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What You MUST know About Resume Formats Before Beginning Your Internet Job Search

By Michelle Dumas

A resume is a resume, right? While that may have been true 15 years ago, these days it is no longer that clear cut and simple. If you are currently job searching, you have likely heard at least a couple of the following requests and questions...

...Please email me your resume in MS Word format.
...Do you have a web resume?
...Please send me a keyword-optimized resume.
...I can't open the attachment you sent, please send me the ASCII version of your resume.
...Please just send me the traditional version of your resume.
...Do you have a resume in HTML format?
...Copy and paste your plain text resume below.
...The formatting of your resume is messed up, could you please send it as a PDF?

Wow! No wonder job searching can be overwheleming to people. If you are confused and not quite sure what is being referred to when you hear all these different names for resumes, you are certainly not alone!

Over the past decade, the most common resume-related questions asked by job hunters have progressively shifted. While still of major importance, the majority of queries are no longer about functional versus chronological resume styles, whether to keep or remove experience from twenty-five years ago, or whether to include dates of education. With the advent and subsequent explosive increase in the use of the Internet during the job search, questions have turned overwhelmingly to issues of electronic resume creation and transmission.

What are the different types of electronic resumes?
What are the differences between an e-mail resume, a scannable resume, and a web resume?
How do I know which resume format to use?
How do I format my electronic resume to ensure that the recipient can read it?

No wonder there is so much confusion! In just a few short years, there has been a complete revolution in the tools and techniques of job hunting. As applicant tracking technologies have come into common use among headhunter firms, large corporations, and even mid-size and small businesses, recommended resume formats and methods of transmission have rapidly evolved with the advancing technologies. Further complicating things, have been the increasing availability of personal web space for online resume portfolios and biographies.

What does this mean for today's job hunter? While the Internet has opened unprecedented doors of opportunity in the job search process, for those who have not taken the time to learn and apply the rules it can mean disaster!

While few job hunters have time to spend months studying the most recent technologies and recommendations for the creation of electronic resumes, before venturing onto the Internet with your resume it is critical that you take the time to learn and understand a few simple concepts. Knowing your audience and the formats most acceptable by those audiences are essential pieces of knowledge for the Internet job hunter.

****The human reader - The traditional, printed, hard copy resume (yes, it does still have a primary place in job hunting!) is created to attract the human eye and attention. With the advantages of word processing applications (Microsoft Word is a word-processing app), sophisticated formatting is possible and should be applied strategically to create eye-appeal and draw the readers' attention to key qualifications.

****The computer reader - The electronic or computer-optimized resume is designed, first and foremost, to be readable by the computer. There are several types of electronic resumes, but the common element of all is the ability to be searched by keyword. Of course, once your resume has been tagged as matching a keyword search, it will be reviewed by a human. So compelling, easy-to-read content is just as important in the electronic resume as in the traditional resume.

Miss these points and the effects could be devastating...you might send out hundreds of resumes only to sit at home and wonder why nobody, not even one company or headhunter, has called you for an interview. There are fundamental formatting differences between traditional and electronic resumes. If you do not understand these differences, your resume will make it into very few - if any - resume databases.

RESUME FORMATS

What are the differences between keyword, scannable, web, traditional, and text resumes?

Traditional resumes are designed, as already noted, to compel the human reader, through persuasive language and design, to take further action and call you for an interview. Layout and page design are critical and should be planned strategically to draw the eye to areas of emphasis. The most effective traditional resumes are focused on achievements and written in powerful, active language that captures and holds the attention of the reader.

Scannable resumes -- also a printed, hardcopy format -- are designed primarily for accurate scanning into a computer. Captured as an image, scannable resumes are fed through OCR (optical character recognition) software that reads and extracts the text. The extracted text is databased for storage and later recalled by keyword from an applicant tracking system. Scannable resumes are very rarely requested any more. If you are asked for a scannable resume, the most efficient option is to email the requestor your plain ASCII text resume (described next).

