Job Seeking In Cyberspace

The good news about electronic resumes is that knowing how these tools work will significantly increase the likelihood that you will make a connection to a job or employer. The challenge for today's job seeker is knowing how to strike a balance between the new and the old. Some companies and industries are not as technologically advanced as others, and many of the old rules about communicating with a potential employer still apply.

The job market is changing, and so is how we navigate through it. To be prepared for the most common changes in the job hunt, you especially need to know how to:

  1. Format your resume to be scanned and searched electronically
  2. Post your resume online
  3. Create other electronic marketing materials to sell yourself to potential employers

The Scannable Resume

The first step in preparing yourself for the electronic age of job hunting is to realize that many human resource departments, head-hunting firms, employment agencies and career centers are relying on resume-scanning technology to help them track their pools of candidates. These companies use computer scanners and optical character recognition (OCR) software to convert your paper resume into computer text. This text becomes part of a database that the employer can search in order to match candidates with jobs.

For example, an employer can type a word (maybe "receptionist" or "Unix programmer") into the database and find everyone with a matching entry on their resume. This kind of matching produces fast and accurate results. It also helps human resources departments give each resume the attention it deserves.

Formatting

Preparing your resume to be scanned is not a complicated task. You want to make the printed page as clear and simple as possible. The kind of formatting that once made your printed resume stand out to the human eye will probably get you into trouble with a scanner. For best results with scanning remember to:

  • Use unfolded, unstapled white or light-colored 8 1/2 x 11 paper, printed on one side only
  • Avoid color or dot matrix printouts and low quality copies
  • Stick to standard fonts such as Arial, Courier, Futura, Helvetica, New Century Schoolbook, Optima, Palatino or Times. Use 10 to 14 point size
  • Italics, boldface and condensed spacing between letters or lines can make each character hard for the scanner to read
  • Use boldface and capital letters only for section headings
  • Avoid underline, shadows and inverse print. Avoid vertical and horizontal lines, graphics and boxes
  • Place your name at the top of each page on its own line
  • When faxing, set the fax to fine mode so the recipient will get a better quality copy

Because a scannable resume is one that may lack the flair or personality you wish to convey, have two versions on hand: a functional one for the computer and a more user-friendly one to hand to a human during an interview.

Content

Once you have formatted a resume that will keep resume scanners and databases happy, it's time to carefully evaluate the content of your resume. Remember that the words on your resume become targets for database searches. Eloquence doesn't count. Your resume must use words that describe you, your skills, your experience, your education and your objectives. You should still use complete sentences and proper grammar, but choose each word carefully.

Joyce Lain Kennedy is the author of several career strategy books and guides. "Words like accelerated, arbitrated and launched are out. In scannable resumes, nouns are dominant. Computers search for descriptive words such as accounting, manager, company and names."

Avoid vague verbs and terminology, and stick to the most common and specific terms that describe your assets. Those will be the terms employers use in their searches.

One option is to place a paragraph near the top of your resume that contains nothing but keywords. This will improve the likelihood of having the right keyword present on your resume. Ideally, these words should already be used in your descriptive sentences on the resume.

A few other tips:

Standard rules still hold: Be truthful, accurate and concise

Use common headings such as objective, experience, employment, work history, positions held, appointments and skills. Use extra space before each heading to clearly set it apart from the previous section

It's OK to use more than one page -- the computer doesn't care. Your scannable formatting may require more space, and you want to include as many keywords as possible

Use jargon specific to your industry. Include the software you use, equipment you operate, special training you possess. Use words that describe your personal skills (dependable, friendly, organized). All this will increase the likelihood your resume will contain a keyword the employer searches for.

Pat Bradford is a career specialist in Palo Alto, California, who advises hundreds of clients on resume and job search issues. Bradford encourages her clients to pay special attention to the basic formatting rules and says that focusing on concrete keywords is an exercise most people should be doing anyway. "People spend too much time dancing around what they mean. Scanners are forcing people to get to the point with concise terms. That's not such a bad thing," she says.

But will the electronic handling of resumes dehumanize the process so much that good candidates without a lot of experience to list as keywords will go unnoticed?

"I don't think so at all," says Gordon Silver, president of Bond Associates, a leader in resume scanning technology. "Electronic posting of job opportunities and resume databases helps bring candidates and jobs together more efficiently. Employers end up happier with candidates that can fill positions more accurately, and candidates are happier to be matched to jobs that reflect their skills and interests. Without these tools, the candidates and employers may never have heard about each other."

Silver cautions, however, that mechanizing the process leaves little room for finessing when one's experience doesn't quite stack up to the employer's needs. "If you can't truthfully put a keyword on your resume, you are far less likely to be considered for a job. The database will look only for candidates that list the needed skill or experience," says Silver.

The Online Resume

The exercise of creating a scannable and searchable resume will help you at the online career center and resume bank. New resume banks appear all the time, offering their matching services to employers and candidates alike. It is wise to make sure you are represented on as many of these services as possible, since many of them are free to the job seeker. Some services post your resume on a database that employers can search, other services actually create a web page containing your resume. Usually you can specify who can access your information.

To add your resume to one of these online resume banks, you are likely to encounter a form asking for your information. The name, address and education boxes are easy enough to fill out, but think carefully about how you describe your work experience, skill set, objectives and other personal information. Just like the resume databases discussed earlier, online databases are searched by keywords, and you will want to load your form with as many as possible. The more good words you use, the greater chance you have of becoming part of someone's search result. You will want your standard resume handy to cut and paste into the form.

Before filling out your profile or resume form, browse the system and find out what kind of employers are likely to search the database. That knowledge will help you decide what keywords to use. And don't be afraid to go back and update your resume as conditions require. As you come up with more or better keywords to describe you, go back and add them to your online profile. Don't forget to keep track of all the places your resume is posted.

There are lots of bulletin board systems and commercial online services that offer space for your resume. Explore these areas and check out some of the links listed in this article.

The Multimedia Resume

With a growing number of dynamic Internet and multimedia tools widely available today, it only makes sense that people are experimenting with creative ways to sell themselves to potential employers. That paper resume isn't likely to go away anytime soon, but consider a couple of alternate instruments that might increase your exposure and attractiveness to potential employers.

Create a home page for yourself on the Internet. Even basic programming skills will allow you to create an attractive page about yourself with photographs, graphics, color and sound. You can even allow the visitor (potential employer) to download writing samples, software you have produced and other examples of your work.

But having a website with your resume won't do much good if no one visits it. Make sure your home page contains those precious and ever-present keywords! These keywords will allow your page to appear when someone uses a search engine like Google. If you haven't already, try these search engines yourself to see how they work and adapt your page accordingly.

If you elect to use your website as a your online resume, remember that anyone can see the information that you post there. If this is not a desirable prospect, consider only giving out the URL (Web address) to serious job prospects.

If you know what you're doing and have the time, you can create multimedia presentations about yourself. Of course, there's no guarantee that the people who receive these works of art are going to have time to look at them. On the other hand, such multimedia presentations can say a lot more than a paper resume and might set you apart from a similar candidate.

Use e-mail to respond to job postings when possible. Sending your resume via e-mail will likely strip it of any special formatting, but is certainly speedier and more direct than the paper mail system. It's also easy and inexpensive to send large numbers of resumes by e-mail.

When making contact with an employer, use your best communication skills and make it as easy as possible for the potential employer to learn about you.