a SCannable reSume

Although more and more companies prefer electronic resumes sent by email, many still scan resumes into their database. When a paper resume comes in, someone in HR will scan the resume and use the optical character recognition (OCR) software to post it to the resume database. At that time it becomes available to a manager who can then find it through a key word search.

Scanners, and the OCR software that translate the images into words, have limits. Many cannot properly interpret italics, and if the print is too small, the OCR software will not recognize the letters, creating typos throughout the resume. In the next five years scanners and OCR software may reach a level of sophistication where they can even read the handwriting of doctors. Until that time arrives, it is best to follow the rules that almost ensure a one hundred percent accurately scanned resume.

Take the time to insert all your key words so employers can find you. Personnel file drawers containing resumes are called black holes because usually once a paper resume gets in a file drawer it never sees the light of day again. At least now, if you understand the following rules for creating a scannable resume, your resume will pop up on many computer screens and you’ll have the opportunity to sell yourself.

Paper resumes sent to employers, who then scan them into their database, must be formatted in such a way that all the words you’ve used to describe yourself are entered exactly as you composed them. If done incorrectly, your scanned resume might end up in the database riddled with typographical errors. Resumes with such errors rarely result in interviews.

tiPS on uSing Your reSume

Whenever possible, send your resume to a specific person. If the organization is identified in the ad, call and ask for the best person to address your cover letter to. Make sure you ask how the name is spelled and the person’s gender. Mr. Chris Smith is a lot different from Ms. Kris Smith. Although not every organization will give you a name, many will. Then address your cover letter to that person with the correct title. While you have a person from that organization on the phone, also ask if they scan resumes. If they don’t, send only one version of your resume, the one that visually looks the best. If you simply don’t know if your resume will be scanned, or if the organization has over one hundred employees, send both versions. Few companies under one hundred employees scan resumes.

Creating a SCannable reSume

When a resume arrives at an organization that scans and stores resumes, it first passes through an electronic scanner, which takes a picture of the document. The OCR software will analyze the resume to change it from an image to a plain-text file and store it in a database. Problems can occur both in the scanning and analyzing stages. If the contrast between the paper and letters isn’t good, the scanner may not take a good picture of the page. This could occur when a resume with black ink on dark paper is scanned. If the letters are too small or if an unusual font is used, the OCR software simply cannot recognize the letters and the resume will be unreadable.

Scanners and OCR software are constantly improving, so the newest high-end hardware and software may have little trouble with typical resumes. The problem is that many organizations are still using older equipment, and you have no way of knowing who is state-of-the-art and who is not. What this means is that to get through the OCR door, the great looking resumes that people create with their computers and laser printers need modification.

Although it seems like extra work to transform the original resume into a scannable version, it will require only a bit more time if you follow a few simple suggestions. Following these instructions should lead to a resume that can be scanned and stored with 100% accuracy.

Because many companies are still scanning paper resumes into their databases, it’s important to send something that will scan properly. Much of the scanning software will have no trouble with many of the items mentioned. But it’s better to be safe than sorry. Consider underlining, for example. Since some scanners have trouble with underlining, it is simply better to remove it. Underlining and using too small a font can cause typographical errors. Words the OCR software had trouble with will use a tilde character, which looks like this: ~. The resume with lots of errors and tilde marks (~) will rarely earn a thorough read. The following sentence appeared in the resume of one of our clients:

Placed over 100 people with disabilities into competitive jobs, a rate 30-40% above the norm.

After scanning the sentence became:

Placed ove~ 100 people with disabilities into competitive jobs, a rate 3040~ above the nomm.

You can see why it is important to create a scan-friendly resume. The ~ symbol is substituted for the original characters by the OCR when it notices that a letter or symbol is there but that it cannot properly decipher it. In the 30–40% portion, the OCR did not detect the hyphen; it also could not decipher the percent sign. The word “norm” became “nomm”. In this case the problem occurred because the resume used a small, 10-point serif font. We recommend 11-point sans-serif fonts for resumes that will likely be scanned.

the KeYS to Creating a SCannable reSume

Below are 18 points which, if followed, will result in your resume being scanned with almost total accuracy.

Use an 11-point font

We have long recommended an 11-point font size because it is the most readable. It also happens to be what scanners and OCR software prefer. When we tested different font sizes and typefaces (such as Arial and Times Roman), they all did better with 11-point type than with 10-point. For your name at the top of the first page, 14-or 16-point font sizes are fine.

