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The Scannable Resume

Perhaps, you will find it as no surprise that rapidly changing computer technology has entirely transformed the way people look for a job.  In the years to come, the traditional resume that is written with action verbs and is read by a human will be gradually replaced by the scannable or electronic resume that is written with keywords and is read by a computer. This change is already underway in larger urban areas and is currently being used by companies such as Kodak and even school districts such as Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia.

Along with this change comes a whole new set of rules for composing and marketing your resume. This guide will help you become familiar with those new rules and will assist you in maintaining a competitive edge in the trendy job market of the new millennium.

The Resume Scanning Process

Before submitting your resume to any company or organization, it may be a good idea to ask the human resource department whether or not they scan their resumes into a computer system. If they do not, then, send your resume in the traditional format as described in our “Composing a Resume” handout. Remember, a traditionally written resume will always be read by a human being. If a company or organization does scan resumes into a computer system, be sure to follow the rules and guidelines in this handout since your resume will probably be “read” by a computer. Whatever the case, it is a wise idea to have two versions of your resume---a traditional format and a scannable format.

After your scannable or electronic resume is prepared, mail the original to the company or organization you are applying to. When your resume is received, it will be scanned into an applicant tracking system (ATS), which is basically like an electronic traffic cop that tells your resume where to go. Many ATS’s are equipped with optical character recognition software that translates your resume information into a universal computer language called ASCII.  In this way, a computer is able to quickly “read” and sort through many resumes.

Formatting Rules
  • Use simple fonts to write your electronic resume.
  • Avoid decorative font styles.
  • Acceptable font styles include: Arial, Courier, Helvetica, Optima, Palatino, Times, and Universal.
  • Use a type size in the 11 to 14 point range.
  • Do not italicize or underline your text.
  • Do not condense spacing between letters.
  • Avoid the use of any graphics, shading, vertical and horizontal lines, and boxes.
  • You may use bullets, but use solid bullets only.
  • Bolding is acceptable, but using all caps for major headings might be better.
  • It is very important to print your scannable resume on a high quality laser printer or inkjet. Avoid using a dot matrix or low quality printer.
  • White paper is the best for printing out your electronic resume.  Very pale colored resume paper is acceptable. However, all paper must be the standard size ( 8 ˝ x 11).
  • Always mail the original copy.
  • It’s best to mail a scannable resume flat without any folds. Faxing a scannable resume is not recommended since it may result in the loss of many of your keywords.
The important fact to keep in mind when preparing a scannable resume is to be sure that letters and lines do not touch each other.

Content Rules

As with the traditional resume, the content of a scannable resume should reflect your work experience, accomplishments, and education.
  • A scannable resume can have the same major headings and categories as a traditional resume.
  • Be sure to include the keywords, phrases, and technical language that would be familiar to a potential employer and used by that employer to find candidates for the job you are seeking.
  • Consider using a “Key Skills” section that will include additional keywords and job specific phrases that describe your experience and target the job you are seeking.


Updated by AW 9/14/06;  please notify the Career Development Center if you experience any technical problems.


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