges (i.e. years at a company) should be on the same line.
- Use portrait (vertical) layout, not horizontal.
- Set off accomplishments by solid bullet points or asterisks (*).
- Avoid faxing a resume which is to be scanned. If you are requested to fax your resume, set the machine on "fine mode" rather than "standard mode." Follow up with a properly printed copy in the mail.
Recruiters and managers access the resume database by searching for your resume specifically or searching for applicants with particular experience.
When searching for specific experience, they use "key words". These are generally nouns such as BA, sales management, inventory control, direct mail marketing, Japanese (language fluency). Describe your experience with concrete, up-to-date words for your industry and field. The software extracts this information from your resume. Every time your information matches one or more of the key words in a search, it is called a "hit."
Here are some ways to maximize key word hits:
- Use enough key words to clearly define your skills, knowledge, experience, education, professional affiliations, etc.
- Edit your resume to include nouns that describe your experience in addition to verbs. For example, mention "management" somewhere in your resume in addition to using the verb "managed." Integrate these nouns throughout your entire resume. Do not "frontload" them in a key word summary which lists only nouns.
- Use nouns that are specific: instead of "word processing software" use "Microsoft Word" or "WordPerfect."