Use a sans-serif typeface

We like serif fonts like Times New Roman for resumes, but your scannable resume should use a sans-serif font like Helvetica or Arial. Letters with serifs have the little extra strokes in parts of each letter.

This is Times Roman. It has serifs.

This is Arial. It does not have serifs. It is a sans-serif (i.e. without serifs) typeface.

Resumes using a sans-serif typeface scan slightly better than those with serifs. In those typefaces that have serifs, the letters sometimes touch, and this can give fits to a scanner. Typefaces come in many names, and often there are only slight differences between them. Some sans-serif typefaces that will scan well include Arial, Helvetica, Univers, and Century Gothic. Most sans-serif typefaces will scan well. Sans-serif typefaces from Word 2000 that will scan well include:

Keep your lines to 75 characters or less

Some OCR applications allow no more than 75 characters per line on the screen. If a line in your resume has more than 75 characters, your resume on screen and on paper may look like this:

Eastside Employment Services, Renton, WA 1984–1993 EMPLOYMENT COORDINATOR – Met with clients with disabilities and assessed their mental and physical skills. Matched clients with prospective employers and sold those employers on the benefits of hiring each client. Successfully placed over 100 people with developmental disabilities in

Here, a line-wrap problem has occurred because not all the words could fit on the line. It doesn’t look pretty, and most firms will simply not take the time to improve this awkward appearance.

A basic rule is that if you use an 11-point font and have margins of 1.6 inches on both sides you should be safe from line-wrap problems. To be sure, count the characters (don’t forget to count the spaces between words as characters too) in your longest line. Remember that you can count the number of characters in one line automatically: Highlight your longest line, go to Tools, then click on “Word Count.” Look at “Characters with Spaces.” But note that if your line is indented, you need to add the number of characters in the indent, as shown below:

Data Systems, 1973-Present

SENIOR PROJECT MANAGER, Little Rock, Arkansas, 1989-Present. Negotiate contracts, schedule deliveries, and troubleshoot all phases of computer installations. Work closely with customers to determine their needs, then gain contractual commitments from manufacturing and field engineering.

In this example, you would first count the characters in the line starting with “needs.” That line has 69 characters. But since that sentence was indented two spaces in from the company name, you would have to add them and count it as 71, still well within the 75-character rule. This job description would not create a word wrap problem.

Use white or light-colored 8.5 x 11” paper and print on only one side

Scanners need maximum contrast between the letters and the background. They also do best with standard 8.5 x 11" paper. When we scanned a resume with black letters on dark blue paper, the errors immediately went from zero to about 15. A few people print their resumes on 11 x 17" paper to create a presentation folder. The sheet is folded in half, with printing on all four pages, the first page acting as a cover. This style is not well accepted, and it causes major problems for scanners.

Avoid the use of underlining

Some OCR handle underlining just fine, but problems can occur when the underline touches the lower part of letters such as “j”, “g”, or “p”.

Avoid the use of bolding

Although most applications handle bold letters without any problem, some do not. Avoid bold type.

Avoid fancy fonts

Some of the unusual fonts that are available are difficult for scanners to read. We fed one OCR application a resume using a script typeface

Don’t use bullets or hollow bullets

Bullets are removed from a resume during scanning so you might as well not even use them. Hollow bullets on a paper resume can be interpreted as zeroes or as the small letter “o” when scanned, so avoid using them.

Put your name on the top line and use one line for each telephone number listed and one for email

Many scanning applications assume that the first line of a resume contains your name. Therefore, for your scannable resume, have only your name on the top line. It will also increase accuracy if you give one line for your home phone and another line for a cell phone number. Your email address should also be on a separate line. If you have a web resume, put your web address (URL) on a separate line as well. Although it is considered best to have a single line for each item on a scannable resume, you could put both phone numbers on one line as long as you put at least six spaces between them. Typically you would write “Home” after your home number. Another common approach is to put (h) or (H) after your home number and (c) or (C) for cell phone. Put parentheses around your area code: (425) 879-0098. Or try 425-879-0098, or 425.879.0098.

Use caps to give emphasis to key areas

Since we’ve already advised you to remove some of the nice word-processing touches that make a resume attractive, about the only design choice you have left is to capitalize certain words for emphasis. Your job titles and your subject headings like Education and Employment could be capitalized. Your use of capitalization is retained in the plain-text version.

Send a resume unfolded, unstapled, and flat in a 9 x 12” manila envelope

Creases in letters can cause a scanner to misread words in those lines. Although there is an extra cost to sending your resume unfolded, it will scan better. Besides, even if the firm does not scan resumes, it will have a nicer appearance. The resume pages will be taken apart before scanning, so leave them unstapled. Use a paper clip instead.

