How to Create a Scannable Resume

Learn to create a machine scannable resume to ensure it can be viewed by the latest document imaging technology.

Keep in mind that many scanning systems have no trouble with some of the items mentioned, but it is better to be safe than sorry. At some companies if errors are detected, they may be willing to correct 4-8 errors. If more are found they may correct a few or none at all. Some organizations will merely ensure that your name, address, phone number and objective are correct. Errors in other portions of the resume may be left as they are. Errors may look like this:

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

The above sentence became:

Placed over 100 people with disabilities into competitive jobs, a rate 3040 above the norm.

You can see why it is important to create a scannable resume. The (~) symbol is placed there by the OCR software, acknowledging that a letter is there but it cannot properly decipher it. In the case of the 30-40% portion, the OCR did not detect the hyphen and it could not decipher the percent sign. The word norm became norm.

The Keys to Creating a Scannable Resume

Below are 15 points that if followed, will result in your resume being scanned with virtually total accuracy.

Use a 12 point font

It is recommended to use a 12 point font size because it is the most readable. It also happens to be what scanners and OCR software prefer. When different font sizes and typefaces (such as Helvetica and Times Roman) were tested, they all did better at 12 point than 10 point. For your name at the top of the first page, 14 or 16 point font sizes are fine.

Print your resume on a high quality laser printer

Although ink jet printers have improved a lot in the last few years, they still do not produce the sharpness of letters that are achieved with laser printers. Ink jet printers are fine for cover letters and other correspondence with employers, but when you want your resume scanned with one hundred percent accuracy, stick with laser printers. A recent, top-of-the-line ink jet printer, however, would probably work fine.

If you don't have a computer or have access to one, look in the Yellow Pages under Word Processing, or Secretarial. Such services will have top of the line computers and laser printers and will know how to create a good looking resume. At copy shops such as Kinko's you can rent a computer. If you don't already know how to use it, however, you're better off with a word processing service.

At Kinko's and other copy shops with computers, you can also take in your disk and for about fifty cents per page, can have your resume printed on a laser printer. If you have your own laser printer we suggest mailing only originals, but if it costs fifty cents per page, you're better off printing one original and then photocopying the rest.

Use a sans serif typeface

Letters with serifs have the little stroke in parts of each letter:

This is Times New Roman. It has serifs.

This is Arial. It does not have serifs. It is a sans serif typeface.

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

Keep your lines to 80 characters or less

Most systems permit no more than 80 characters per line on the screen. If your resume has over 80 characters per line, you 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.

Most firms will simply not take the time to improve its looks. A word wrap has occurred since not all the words could get on the line. It doesn't look pretty.

A basic rule of thumb is that if you use a 12 point font and have margins of 1.25 to 1.5 inches on both sides you should be safe. Then count the characters (count the space between words as a character) in your longest line. If your line has been indented, you need to add the number of characters to the left as is shown in the example:

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

In this case you would count the characters in the line starting with computer. That line has 77 characters. You would then add two characters from the left because there has been a two character indent. This gives you a total of 79 characters and will not give you a word wrap problem as was demonstrated above.

Use white or light colored paper and print on only one side

Scanners need maximum contrast between letters and the background. They also do best with standard 8.5 X 11 paper. When scanned, a resume with black ink and dark blue paper, the errors immediately went from zero to about 15.

Send a resume unfolded and flat in a 9 X 12 manila envelope

A crease going through letters can cause a scanner to misread words in that line. Although there is an extra cost to sending it unfolded (since it will most assuredly weigh over one ounce), it will scan better. Besides, even if the firm does not scan resumes, it will have a nicer appearance.

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 each other that the character reading software cannot discern what the letter should be.

Avoid the use of underlining

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

Avoid fancy fonts

Some of the unusual fonts that are available are very difficult for scanners to read. One system was given a resume using a script typeface which the scanner interpreted as total gibberish. Such a resume would have been tossed out by virtually any employer. Other fancy fonts which would not work well include: Footlight, Matura, Kino, Wide Latin and Braggadocio.

Avoid the use of shading

There is really no reason to use shading, but some people use it on resumes just because it is available. Scanners need clear contract between the letters and background. Shading destroys that contrast and makes a scanner go bonkers. Don't use it.

Avoid the use of columns

Many scanners handle columns just fine, but for some scanners each column is assumed to be a separate page.

Avoid the use of boxes or vertical lines

Vertical lines can fool a scanner which may read it as an I. Vertical and horizontal lines and borders add nothing to a resume, so just plan to 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. It enables more words to get on a page, but can cause problems for scanners. Stick to using the standard spacing between letters and lines and you will do just fine.

Never use a nine-pin dot matrix printer

A nine-pin dot matrix printer simply cannot give you a clean resume that will scan well. Even a 24-pin dot matrix printer will not print with the quality which will give you a perfectly scanned resume. A 24-pin dot matrix printer, used in in letter quality mode, would be fine for cover letters.

Never send a resume by fax unless requested

The quality of a fax so degrades the sharpness of the letters that errors are virtually guaranteed. If requested to fax a resume for the sake of speed, send your scannable resume by mail the same day so 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.

Although this list comprises a number of points to follow, they are really quite simple. These rules do diminish 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. When a resume is printed out after being stored, there will be no bolding, underlining, italics, shading, or any other special little things that people like to do with their resumes. So, if there is a chance the resume will be scanned, you might as well remove those things at the beginning and ensure that the scanner will read it with total accuracy. As scanning systems improve, some of the advice provided here will change, but for now, this is what you must do to ensure that your resume is accurately scanned and stored in a database.