How to Create a Scannable Resume

A scannable resume is a resume that a person scans into a computer as an image. Because computers read scannable resumes differently than people do, you have to follow certain rules to be fairly sure that your scannable resume will be read as you intended.

A scannable resume may start life as a paper resume that you can postal mail, hand deliver, or fax on a fax machine; the employer uses a scanning machine to enter a hard copy resume into a candidate database. More often these days, you create a scannable resume on your computer and e-mail it to an employer, who electronically enters it directly into a database.

After an employer has your scannable resume, computer software extracts from it a summary of basic information, pulling out factors like your name, contact information, skills, work history, years of experience, and education. Scanned resumes and their extracted summaries sleep peacefully until an HR specialist or recruiter searches the summaries by keywords to retrieve candidates who match the requirements of a job opening. The technology ranks candidates, from the most qualified to the least qualified. The relevant resumes get a wake-up call and pop to the recruiting screen, where human eyes take over the recruiting tasks.

Scannable resumes are on their way out, in favor of intake systems that allow resumes to travel smoothly online into an electronic resume-management database. But don’t trash your scannable resume just yet. If an employer or job site directs you to send a resume that can be scanned, do it.

Take these steps to prevent scanning errors from putting you on the sidelines:

  • Use type that’s clear and readable. Don’t use a condensed typeface. White space separates letters; no space smushes them together. Letters must be distinctively clear with crisp, unbroken edges. Avoid artsy, decorative typefaces.

  • Avoid these bad-scan elements:

  • Italics or script

  • Underlining

  • Reverse printing (white letters on a black field)

  • Shadows or shading

  • Hollow bullets (they read like the letter o)

  • Number signs (#) for bullets (the computer may read it as a phone number)

  • Boxes (computers try to read them like letters)

  • Two-column formats or designs that look like newspapers

  • Symbols, such as a logo

  • Vertical lines (computers read them like the letter l)

  • Vertical dates (use horizontal dates: 2009–2011)

  • Feel free to use a larger font for section headings and your name. A font size of 14 to 16 points is good. Larger headings look better on the electronic image of your resume when people read it. As an example, you could format the body of your resume in a 12-point font size, the section headings in 14-point, and the name in 16-point.

  • Do keep your scannable resume simple in design and straightforward. Recruiters call this approach “plain vanilla,” and they like it because it doesn’t confuse computers.

  • Do send your paper resume without staples. Paper clips are okay. Follow this tip for all resumes that you mail or hand deliver because staples are a pain to pull out before feeding a scanner one page at a time.

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