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Crafting a Résumé for the Digital Age

Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
September 26, 2011 Deadline
November 2011 Issue

Crafting a Résumé for the Digital Age

Job hunting is tough enough without companies forcing applicants to use poorly designed online résumé submission databases. A reader emailed me asking why some companies rejected her résumé, despite great qualifications. Based on my experiences assisting students on the job market, I suggested the reader’s résumé might have the wrong margins for some online systems.

Yes, the wrong margins can lead to rejection in today’s digital job hunt.

Hiring committees tell me they receive 200, 300 and, in one case, 500 applications for job openings. My students want every edge they can get when applying for positions. I’ve had to learn a lot about the hiring process to help students craft résumés for this strange new reality.

The university where I work uses an online career database. Many employers have turned to these systems. You might have used one already, via the Web. The job application is completed online. Once you finish the basic application, the system asks you to submit a résumé. You end up providing the same information twice, but that’s the system. I’ve wondered if finishing an online job application isn’t part of the test you have to pass.

When you submit a résumé, the online systems sometimes ask for both an uploaded Word document and a “plain text” version. The database searches for keywords and job skills, eliminating some applications before a human has read them. While the human resources department could read these documents, the reality is that so many people apply for openings that having the software sort through applications makes the process slightly less daunting.

If you want your résumé to survive the computer-based screening process, you have to craft a résumé for the digital age. In a disappointing twist of fate, this means the great software technology that allows you to design a beautiful document can actually hurt your chances of obtaining an interview. Online, the less complex the career documents, the better.

Allow me to offer some tips that might improve your digital career hunt.

Tip 1: Use one-inch margins around all pages. Employers have demonstrated to me various reasons for this rule. Some print the documents and place them in binders, for example. If your résumé has no “white space” the holes go right through the text. Then you have high-end copier-printers, such as the one where I work, which print and hole-punch pages automatically. It is an impressive machine, but if you send me a document without margins, the printer cuts off the text.

Tip 2: Use the most common fonts available: Times and Arial. While that fancy desktop publishing program you own might have included 500 fonts, many corporate offices limit which fonts are installed on systems. My work computer has only the fonts that shipped with Windows, not one more or less. Yes, Hoefler is a nice font, but I can’t print it. Use Times New Roman for the text of a résumé because studies have shown it is easier to read at smaller sizes than sans-serif faces like Arial. I suggest using Arial for headings, which is a clean look.

Apple and Microsoft include Arial and Times New Roman with their operating systems. Other fonts, like the elegant faces Gil Sans and Palatino, are not on every computer system, even if I wish they were. You might be okay with the newer Microsoft Office fonts, but some companies still use older versions of Office.

Tip 3: Avoid table-based résumé templates. I realize some résumé books, and even Microsoft’s Word templates, use tables to align elements of résumés. This is fine if the document will only be distributed on paper. Unfortunately, it can cause problems if you email the document or if you are asked to convert the file to another format such as plain text.

To format a portable and reusable résumé, use tabs, line indents, and margin settings to align various elements of the document. Tables have a nasty habit of converting elements to a vertical “stack” when exporting documents.

Tip 4: Send a copy to a friend to test. Send a copy of your Word-based résumé to a friend to test how well it displays and prints. If you use an Apple computer, send a copy to a friend with Windows. If you use Windows, try sending your résumé to a Mac user. The more you test your documents, the more likely they are to be ready for the job hunt.

Tip 5: Preview your résumé as plain text. If you are asked to provide a résumé in plain text format, use the “Save As…” feature to create a plain text résumé. Always open the new file to see what has changed. You probably will need to correct some problems no matter how careful you were.

I’ve learned an even better way to test a text résumé: copy the document and paste the résumé into an email message. In your email program, select “Format, Plain Text” and send the document to yourself. The document should be free of all special formatting and appear as it will to most employers. It won’t be pretty.

Tip 6: Name your résumé file something meaningful. I tell my students to use a name like “Wyatt_Resume.doc” when sending a job application. Imagine receiving a hundred files named “Resume.doc” and having to locate a particular résumé. If you use your name, the file will stand out and be easier to locate.

Personally, I still prefer printed documents. There’s something more professional about a nice résumé on fine cotton-fiber paper compared to an email attachment. But, I also realize that companies aren’t going to go back to hand-sorting job applications.

Résumé Formatting Tips

Limit fonts to Times New Roman and Arial if sending a Word or other non-PDF document.
Avoid fonts smaller than 12-point for most content and never use fonts smaller than 10-points.
Set the margins on left, right, and bottom to a full inch.
Consider your name the “title” of the résumé, make it stand out but avoid all-caps.
Avoid table-based layouts, which are hard to export for text-only résumé submissions.
Use tabs to align text; never use spaces to control text alignment.
Follow each bullet point with a space or tab so text won’t “bump” the symbol and be difficult to scan or read.


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