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March 31, 2009


Sending a resume off to Fortune 500 companies can be a daunting experience these days. Because of corporate downsizing and overworked human resources departments, most large companies have developed streamlined, cost-efficient ways of coping with massive resume pile-up. One such way has been the implementation of the "scannable" resume. What this means for potential employees is that the initial urge to make a resume stand out with flashy fonts and page layouts must be resisted; instead, the resume that stands out today is the one that scores the most "hits."

With new "electronic applicant tracking" systems, large companies can quickly scan and electronically store the resumes that they receive into a large central database, where most of them will sit for six months to a year, collecting electronic dust, so to speak. These new systems virtually ensure that most resumes will never even be seen by human eyes and so require a different standard of resume writing, one that is electronically friendly. Because these computer "applicant tracking" systems are unable to make the fine distinctions and judgment calls made everyday by human beings, the resumes that "catch the eye" of the computer are not necessarily the same ones that will grab a recruiter in the human resources department. This also means that resumes must make use of industry "buzz" words which will match what the computer has been trained to look for. When the computer makes such a match, the resume has scored a "hit." The following guidelines are offered to help out your resume so that the "hits" just keep on coming!:

  • Avoid fancy text styles like italics, underlining, or shadows
  • Use standard 10 to 14 point fonts like Times, Palatino, Courier, and Helvetica
  • Do not use a newspaper-style two column format
  • Left justify all text
  • Send your resume on 8.5" x 11", white paper only
  • Fax on "high resolution" setting
  • Avoid tabs (use the space bar instead)
  • Avoid parentheses, brackets, and compressed lines of print
  • Use jargon specific to your industry
  • Use nouns and noun phrases rather than verbs when possible to describe job duties (e.g., use "Art Director" rather than "directed and oversaw the graphic layout of company brochure")

The main thing to keep in mind is that the "scannable" resume which scores you plenty of "hits" with the company's computer tracking system must be clean, neat, and detailed. It's a good idea to keep two versions of your resume on hand, one for the computer and one for the interview. Save the elaborate fonts and crazy paper colors for that copy you bring to the interview, where you might get someone who digs your taste.