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Message to Applicants > Resume Tips > Format Your Resume to be Scanned by a Computer

By Jeremy Shapiro

Pretend for a moment that you find the perfect job in the classified section. It's with a big Fortune 500 company - and they'll be getting hundreds of resumes. You decide to spruce up your resume for the job. You add a fancy font to the resume, elegantly italicize each position that you have held and top it off with an aesthetically pleasing black border surrounding each side of the paper. Your descriptions concisely sum up your skills using lots of actions verbs to describe yourself. You xerox it on a blue resume paper, staple a cover letter on it and send it off.

Then, you never hear from the company.

You were qualified for this position and should have been called for it, but the hiring manager never got to see your resume. Why? The computer system they use could not read your resume.

A computer reads resumes?

More and more large companies are using computers to help them manage the volume of resumes for their job openings. It's called "electronic applicant tracking". This new system is basically a database of resumes with a built in artificial intelligence to read and extract information. However, if the text of the resume is hard for the computer to read, much of the information in the resume does not get into the database.

In our example, there are several big mistakes that will make a resume difficult to read. Let's start with the layout and format of a resume.

Formatting and Printing Your Resume

When the computer system receives your resume, it scans the resume into the system and then the computer literally reads it. The computer needs to be able to distinguish between the letter "m" and two "n"s placed closely together. Letters on a page can sometimes be blurry and fonts can be hard to read. The computer also likes to get information in a certain order. One software company suggests the following to optimize a resume:

When you prepare your resume:

  • Avoid fancy text styles like italics, underlining, shadows, and reversed colors
  • Stick to commonly used fonts like Helevetica, Times, Palatino, Courier, and Universe
  • Keep the size of your font between 10 and 14 point (but don't use 10pt Times)
  • Do not condense the spacing between letters
  • Do not use vertical or horizontal lines
  • Do not use a two column format (like a newspaper)
  • What should go first on the page?
  • Put your name at the top of the page. It should be the first thing on the page
  • Use the standard address format:
    • Joseph C. Newburgh
      123 Cherry Lane
      Lancaster, PA 11223
  • Bold or capitalize section heads (like Employment, Computer Skills)
  • List each phone number/fax number on its own line

Printing the resume and sending it

When you print your resume, use a white or light colored paper stock. Paper size should be standard U.S. 8.5x11. Send the company a laser printed original or your resume or a high quality xerox. A resume produced from a typewriter does work well with the computer system as long as the ribbon is dark.

When sending off the resume, don't staple pages together. When faxing, make sure that the fax machine (or fax software) is set to high resolution.

Source: Resumix

Use Nouns instead of Verbs

While writing your resume, use nouns to describe your qualifications, not verbs. When the hiring managers search through the database of resumes, they can only search by key words, and those key words tend to be nouns. For instance, "SQL Database Programmer" is generally easier to find in a database than writing, "Designed and implemented departmental database." Make sure that you use nouns that are usually used to describe your industry. Jargon is perfectly OK, as long as you spell out abbreviations. Put yourself in the manager's place. What words would you search on to fill a programming analyst position?

An example:

A resume which would have said: " Worked closely with writers and account coordinators in the development of client promotional materials"

Should read: "Art Director creating four color brochures, Director multimedia presentations, and newspaper ad books."

Where to go From Here....

You may be asking yourself how you know if the company uses a computer system? If it's a very large company, they are probably using the system. Sometimes the address where you send the resume will be a central depository. And, you can always ask a recruiter!

Does this mean you need 2 different resumes? No, it does mean that you should have two *versions* of your resume. One, should be the one for people to look at (one that is probably more aesthetically pleasing) and one to send into computer resume systems.

The above format, printing and content guidelines will give you a strong start in optimizing a resume for computer systems. Resumix, one software company who makes the "electronic applicant tracking" software, has developed a form to convert the format of a resume to a format that is optimized for their system. You can find the form at www.resumix.com.

Resources: Resumix, AT&T's Resume Advice, Intel's How to Prepare Your Resume, How to Write an Electronic Resume, Electronic Job Searching

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