Avoid the use of italics

Many scanners do just fine with italics, but italics can cause problems for others. In part this is because with italics the characters come so close to merging with one another the OCR software cannot make out what the letter should be, a problem similar to some of the more exotic fonts.

Avoid the use of shading

There’s really no reason to use shading, but some people use it on resumes just because it’s available. Scanners need clear contrast between the letters and background. Shading destroys that contrast. Shading like this will really make a scanner go bonkers.

Avoid the use of columns

Many scanners handle columns just fine, but some scanners assume each column is a separate page.

Avoid the use of boxes or vertical lines

Vertical lines can fool a scanner, which may read them as the letter “I.” Vertical and horizontal lines and borders add nothing to a resume, so just leave them off.

Avoid compressing space between letters and between lines

Today’s word-processing packages enable one to compress the space between letters and between lines. That allows you to fit more words onto a page, but it can also cause problems for scanners. Stick to using the standard spacing between letters, lines, and paragraphs.

Print only on one side of the page

Print on just one side of the page. Printing on both sides of a page can create shadows and gives scanners real problems.

Never send a resume by fax unless requested

The quality of a fax degrades the sharpness of the letters so much that errors are certain to appear. If you are asked to fax a resume for the sake of speed, send your scannable version by mail the same day so that they will have your high-quality resume as well. Or, consider sending only your scannable resume, but sending it by next-day air or second-day air. If you fax your resume, try to fax it directly from your computer since this will create a higher-quality document when they receive it.

Pulling It All Together

Although we have given you many points to follow, they are simple to apply. These rules do, however, eliminate some of the nice visual touches that are possible with today’s word-processing programs and laser printers. But once a resume is scanned and goes into the database, all of those things are stripped off anyway. The bolding, italics, shading, or other special formatting you’ve used will not appear when your resume is printed after being stored. So if there is any chance the resume will be scanned, you might as well remove those elements at the beginning and make sure the scanner will read it with total accuracy. As scanning applications improve, some of the advice provided above will change. But for now this is what you must do to ensure that your resume is accurately scanned and stored.

If you decide to send two copies of your resume—one for scanning and one that visually looks the best—you could attach a note to the scanning resume that says, “Resume version intended for scanning purposes.”

Although not all cover letters are scanned into databases, you should still take the time to create a strong cover letter, because many employers use cover letters to learn about you. It too should use a 11-point, sans-serif font.

The resume on the next page is an example of a resume that should scan perfectly with almost any scanning application. It uses 11-point Arial type and its longest line does not exceed 75 characters.

Make effective use of your electronic resume. As valuable as the hundreds of commercial employment websites can be, keep in mind that far more jobs are posted at company websites. Many organizations choose not to advertise their positions. Based on observation they’ve concluded they get higher caliber applicants by posting positions only on their own company website. Think about it. Using websites like Careerbuilder are fairly passive. Many people lack focus and use such sites to apply for jobs almost haphazardly. Those who target specific organizations tend to be more focused and seem to offer the work ethic and drive that many companies seek. See page 286 for information on Reference USA where you can create a list of organizations that fit your profile based on location, industry, and size.

ADRIAN MASTERS 2199 Roxanne Avenue Long Beach, California 90815

(213) 645-0968

OBJECTIVE: Import Manager


Strong import and transportation experience with knowledge of customs regulations and procedures. Consistently establish procedures that cut costs and provide timely delivery of product.


B.A. - International Business, UCLA (1992)


Raha Sportswear, Long Beach, California 10/97-Present

ASSISTANT IMPORT MANAGER—Manage a staff of five who monitor $95 million in wearing apparel imports and a $44 million letter of credit line. Proposed, developed, and implemented an ocean freight consolidation program which has reduced ocean freight costs by 30% and provides better tracking control. Planned and developed a manual

tracking system which for the first time has enabled the company to

analyze the performance of vendors.

Breslin Inc., Los Angeles, California 5/93-8/97

IMPORT SPECIALIST—Coordinated the transportation of all retail purchase orders through communication with brokers, agents, and

product managers. Recommended the establishment of a specific

footwear rate, saving an estimated $30,000 in ocean freight rates.

Appara, Los Angeles, California 4/90-5/93

IMPORT CLERk/ALLOCATION CLERk—As Allocation Clerk, adjusted inventories and future shipments to meet store orders. As Import Clerk,

tracked all imported product to assure consistent flow of goods by

communicating with brokers, truckers, and foreign agents.

Power by Masterpiece Studioz