Friday, August 20, 2010

SCAMMING THE RESUME SCANNER: Developing a Scanner-Friendly Resume

Having difficulty navigating the "resumaze"? Pulling your hair out trying to figure out what kinds of information to include, how to format the document, what type of paper to print it on, and how to send it to employers? Well, if your favorite places file is bulging with bookmarks on resume preparation, you better check the dates on the material, because the rules have changed.

Now, more and more companies are turning to resume scanning equipment and software to weed through their stacks of resumes, and if you thought impressing finicky personnel people was difficult, wait till your resume passes under the eye of their computer counterparts. These cold, calculating cartons of automated components pick through your carefully prepared qualifications like computerized cats, sifting out all the garbage, and going right to the "meat." So beating this system requires some cunning and quite a bit of in-depth research to match a hiring manager's specific criteria for an available job.

After hearing about this latest high-tech threat to humanity, some are already scheming ways to "beat the system." "Andy," a communications specialist with the government, who wishes to remain anonymous, divulged his comical, yet surprisingly practical technique for scamming the scanner. "It searches for key words and phrases in the document, right?" he said with a giggle. "Why not just list:"


"Plan to pursue doctoral degree at Harvard University."


"Never promoted to higher level positions."

"Too stupid to master programming in C language."

"Rarely receive awards or honors for outstanding work performance."

Andy's cynical strategy is obviously absurd given the fact that the human element will certainly enter into the hiring process at some point. Consequently his creative prank may get a few laughs around the HR water cooler, but it certainly won't get him any phone calls from serious hiring managers who busted the departmental bank investing in optical character recognition technology. However, his strategy does have some merit.

Because the scanning process is based on key words or phrases that the user asks the software to scan for, employment candidates can hypothesize as to the hiring criteria for the job they are interested in, and then "pad" their resume with those terms. If the job-seeker's actual experience lacks relevant skills, they can rely on the "spin doctoring" approach used by politicians who are adept at being all things to all people. For instance, using a resume subhead such as "ABILITIES" will allow you to list not only those things you have done, but also those things you are confident you can do based on education or other life experiences. Use this strategy with caution, though. You'll obviously be expected to backup your claims in a personal interview, where too much embellishment might have you sweatin' like a con at a parole board hearing. They can't slap you in jail for resume fraud before you're hired, but be warned, outright resume lies can come back to haunt you.

A savvy candidate ready to go toe to toe with an electronic screener will also want to consider document aesthetics. In their book, Electronic Resume Revolution, J.L. Kennedy and T.J. Morrow, offer the following Tips for Writing a Scannable" Resume:

- Use simple fonts, such as Helvetica, Universe and Optima at point sizes of between 10 and 14.

- Avoid italics, script, and underlining of words.

- Use bold face type sparingly.

- Use an ink jet or laser printer for optimal printing quality.

- Avoid abbreviations.

- Always use white paper.

- Do not fold your resume in order to send it. Use a 9 x 12 envelope.

If you have a Kaczynskiesque philosophy, however, and the thought of catering to a box of high tech bells and whistles unnerves you, take heed. You have sympathizers in the hiring world. "I resent any program that pinpoints phrases not the overall person, says Harriet Cohen, a human resources consultant and President of Cohen Training Solutions in Agoura Hills, Calif. "[Scanning] is easier than actually reading the resume, but there are a lot of issues to consider when hiring: resumes only tell a minor part of the picture. They tell what the person has done and how well they can match the advertisement or scanning criteria, but what they don't tell is the person's capabilities. I have worked with head hunters in my own job-search who would say 'you were perfect for a job, but you didn't get past round one because you were missing the magic phrase.' Unfortunately, no one would tell me what it was."

Whether it's a grinning personnel manager or a stoic computer system suggesting you don't measure up, rejection can be hell. But fight fire with fire, and keep shooting those sincere, focused resumes to carefully targeted companies, and you'll eventually find someone or "something" that will recognize your ability and worth. Remember: developing employment leads is a lot like cultivating personal relationships. You have to kiss a lot of frogs before your marry a prince or princess. In employment, I guess it's stroke a lot of Pentiums before you press flesh with the personnel manager.

Tom R. Arterburn is an award-winning job-search journalist and director of The Resume Institute.

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