Over the last several years, the most common questions about résumés asked by job hunters have progressively shifted to a new line of inquiry. While still of paramount importance, the majority of queries are no longer about functional versus chronological résumé styles, whether to keep or remove experience from twenty-five years ago, or whether to include dates of education. With the advent and subsequent explosion of the role of the Internet in the job search process, questions have turned overwhelmingly to issues of electronic résumé creation and transmission.
What are the different types of electronic résumés?
What are the differences between an e-mail résumé, a scannable résumé, and a web résumé?
How do I know which résumé format to use?
How do I format my electronic résumé to ensure that the recipient can read it?
No wonder there is so much confusion! In just a few short years, there has been a complete revolution in the rules and techniques of job hunting. As applicant tracking technologies have come into common use among headhunter firms, large corporations, and even mid-size and small businesses, recommended résumé formats and methods of transmission have rapidly evolved and changed with the advancing technologies. Further complicating things, have been the increasing availability of personal web space for online résumé portfolios and the accelerated growth and popularity of independent résumé database services such as Monster.com.
What does this mean for today's job hunter? While the Internet has opened unprecedented doors of opportunity in the job search process, for those who have not taken the time to learn and apply the rules it can mean disaster!
While few job hunters have time to spend months studying the most recent technologies and recommendations for the creation of electronic résumés, before venturing into cyberspace with your résumé it is critical that you take the time to learn and understand a few simple concepts. Knowing your audience and the formats most acceptable by those audiences are essential pieces of knowledge for the Internet job hunter.
Miss these points and the effects could be severe...you might send out hundreds of résumés only to sit at home and wonder why nobody, not even one company or headhunter, has called you for an interview. There are fundamental formatting differences between traditional and electronic résumés. If you do not understand these differences, your résumé will make it into very few - if any - résumé databases.
What are the differences between keyword, scannable, web, traditional, and text résumés?
Traditional résumés are designed, as already noted, to compel the human reader, through persuasive language and design, to take further action and call you for an interview. Layout and page design are critical and should be planned strategically to draw the eye to areas of emphasis. The most effective traditional résumés are focused on achievements and written in powerful, active language that captures and holds the attention of the reader.
Also a printed, hardcopy format, a scannable résumé is designed primarily for accurate scanning into a computer. Captured as an image, scannable résumés are fed through OCR (optical character recognition) software that reads and extracts the text. The extracted text is databased for storage and later recalled by keyword from an applicant tracking system.
Text résumés are just what the name implies, an ASCII-formatted version of either your traditional or scannable resume. You will need two versions on your text résumé. The first, created without line breaks, will be used for uploading to online résumé databanks. The second, created with line breaks, will be used for e-mailing directly to employers.
The phrase "keyword résumé," as it was first used, referred most often to either a scannable or text résumé that incorporated a focus on nouns and phrases that employers were likely to use when searching for an applicant. Sometimes the keyword résumé had a section at the beginning or end that listed the keywords separated by commas or periods. Today, there is no need to maintain both a keyword and a non-keyword résumé. Keywords have become such an essential element in résumés that you should insure that every version of your résumé, whether meant for the human or the computer reader, incorporates the keywords most important in your field or industry.
Still confused? Our recommendation is to simply maintain several separate versions of your résumé:
Traditional résumé - If you wish to send a hardcopy, paper version of your résumé and are certain that the recipient does not utilize an applicant tracking system, you should send your traditional résumé. It is worth a call to the HR department to learn how they handle résumés, but if you still cannot find out, you have two choices:
1. Send both a traditional résumé and a scannable résumé (cover all bases).
2. Send the scannable résumé and bring a copy of your traditional résumé to the interview.
While we do not necessarily recommend e-mailing your traditional résumé as an attachment to a message, increasingly, employers and recruiters are actually requesting this. The most frequently requested formats for attached résumés are Microsoft Word and Adobe PDF. If you choose to send the MS Word version of your traditional résumé, be aware that your formatting may be incompatible with the recipient's system. While usually still readable, font and bullet sizes and styles may be different from what you intended. These problems can be minimized, although not always eliminated, by embedding the fonts into the document. This is a simple process, and the MS Word help files will guide you through it. If the recipient has the free Adobe Reader installed, Adobe PDF files will appear on the recipient's system precisely the way they appear on your system. If given the choice between sending an MS Word file and Adobe PDF file, always opt for Adobe PDF.
