Scannable or Text?
Just this week, I've had three clients become confused on the difference between a scannable resume and a text format resume. Most people seem to think the two are one and the same but that is incorrect. A scannable resume is always a text format but a text format may not be a scannable resume. Every job seeker in today's employment world needs two resumes - a regular Word version and a scannable resume. Assuming everyone understands what a Word version is, let's concentrate on the scannable version.

What is a scannable resume?

A scannable resume is a form of the resume that is designed to meet specific organizational and formatting rules that make it both palatable to resume databases and friendly to the human eye. It is important for the scannable resume to work for both computers and the reader. The computer will store it, search it, select it, and display it but the human being (the reader) is the one who will make the decision to contact the job candidate for an interview. People seem to forget that last part and somehow think it's the computer making the call, don't call decision. I often hear someone say It's getting a lot of hits, but I'm not getting calls. Hits come from the database picking up on keywords. Calls come from recruiters being persuaded the candidate is a strong contender.

What is the difference between a scannable resume and a text format?

There are lots of differences and the least of them is the file format. A scannable resume cannot have bullets, underlining, bolding, centered text, etc. A scannable resume follows certain guidelines for character width by page and should have particular attention paid to keyword richness. Think of it this way - compose a resume on an old typewriter.

There are no options for making fonts bigger or smaller or even different. You can't use bullets because there aren't any on the keyboard. Centering can be done but it involves counting characters and dividing so it's easier to just left-justify. What you would come up with on an old typewriter is basically what a scannable resume would look like visually. Bullets would be asterisks. Bold would be ALL CAPS. Now put that plus all the other scannable formatting rules in an electronic format and save it in ASCII/text format and you have a scannable resume.

Why doesn't a scannable resume need a keyword category?

When Human Resource Information Systems (HRIS) and resume databases came about, the technology was fairly primitive and computing power was much more limited. Because of these issues, the early databases would only search the top 5 lines or so of the resume for keywords specified by the searcher. It saved on computing power to search only part of the resume rather than the entire document. Keyword categories at the top of the resume had a purpose - to catch those search efforts.

Technology advances exponentially, and since the nineties when the first HRIS systems came about, computing power has exploded. HRIS and resume databases now search entire resumes for keywords rather than just the top third. If a resume is written powerfully with lots of industry-specific buzzwords and job-specific nouns, keywords are automatically incorporated into the content of the resume so keyword categories are no longer needed.

How are resumes searched?

Have you ever thought about this? Most people don't so they fill their resumes with useless words like goal-oriented, excellent communication skills, and multi-tasker. Think about it. Recruiters are not going to be searching on these terms or other soft-skill terms. They are going to be searching on industry- and job-specific nouns. A strong resume will be filled with such words to automatically be keyword rich.

Why do I need both a scannable and a regular version?

Let's face it - job search is now electronically based. Resumes are uploaded to databases, stored in HRIS systems, and emailed to companies or recruiters. It is logistically impossible for companies to handle paper-based resumes anymore. Many, especially those with employee counts over 75, will actually refuse to accept paper resumes mailed the traditional way. Recruiters aren't really thrilled to receive them either because they, too, use resume management systems to handle the tons of resumes they receive. You need a scannable version to send for the benefit of the resume databases and you need a Word version for the recruiter to print or for you to take as a hardcopy to interviews. A smart job seeker sends both versions to recruiters or to employers via email.