The Not So Simple Truth about Online Résumé Scanners

From Christina Motley:

Christina Motley's scannable résumé Finding a job today is very different – not to mention more complicated – than it ever has been as a result of software technology that reads and sorts résumés for human resources, hiring managers, and recruiters.

As my 22-month job search continues, I probably applied for at least 500 if not 1,000 jobs online before I learned the rules of scannable friendly résumés.  I am still learning the standards because explanatory sources vary.  But here's a summary of what I've discovered:

For résumés to be scanned, they must include

  • a plain, sans serif typeface, preferably Arial or Times New Roman
  • adequate margins defined as a 1/2 inch on all sides
  • type size of 10-12 point (although the University of Wisconsin Career Services states that anywhere from 10 to 14 point is acceptable and indicated the applicant's name may be up to 28 point)
  • No fancy formatting – no tables, columns, shading, underlines, lines, italics, or even bullets, which should be replaced with asterisks or plus signs

Here's the best sample (.pdf) I’ve found that reveals what works and what doesn't in the world of document imaging technology (i.e. a computer scanner which relies on optical character recognition). Scanners especially look for a certain number of hits on keywords – those words that match those in the job description and required qualifications – for which human resources departments use online tools.

Technology might simplify the jobs or workloads of hiring managers, but it can be a bit overwhelming to job seekers, especially those who got their last jobs by mailing printed résumés and are not at all technology-savvy.


Christina Motley is an award-winning marketing and communications professional and writer. She is currently writing for Handshake 2.0, City Magazine and the Blue Ridge Business Journal. You're invited to follow her on Twitter @christinamotley.

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  1. Christina, great post, packed with valuable information! You’re so right about how technology has made applying for jobs more complicated for the applicant. Creating a resume for machine-readable OCR format is very different from designing a resume that appeals to human optics! I don’t think it’s clear to the applicant that when they are asked to attach a resume in PDF or Word doc that it may be converted by OCR technology for processing. Thanks again for writing this post and good luck with your job search. In the years our paths have crossed, I have always found your marketing projects to be targeted, incredibly creative (as in, “gee, wish I’d thought of that!”) and results-driven. You know how to bring it all together. Hang on to that!

  2. Matt O'Connell says:

    This is great info. Something I hadn’t fully considered.

    However, I’m perplexed by this practice. If you are applying for jobs online, isn’t your resume already submitted in a machine readable format?

    I hope companies aren’t printing resumes received online so that they can be scanned into a database. That seems just completely wrong to me.

  3. Matt- Thanks for the comment and question. Just because you are applying online does not mean the scanner will read your resume … it’s tricky. Hope this helps clarify.

  4. Extremely valuable post. A friend of mine told me to take wording from the job description and copy it EXACTLY into my resume. It may sound cheesy, but if it gets your resume to jump the ranks in their search, it’s worth it.

  5. Kelly and Jessica – Thanks for the feedback and kind comments.

  6. Christina, I really appreciated you sharing your knowledge and experience with Handshake 2.0’s audience. I am imagining all the earnest job seekers with excellent resumes who just didn’t know they needed to modify their formats for technology-enabled HR. I think you’ve offered a real service and I thank you for that.

  7. What’s it going to take for American corporations/businesses and our universities to get together and standardize the resume format?

  8. It seems that all the guesswork involved in getting in front of the decision-maker is as disadvantageous to the employer as the job-seeker! Imagine how much good I could be doing for the community with the time I have to spend re-writing my resume for every targeted job! This was a very insightful (and somewhat depressing) piece. Thanks.

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