Scannable résumé - Employers rarely request scannable résumés anymore. If they utilize an applicant tracking system, they will likely request that your résumé be e-mailed, either as ASCII text or as an attachment. E-mail allows the recipient to enter your résumé directly into the database, eliminating the extra steps of scanning and OCR. However, there are still occasional calls for scannable résumés, and you need to be ready when you receive a request for one. As described above, if you are sending a hardcopy, paper version of your résumé and know or suspect that an employer makes use of applicant tracking, you should send a scannable résumé. You may also decide to send a traditional résumé as a supplement. Whatever you choose, ALWAYS be certain that your scannable résumé incorporates the critical keywords for your industry and field.
ASCII text résumé - If you conduct any of your job search on the Internet, ASCII-formatted résumés are critically important tools. Always have two up-to-date text versions of your résumé on disk. This is the fastest way to contact potential employers and to apply for jobs advertised online. You must also have a text version of your résumé if you wish to post in online résumé databanks. Because the text versions of your résumé will nearly always end up in a searchable database, you should ALWAYS incorporate industry-critical keywords in the text.
A final type of electronic résumé is the web résumé, also known as the online résumé. Created using HTML, your web résumé may be uploaded to space provided by a web-hosting provider. Eliminating the compatibility problems associated with word-processed résumés sent as e-mail attachments, web résumés offer the advantage of maintaining layout and design on the systems of anyone with a web browser. Available for viewing around the clock, conveying a technology-savvy image, and allowing the ability to add supporting content to your résumé (effectively creating an online portfolio promoting your qualifications), web résumés are becoming a progressively important tool in the job search. The creation of a web résumé or résumé portfolio is far beyond the scope of this article, but if web résumés are an electronic format that interest you, be aware that many professional résumé services have begun offering web résumé design and hosting at affordable prices.
What do I need to know about writing keyword résumés?
Keywords are generally defined as nouns or phrases that an employer will use when searching for an applicant with your skill set. To maximize the recall of your résumé in a search, you will want to use as many keywords in your résumé as possible.
1. Keywords should focus on technical and professional areas of expertise, industry-related jargon, and your work history. Also, include the names of associations and organizations of which you are a member.
2. Whenever possible, use synonyms of keywords in different parts of your résumé and if you use initials for a term in one section, spell the term out in another. This is where the keyword summary becomes useful.
3. Always be specific. For example, while it may be fine to include the phrase "computer literate," you will also want to list the specific software that you are proficient in using.
The content of a keyword résumé does not need to differ from the content of your traditional résumé. With careful attention to rhythm and flow, it is possible to prepare a résumé that is keyword optimized, but that also includes the powerful, compelling, active language of a traditional résumé. Not only will this simplify your résumé preparation, but it will insure that the content of all versions of your résumé will be optimized for both the computer and the human reader. Furthermore, if you incorporate a professional summary and bulleted list of qualifications in the text of your résumé, there is little if any need to prepare a separate keyword summary.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to recommend a specific list of the best keywords to use in your résumé, as the "best" keywords are different for every individual and depend mainly on your unique career objective and background. What is certain, however, is that a well-prepared keyword résumé is so critical to your success in a job market that largely relies on electronic applicant tracking systems, if you have any doubts at all you should consult with a professional résumé writer.
Early projections regarding the growing popularity of scanning résumés have not matched forecasts. The main reason for this variance has been the increased use of e-mail as a transmission mode. Although an e-mailed résumé will still be entered into a tracking system, it can be done so automatically, with no need for scanning. However, some corporate web sites and employment ads still recommend scannable résumés, so you will need to be prepared.
Keep in mind the reason that your résumé will be scanned (to store it in an applicant tracking system) and how it will be searched (by keywords), and then write your résumé content appropriately. Confusing the issue, many modern OCR systems are able to accurately translate even fairly complex formatting. In many cases, even your traditional résumé could be scanned, run through an OCR program, and accurately translated and stored. However, if the recipient does not have the most up-to-date software and system, your scanned traditional résumé may become a jumble of indistinguishable words when run through the OCR program. For this reason, it will be best if you prepare your scannable résumé using a simple design and format. Here are some tips for creating a résumé that can be accurately scanned and stored in all systems:
1. Always print your résumé on white or very light-colored paper. Never use colored or patterned paper for your scannable résumé.
