The following material has been excerpted from Electronic Resume
Revolution by Joyce Lain Kennedy and Thomas J. Morrow, Copyright
(c) 1994, Joyce Lain Kennedy & Thomas J. Morrow. This material has been
provided in cooperation with John Wiley & Sons, Inc. and is intended for
your personal use only; it may NOT be otherwise copied or distributed
without specific written permission from the publisher.

Chapter 4

The Right Look for Your New Resume

Chill the Frills and Add 15 Power Tips

OCR systems may have trouble interpreting exotic pages that feature bumps and grinds and lines and fancy type. Stick to conservative "vanilla" styles. As this chapter explains, when in doubt, don't flaunt your creativity. Use the power tips for scannable resumes instead.

At this stage of the resume revolution, there's little argument that, in scannable documents, less is more.

The best scannable resumes are elegantly simple: unadorned, uncluttered, and unpretentious.

Now that desktop publishing is widely available, a surprising number of people are sending out resumes that look as though they were prepared by someone who has just come into a fortune of computer fonts and hasn't gotten over it yet.

With their excess of typography, these documents are on a par with carwash flyers--busy with an infinity of thunderous bold headings and underlinings that blur together; a surfeit of check marks, bullets, and dashes; and little squiggly rules across the page.

Less is more for computer eyes too. This advice will hold good for the foreseeable future. Machines don't appreciate gargoyles or gingerbread--or even good writing.

As an example, take the lilting words created for the "Knute Rockne and His Fighting Irish" advertisement in the American Experience series, published by insurance behemoth Aetna:

For a man known as "Rock," Knute Rockne had an extraordinarily sweet smile. When he was pleased, his leather pumpkin of a face became a sea of wrinkles surrounding one of the great warm smiles of history. But he was indeed a rock...

Suppose, for the sake of example, the copywriter who penned these expressive words wanted to change jobs and thought it might be a good idea to include a mini-portfolio of work along with a resume.

Would it advance the copywriter's candidacy to include in the resume package those passages of gifted expression? Unfortunately, the process doesn't work that way. Until the copywriter is interviewed by a human recruiter, those beautiful words probably won't count for hiring points.

Even when seeking a top copywriter, a search engine in a computerized system can be counted on to bolt through a database and totally ignore a paragraph containing words like "rock... smile... pumpkin... wrinkles... history." Back into the electronic storage box the paragraph goes.

But as soon as the tracking system--patrolling for keywords that include competitors or major corporations--picks up the buzzword "Aetna," the copywriter rockets to the top of the list. Recruiters are impressed with copywriters good enough to have written for Aetna and Aetna's Madison Avenue advertising agency. If Aetna wanted that copywriter, they will say, we do too.

Employers assume that a copywriter with an Aetna label is able to turn out quality prose, and they look forward to reading it when the copywriter comes in for an interview.

Until that point, the classy writing doesn't help in the resume package.

Computers and their silicon pals don't care about the finer things in life. They cut to the chase. They get straight to the point. They eliminate the frills. If resumes were flavors and a computer could choose, the choice definitely would be vanilla.

In our talks with human resource professionals across the country, we found that systems dealing with resumes aren't equal in sophistication. Some OCR software makes sense out of boldface and many less common typefaces; others don't. The technology is constantly being improved as imaging industry competitors try to catch up or leap ahead.

We'll be more specific later in this chapter, but this is the concept to keep in mind: As a job seeker, you are flying blind in an increasingly automated job market. Most often, you won't know which technology is being used by what employer. You may not know how many times your resume will be photocopied or faxed, losing sharpness with each generation of reproduction.

During the next few years, your resume will be chasing a moving technology target.

The best advice we can give at this stage is to aim for a low- to mid-range common denominator in scanning and OCR technology. Executive recruiters and others who design their own systems are likely to have the low end of the technology; major corporations are likely to have the high end.

Because of the "flying blind" factor, we suggest that, for the next five years at least, the best resume is a vanilla resume.

How To Write A Vanilla Resume

The name of the game for OCR software is distinctive edges to each character. Each time a copy of your resume is made, it moves a generation away from the clarity of the original. The distinctive edges to each character become less distinct with each generation.

When the edges get mushy, or touch, or run together, your resume becomes hard to read. Hold the thought of distinctive edges in mind as you read these new rules for the physical production of your resume. Use these guidelines with almost every scanning system:

1. To play it safe, stick to sans serif fonts. As a second choice, choose very popular serif fonts. Sans serif is a typeface without serifs, the little strokes at an angle to the vertical lines of a character.

Serif characters can touch or run together. The capital letters E and F can look almost the same in a serif face, for instance. Although high-end systems can read almost all nondecorative typefaces when the original version of the text is presented, your resume will still lose clarity as a result of being faxed or photocopied to death. Even on originals, avoid decorative typefaces, such as the following examples:

Instead, print your resume in one of the nondecorative typefaces shown on page 76 or use one that is very similar.

The choices are drawn from a recent survey of America's most popular typefaces by Cynthia Hollandsworth, United States type marketing manager for Agfa Division of Miles, Inc.

The headlines are in 12-point boldface and the examples are in 10-point roman (regular). The selections in the left column are sans serif typefaces; those in the right column are serif typefaces.

