How to Create a Scannable Résumé: 14 Tips

Stacie Heaps
Professional Writer and Editor

Scannable résumés, also referred to as text-based résumés, fulfill essentially the same function as traditional résumés: They are a summary of a person's education, work experience, and job-related skills and abilities. Scannable résumés, which are scanned using an optical character recognition (OCR) machine and software, can be a great advantage to employers because they can use them to create databases that can be searched electronically to quickly match qualified applicants with available positions.

If you have already created a traditional résumé, it is not difficult to modify and reformat the information in order to create a scannable résumé. When creating a scannable résumé, keep these points in mind:

  1. Many employers list their guidelines for scannable résumés on their company Web site, so be sure to check for any such guidelines before submitting your résumé.
  2. Begin your scannable résumé with your contact information and objective statement.
  3. Below that, you might want to include a section that contains a keyword list of your skills or abilities or a summary of your accomplishments.
  4. Next, include the same sections as are found in a traditional résumé: work experience, education, and any other skills, honors or awards, certifications, or interests that you want to incorporate.
  1. As you draft or adapt your résumé, use terms and phrases that are important in the industry in which you are applying. Identify words that your potential employers would likely use in their database searches, and make sure those terms are in your résumé.
  2. As with traditional résumés, in the section on work experience, you should include your primary accomplishments in your various positions, rather than just making a list of responsibilities and job-related tasks.
  3. If your scannable résumé is more than a page in length, repeat your contact information header on the second page.
  4. Use white or very light-colored 8½ x 11 inch paper.
  5. Use a standard font, such as Times or Arial, that the scanning software can easily recognize. This is essential because if the OCR software misreads your text, then your résumé might not be included in the search results. Also, use a standard font size (between 10- and 14-point font).
  6. Avoid using italics, bold, and underlining in your scannable résumé, as such font attributes can be difficult for the scanner to recognize. Similarly, do not use shading or grayscale in your document.
  7. For bullets, use either hyphens or solid bullet characters—empty bullet characters could be interpreted as the letter o, and other characters could also be misread.
  8. Make sure to include an extra paragraph break between sections to visually separate them.
  9. If you mail your scannable résumé, use a manila or similar envelope. Do not fold the résumé, as creased paper could get stuck in the scanning machine and creases in the résumé could make it difficult for the OCR software to read the text correctly.
  10. When submitting a scannable résumé, submit with it a scannable cover letter and reference page. To create a scannable cover letter and reference page, follow the formatting guidelines above.

Because more and more companies are requesting scannable résumés that they can easily scan and search, creating a scannable résumé is becoming more important, even in nontechnical fields. Even if the company you are currently applying at does not request a scannable résumé, it is a good idea to create a scannable résumé and keep it on hand so that you will have it in case you need it in the future.