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Resumes in cyberspace

Ready to prepare a resume for this cyber age?

Open up your brain-file containing everything you knew a few years ago about formatting a resume. Now highlight it all. Ready? Press delete.

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The world of resume formatting and submission has gone forever digital, and the winds of change have blown in a whole new set of rules for prepping and submitting career marketing documents.

For instance, fancy print paper is fast becoming yesterday's news. Instead, e-mail and fax transmissions provide that instant gratification most companies demand, so the paper your resume's printed on is rarely seen by the hiring company.

In fact, human eyes aren't likely to even pass over your personal rap sheet until they've narrowed the hunt to a few viable candidates. The first cuts are all done by scanners and keyword searches. Using Optical Character Recognition software, the computer reads and stores letters and numbers in a searchable text format.

The new technology is great for companies who can now redirect hundreds of man-hours previously spent scouring stacks of resumes. But OCR can quickly nuke a job candidate who doesn't know how to format a scan-friendly document. It routinely and ruthlessly melts improperly formatted text into digital waste.

The challenge is to create a resume that will contain the necessary keywords in a format OCR will recognize, while retaining a human-readable format. He offers the following tips for ensuring your resume uploads to corporate databases intact:

  • Abandon "serif" fonts -- that is, fonts with little jots and tittles hanging off the ends of the letters. OCR doesn't like jots and tittles. Instead use a "sans serif" font, like Arial.
  • Use 12-14 point font. Smaller fonts cause scanning errors, and could render critical keywords in your resume unintelligible. Both OCR and human readers prefer a larger font.
  • Do not use brackets, parentheses, or lines. They confuse OCR. Text-styling also addles OCR, so avoid bold, italics, underlining and shading.
  • Instead of using tabs and hanging indents, left-justify the entire document. That way, future downloading won't jumble your resume into a free-form mess.

Beneath your name, title a section "Keywords." In this paragraph, list industry and position words that you feel would be search terms used by recruiters in your career field. List these words separated only by commas. This section should be considered a separate entity from the rest of your resume, so it's OK to repeat words used elsewhere in the resume.

Adding a keyword section to your resume increases the likelihood of "hitting" in a database search, and also makes it easy for you to customize your resume for different companies. For example, a candidate with broad-based management skills could insert keywords found in one company's ad for a personnel manager, then insert a different batch of keywords from another firm's ad for an office manager. All this without too many changes to the basic content of the resume.

E-mail submissions
Here are tips for when you e-mail in a resume or post it on job search databases or career sites like Monster or

  • Follow the formatting guidelines above, but restrict the width of your resume to 68 characters. Most e-mail readers can display 70 characters across. Limiting lines to 68 characters will ensure that OCR won't guillotine over-long sentences, and potentially, important keywords.
  • Do not send your resume as an attached file. Not only can differences in operating systems create compatibility problems, dealing with attached files is time-consuming. This may cause many operators to dump the file. Instead, paste your resume into the body of the e-mail.
  • At fill-in-the-blank resume Web sites, make every word count. Some career Web sites provide forms where you can key in your qualifications. Space is usually limited, so omit adjectives and fancy sentence structure; they'll only eat up valuable form space and reduce the number of keywords you can include. For example, instead of:

Performed software auditing and analysis to support organizational goal of software licensing compliance,

Key in:

Software auditing and analysis; software licensing compliance.

When you submit your resume electronically or by fax, don't mail in another copy for "back-up." You may wind up confusing HR personnel who juggle enough documents without trying to decide if you're the same Jane Q. Smith as the one who faxed that other resume. But if you must mail in a hard copy of your resume by request, follow these suggestions:

  • Use only white 8 by 11 inch paper printed on one side. Twenty-four pound "woven" paper looks nice and scans well.
  • Do not fold your resume! OCR will almost certainly warp any text tucked into resulting creases. Send all resumes lying flat in a 9 by 12 inch envelope.
  • Use only laser or presentation-quality ink jet printing. OCR just loves rock-solid text.

By formatting your resume for optimum performance with electronic submission and screening media, you'll simplify its appearance for fax and snail-mail submissions as well. Just remember, we're not in the Presentation Age, but the Information Age. So it's information -- hard-hitting, targeted, and concise -- that counts.

-- Updated: May 10, 2004




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