To recap:

Ten Good Typefaces for Scannable Resumes
Click on the image to download a larger, jpeg image

2. Use a font size of 10 to 14 points. Do not use anything smaller. To scanners and OCRs, small type is a tight fit. Type that's too big is like trying to absorb a wall mural in a single glance.

3. Boldface is accepted by most systems. Some scanners, however, do not handle boldface well. Unless an employer specifically tells you to avoid the use of boldface, go ahead and use it for headings. Capital letters can be substituted for boldface.

4. Avoid italic text, script, and underlined passages. Script and italics sometimes touch. Each of these three flourishes is trouble by itself; when two are paired (italics and underlining, or script and underlining), it's a recipe for mush.

5. Avoid using graphics and shading. When your resume is being scanned, the equipment is set to read "text," not "graphics." If the system is told to ignore graphics or shading, they are "zoned out." When systems get hung up attempting to read graphics or shading as characters, the result is pandemonium. Expect disturbance of your piece, too, if you make the mistake of using complex tables with leader dots (...). Computers may trip over them.

6. Use horizontal and vertical lines sparingly. Some experts say flatly, "Use no vertical lines." If you do use lines, put at least a quarter-inch of white space around them. Computers will try to read lines. The horizontal lines may blur into characters, resulting in black globs that look like the inkblots on a Rorschach personality test. Vertical lines may be confused with the letter "l," also generating confusion in the computer's scan.

Omit parentheses or brackets around any telephone area codes, as in (111) 222-3333. Most systems have no trouble reading the parentheses or brackets, but, as one authority says, "Why not improve your chances--leave them off."

7. Avoid compressing space between letters. Macintosh users in particular should beware of the temptation to pack everything onto one resume page. When you scrunch up your text, it becomes unreadable, even to wide-open computer eyes.

8. Never use a nine-pin dot matrix printer. A 24-pin letter-quality dot matrix printer is passable. A laser printer is best.

9. Always send originals. The sharper the resume--distinct edges, no dirty specks--the easier it is for a scanner to read, and the less you risk misinterpretation and error. You can't control the pathways your resume will travel, but you can start it out clean and crisp on its journey.

10. Minimize the use of general abbreviations. Many resume scanning systems are programmed to understand basic abbreviations like BA, MS, PhD, and other standard, easily recognizable abbreviations. Other systems will not recognize abbreviations unless they are told to do so by their search-engine dictionaries. When in doubt, spell it out.

11. Maximize the use of industry jargon and abbreviations. But use standard abbreviations, not weird, homegrown creations. You can logically assume that recruiters will instruct the search-engine dictionary to look for all the industry terms applicable to the job requisition. That is why it's important to use terms that buzz in your career field: "CAD" (computer-assisted design) or "COBRA" (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act), for instance.

12. Use a traditional resume structure. Avoid complex layouts such as a page that simulates a catalog or newspaper page. Double columns don't go down well with some systems.

13. Avoid a four-page resume on a folded 11"x17" sheet. Recruiters must tear these oversize sheets in half and scan page one, then flip it over to scan page two, and so on. This takes time, time is money, and your resume may be mistaken for waste paper and thrown out.

14. Use light-colored, standard-size 8 1/2"x11" paper, printed on one side only. You can use white, eggshell, or light beige or gray paper, but not hot pink, green, or any other vibrant color. Aim for high contrast between the ink and the paper.

Relatively few computer resume reading systems come equipped with Hewlett-Packard software called HP AccuPage. One of its useful functions is to make text on colored paper easier to read. Don't count on strutting your paper resume before HP AccuPage or similar technology.

Your surest bet is black ink on white paper.

15. Only your name goes at the top of the resume, not a third party referrer. When a third party (an executive recruiter or employment agency consultant) forwards your resume, the name of the third party should go at the end, not at the top of the document. A computer will try to read the third-party stamp as the name of the job seeker.

Job fair sponsors, in particular, are guilty of creating this problem. In an attempt to be helpful, the sponsors slap a sticker at the top of the resumes of all the job seekers who attend. This practice helps corporate recruiters remember where the resumes came from, but it causes huge problems for the scanning systems.

As one corporate recruiter explains, "We scan in all the resumes we get at job fairs, but with that sticker it looks like the only person we talked with is named 'Career Expo.'" Stickers should be placed on the very bottom of resumes, or, even better from the machines' viewpoint, on the back.

16. Your name should be the first text on a resume. For the reasons just discussed, don't place other information above your name. As an example, you may cause grief to the system when you split your address and allow one line of it to appear above your name, like this:

             123 Main Street
JOE JONES    Memphis, TN 66688
             901 555-6666

The system may not even appreciate your name and contact information all on one line, like this:

JOE JONES 123 Main Street Memphis, TN 66688901 555-6666

Think of your name as a flag. Fly it over everything the system can scan.

17. Explain your job title if it is strange or unfamiliar. Do not change your job title for simplicity, but do explain it, in simple terms, in parentheses or a footnote.

18. When faxing your resume, set the fax machine setting on "fine mode," rather than on "standard mode." It will take a little longer to send and cost a tiny bit more, but your resume will be far easier to read.

19. Put no staples in your resume. Even when removed, the previous compression may cause pages to stick together.

20. Do not fold your resume. If the crease falls across a line of type, it can be murder to read. Send your resume in a flat envelope, preferably with a light sheet of cardboard to keep it from becoming wrinkled or dog-eared. If you must fold your resume for some reason, be certain the fold does not occur along a line of text.

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