"Scannable resume" refers to a hard copy document that can be successfully scanned using technology (OCR=Optical Character Recognition; developed in the 1970s) that scans the content of a paper document as a graphic image and then converts it back to text. This enabled employers to receive hard-copy resumes, get that resume information into a database (to handle the volume of resumes received!), and retrieve the resume later.

Certain formatting would enable your resume document to be successfully scanned and not misread (such as making sure underlining didn't cross over lettering, thus making letters unclear). Essentially, instead of doing things that would make your resume appealing to the human eye, you would keep a very simple format.

In the late 1990s to early 2000s, many employers requested that students and other job candidates have scannable resumes. As of 2006, it had been several years since we had heard any need from employers for scannable resumes. It seems that most employers who want to retain your resume information in a database will have a process for you to do that online via their organization websites.

So bottom line is you don't need one.
But we wanted you to have this information in case you hear about this topic and wonder.

If you Google "scannable resumes" you'll find lots of information on how to write one. That doesn't mean that scanners (OCR) are currently being used or that you need one. It just means this used to be an important factor in a job search. That time is past.

If by chance you hear of an employer asking for a so-called "scannable resume," we strongly urge you to consult the employer's web site for guidance, and if there's no information there, ask the employer for guidance.

If someone tells you with certainty that you need to submit a scannable resume, use these formatting methods:

  • No italics, no underlining, no shading, or other unusual enhancements.
  • No bold or ALL CAPS. It's unnecessary; the scanner does not differentiate between this and other font styles.
  • One font style and size throughout the document.
  • Use a sans serif font, like Arial or Tahoma. These are fonts that do not have the small markings on the edge of each letter (serifs). (Sans is "without" in Latin.)
  • Don’t use serif fonts, like Times New Roman or Book Antiqua.
  • On font size, use 10, 11, or 12. Be aware that font sizes are not created equal. A 10-point Arial is not the same as a 10-point Century Gothic.
  • No vertical or horizontal lines, graphics, or boxes.
  • No bullets. You may use asterisks (*) or hyphens (-).
  • No parentheses or brackets.
  • Even spacing throughout the document. No tabs.
  • Don't condense spacing between letters.
  • Left justification only. No centering or right margin justification.
  • Avoid two-column format or resumes that look like newspapers or newsletters.
  • Going beyond one page is acceptable. Place your name on each page.
  • On the first page, place your address(es) below your name.
  • If including two phone numbers, list each on a separate line.
  • Print your resume with a laser printer. Provide the employer with an original or high quality photocopy on white paper. No texture or watermark on the paper. Avoid paper with heavy texture that could interfere with the clarity of the print.
  • Print your resume with a laser printer. Provide the employer with an original or high quality photocopy on white paper. No texture or watermark on the paper. Avoid paper with heavy texture that could interfere with the clarity of the print.
  • Don't print on two sides of one page.
  • When mailing your information, do not fold or use staples. Put resume and cover letter in a 9 x 12 envelope and paper clip them together. You may insert blank sheets (or cardstock or cardboard) surrounding your documents to reduce wrinkling.
  • Scanned resumes are typically retrieved using keyword searches. Research your industry and/or the requirements of the jobs you are seeking to make sure you've included appropriate information.
  • Each time you apply for a job, review the position description. Make sure key terms that are included in the position description are also included in your resume where appropriate. You may revise your resume slightly for different positions or keep several versions of your resume if you are applying for different types of jobs.
  • It is not necessary to include a section entitled "keywords." A search will locate words in any part of your resume.


Some keyword examples are:

  • Accounting, chemical engineer, manager, BS or BA (to identify individuals with a bachelor's degree), MS, MA, PhD, process modeling, trainer, Spanish, C++, co-op, PowerPoint, etc.
  • Be specific. For example, list the names of software you use such as Microsoft Word or Excel, instead of listing software packages.
  • Use terms and acronyms specific to the industry.
  • In listing acronyms, it's wise to spell out the full name; i.e., IEEE, Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers. Either way the employer chooses to search for this information, your text will be found.
  • Going beyond one page is okay for resumes used strictly for scanning. Be concise, but use more than one page if necessary to include all relevant information.
  • Misspelled words will not be found in a keyword search. If you misspell a critical word, you have effectively left it off your resume for the purposes of retrieval after scanning.
  • As with any resume, typos are unacceptable.