2. Use 8 1/2 X 11 paper. Never use formats that are printed in a folder style or on 11 X 17 paper.
3. Send your résumé flat in a large envelope. Do not fold or staple it.
4. Use a standard sans serif typeface such as Helvetica or Arial.
5. Use a font that is 10 to 14 points in size.
6. Your name should be the very first line. Do not have any other information on this line.
7. Each phone number and e-mail address should be placed on a separate line and your address should be typed in standard format.
8. Don't ever condense spacing between letters to try to save space. Each letter should be separate and not touch.
9. It is okay to use boldface and capitals to highlight certain sections of your résumé, however, make sure the letters do not touch.
10. Never use underlines.
11. Don't use vertical lines, boxes, or graphics. Horizontal lines are generally okay, but make certain that they do not touch the text.
12. Most OCR software can handle bullets, but use them sparingly.
13. Always send crisp originals of your résumé. Photocopies and faxes do not scan well.
14. If the employer gives specific instructions for formatting your résumé, FOLLOW THEM!
Preparing the two required versions of your text résumé is not difficult. Once converted to ASCII format, you will be able to email your résumé in response to an ad or paste it directly into web-based forms and submit it to Internet résumé databanks. To prepare your ASCII résumés properly, follow these simple steps:
1. Using your word processing program, open your word-processed résumé and use the "Save As" function to save a copy as a "Text Only" or "ASCII (DOS)" document. Title your document with an easily distinguishable name; perhaps "resume_internet.txt"
2. Close your word processing program and re-open the ASCII file. You will not be able to see your changes until you have done this. Note that it has been stripped of virtually all original formatting.
3. Go through your new ASCII document line-by-line. Align all text flush to the left-hand margin.
4. Remove all "centering," "right hand margin," and "justification" alignments.
5. Although you should no longer see them, if visible, remove all graphics, artwork, and special character formatting.
6. Remove all tab characters.
7. Remove all columns.
8. Replace bullets with a simple ASCII asterisk (*).
9. Carefully check the spelling and the accuracy of your data.
10. If you wish, use ASCII characters to enhance the appearance of your résumé. Asterisks, plus signs, or other keyboard characters can be used to create visual lines that separate sections of your résumé and make it easier to read.
The above steps convert your résumé to ASCII without line breaks. When pasted into a web-based form, your résumé will automatically wrap to the size of the window.
If you intend to transmit your résumé by e-mail, you must take several final steps:
1. Save the changes to your "resume_internet.txt" file.
2. Once you have saved it, use "Page Setup" to change your page margins to 1" Top and Bottom, 1" Left, and 2" Right.
3. Use "Save As" again, this time saving your résumé as "Text Only with Line Breaks." Give your file a unique name, such as "resume_email.txt"
These additional steps insert line breaks at approximately 65 characters per line to prevent line wraps in unintended places. While some e-mail systems automatically insert line breaks in outgoing messages, many do not, so this extra file insures that the recipient will receive your e-mailed résumé in a readable format rather than as several long lines of unbroken text. Your e-mail résumé is now ready to be copied and pasted into the body of e-mail messages.
Your two new ASCII résumés will be universally readable, no matter what computer system the recipient uses. They are also easily manipulated for entry into applicant tracking databases and eliminate the inherent difficulties of scanning and converting your paper résumé with OCR systems.
There is no denying that the Internet has caused what was once a straightforward process to become complex and confusing to many job hunters. Yet, the benefits far outweigh the negatives. Like never before, job searchers have immediate access to announcements and advertisements of openings around the globe. They have the ability to conduct detailed research on companies of interest. And they have unprecedented opportunity to cost effectively promote their qualifications to hundreds or even thousands of hiring authorities of just a tiny fraction of the cost of doing so through traditional methods. While the new skills you must learn may seem daunting at first, by understanding the concepts and creating your byte-able, electronic résumés, you are well on your way to an efficient, effective Internet job search.
Michelle Dumas is a nationally certified professional resume writer and career coach specializing in résumé preparation and career marketing for the global job market. As founder and executive director of Distinctive Documents, she provides comprehensive résumé services in all 50 states and internationally.
Copyright © Michelle Dumas 1997, 1999, 2001, 2002