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How To Create a ‘Machine-Readable’ Resume in 12 Steps – and Why You Should Do This

Estimated reading time: 2 mins

Résumés aren’t initially read by people – they’re read, or rather ‘parsed’, by machines. This is because, for every job vacancy, hundreds or even thousands of people apply by providing a résumé.

It would be a long, laborious job to read every single one, start to finish. Instead, computers suck in résumés, parse them (i.e. pick out the information), and store that information in a database. This database is then searched for keywords.

If your résumé is not fully machine-readable, then your résumé might not make a recruiters short-list. Do you want to know how to make your résumé machine-readable? Here are twelve checks to perform on yours – today.

  1. Is it in a text format? This could be Microsoft Word (.DOC/.DOCX), Apple Pages (.PAGES), Open Office Writer (.ODF) or Rich-Text Format (.RTF). Do not supply a résumé in Adobe Acrobat (.PDF) format or any image file type, and don’t use a spreadsheet such as Microsoft Excel
  2. Is it well structured? Divide your résumé into separate sections. Start with Contact Information, then follow with a Personal Summary, then your Experience/Positions Held, and follow this with Qualifications, Awards, Personal Interests and finally References (only if requested). Also ensure that sub-sections are consistently structured – i.e. your Positions Held sub-sections all follow the same structure
  3. Does your résumé include tables, headers or footers? Then remove them as the parsed result could be unpredictable. Use simple text and mark-up instead
  4. Are sections properly labelled? Use obvious headings per section – in fact use the titles in the above section breakdown. A computer will match these and know what information is contained in each section
  5. Are you using document styles/mark-up? These are things like HEADING styles. Use HEADING 1 at the very top – your name – and for each section heading use HEADING2, and any additional sub-section, use additional HEADING styles. This helps the parsing computer understand the full breakdown of your resume
  6. Are your dates structured? For each Position Held, make sure the date for each position uses a consistent structure. E.g. May 2014 – March 2015
  7. Are you using full company names? Parsers understand what a company name looks like. So ensure you use INC, LTD, LLP, CORP, GMBH, etc, e.g. Google Inc.
  8. Are you embedding your skills inside each Position Held? This helps parsers understand the length of your experience in each skill.
  9. Are your Positions Held on separate lines? Even if you held more than one position in the same organization, use separate sub-sections. Parsers will become confused if you place more than one position in the same sub-section
  10. Does each position include an industry? Specify the industry you worked in against each Position Held
  11. Are you using the most effective Industry Keywords? Parsers and search-engines will look for specific keywords, so make sure that you’re using them
  12. Are you using images or symbols?g. Wingdings/Webdings – parsers will convert these unpredictably so you should not use them

Recruiters don’t want ‘fancy’ – they won’t marvel at the aesthetic qualities of your chosen font and layout. They want their job to be as productive as possible. So make it easy on them and give your résumé over in a machine-readable format.

Have any of your own tips to share?

Then please leave a comment below or start a discussion in my forums.

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This post is part 1 of 15 in the series Building a Powerful Resume
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About the author /


Simon is a creative and passionate business leader dedicated to having fun in the pursuit of high performance and personal development. He is co-founder of Applied Change, a Business Change consultancy based in the UK. Simon is also an Ambassador for Gloucestershire business. Simon is an Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Professional Development.

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