Text resumes (also referred to as ASCII resumes) are just what the name implies, an ASCII-formatted version of either your traditional or scannable resume. Text resumes are universally readable on all computer systems and platforms and are the preferred format when you are emailing your resume. An ASCII resume received in email can be entered directly into an applicant tracking system without the added step of needing to scan it. Entry into the system is fast, easy, and accurate and so many employers and recruiters prefer this format.

The phrase "keyword resume," as it was first used, referred most often to either a scannable or text resume that incorporated a focus on nouns and phrases that employers were likely to use when searching for an applicant. Sometimes the keyword resume had a section at the beginning or end that listed the keywords separated by commas or periods. Today, there is no need to maintain both a keyword and a non-keyword resume. Keywords have become such an essential element in resumes that you should ensure that every version of your resume, whether meant for the human or the computer reader, incorporates the keywords most important in your field or industry.

Still confused? My recommendation is to simply maintain two separate versions of your resume:

Traditional resume - If you wish to send a hardcopy, paper version of your resume you should send your traditional resume. Traditional resumes are most often stored on your computer as a computer file and printed on an as-needed basis. For example, you will want to print at least several copies of your resume to carry with you and hand out at interviews. You may also be asked to send your traditional resume via email to a recruiter or employer. In these cases, you should have your traditional resume saved in the two most commonly asked for file formats: MS Word and Adobe PDF. You can then attach the requested file or files to an email message and send it to the requestor to be printed on the receiving end.

By far, you'll find that the most requested format for your traditional resume is MS Word. If you comply with the request, be aware that your formatting may be incompatible with the recipient's system. While usually still readable, fonts and bullet sizes and styles may be different from what you intended. These problems can be minimized, although not always eliminated, by embedding the fonts into the document. This is a simple process, and the MS Word help files will guide you through it. You should also take care, while writing and designing your resume, to use design elements that are default and standard on most systems. For example, it is not wise to use a fancy, custom font on your resume that you know will be emailed. Default fonts such as Garamond, Helvetica, Book Antiqua, or Verdana are better choices.

To eliminate issues with compatibility, if the recipient has the free Adobe Reader installed (most do), Adobe PDF is the best format in which to send your traditional resume. The PDF version of your resume will appear on the recipient's system precisely the way it appeared on your system. For this reason, if given the choice of sending an MS Word file and Adobe PDF file, always opt for Adobe PDF. However, many recruiters and employers still prefer the MS Word file format, because this is the format they are most familiar with.

ASCII text resume - If you conduct any portion of your job search on the Internet, ASCII-formatted resumes are critically important tools. Always have an up-to-date ASCII text version of your resume on your computer. This is the fastest way to contact potential employers and to apply for jobs advertised online. You must also have a text version of your resume if you wish to post in online resume databanks.

As previously noted, employers rarely request scannable resumes anymore. If they utilize an applicant tracking system, they will likely request that your resume be e-mailed, either as ASCII text or as an attachment. E-mail allows the recipient to enter your resume directly into the database, eliminating the extra steps of scanning and OCR.

How do you use these file formats and transit them to recipients via email? My recommendation is to actually attach the MS Word or Adobe PDF file to the email in its native file format. Then, ALSO copy and paste the text of your ASCII text resume into the body of your email (where you would normally type a message), along with a letter of introduction or other note explaining why you are sending the resume.

A final type of electronic resume is the web resume, also known as the online resume. Created using HTML, your web resume may be uploaded to space provided by a web-hosting provider. Eliminating the compatibility problems associated with word-processed resumes sent as e-mail attachments, web resumes offer the advantage of maintaining layout and design on the systems of anyone with a web browser. Available for viewing around the clock, conveying a technology-savvy image, and allowing the ability to add supporting content to your resume (effectively creating an online portfolio promoting your qualifications), web resumes are becoming a progressively important tool in the job search. The creation of a web resume or resume portfolio is far beyond the scope of this article, but if web resumes are an electronic format that interest you, be aware that many service providers have begun offering web resume design and hosting at affordable prices.

With this basic understanding of the various resume formats, you are well prepared to begin your search and comply with the requests you receive for differing file types and formats. In next month's column, I'll take you a step further with an explanation of exactly how you can create and optimize the various electronic formats of your resume.



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