Make Your Resume Keyword Rich and Scanner Friendly

By: Mary Carroll

Employers and recruiters increasingly rely on electronic resumes, resume posting boards and job banks to find job candidates. Resumes are either being scanned or input directly into keyword-searchable databases, and accessed when an employer inputs a keyword list of requirements that best describe the position they are seeking to fill.

The database searches for keywords describing job titles, responsibilities and descriptions, degree requirements, computer knowledge as well as personality traits. This software scans through thousands of resumes and identifies those that most closely match the imputed keywords. The more keywords or "hits" the software finds in a resume, the more likely it will be read by a HR professional. Keywords are the most important element of a scannable resume.

What exactly are keywords? Keywords are nouns or noun phrases that identify skills unique to a specific profession or industry. Although active verbs have long been essential for building a successful resume, now the noun or noun phrase that follows an active verb is equally important. For example:

  • Self-motivated IT manager with a strong work ethic and problem solving abilities
  • Talented Graphic Designer of 4-color direct mail catalogs and corporate web site design
  • Accomplished in Microsoft Office software applications, Excel, Word and PowerPoint
  • Nominated by the New York Times for the Pulitzer Prize in news photography

Keyword nouns are the experience and skills that are specific terminology used in your job and are still relevant to your job search. Other sources for identifying keywords are job descriptions, job titles, software requirements, educational degrees, college names, company names, professional organizations, awards you’ve won and personality traits. Words that are repeatedly used in trade journals and classified ads in association with the job title you are seeking are also keywords.

Whatever your final word choices are, your keywords should accurately describe your skills, talents, and experience. As a word only needs to be used once for it to be considered a "hit" in a keyword search, use synonyms wherever possible to broaden your number of hits.

The Summary area of your resume should consist of several short statements that highlight your most important qualities, achievements and abilities. By tailoring every word in the "Summary" to your targeted goal, you can make this area keyword rich.

The most common ingredients of a well-written Summary are listed below; use what best describe you:

  • a sentence describing your profession
  • followed by a comment stating your level of expertise
  • followed by two to three statements related to any of the following:
  • unique mix of skills
  • range of environments in which you have experience
  • a special or well-documented professional accomplishment
  • a history of awards, promotions, or superior performance commendations
  • one or more professional or personal characteristics
  • a sentence describing your professional objectives or interests

It’s important to list only the skills you would feel comfortable using if you were to be tested. Should the position you are seeking require knowledge of software you don’t know, consider taking lessons before listing it on your resume.
If you’ve submitted your resume online to sites like or your resume has already been electronically imputed into their databases. But what happens if when it’s scanned from a paper copy?

OCR software attempts to match characters scanned from your resume with standard letter shapes. This makes it imperative that your resume is formatted with a font that OCR can recognize, font choice the single most important factor in creating a scannable resume. Simple, conservative typefaces such as Times New Roman, Arial, Helvetica, Verdana and Courier are some of the best choices.

Other content and design guidelines are:

  • keep it simple and conservative
  • use high quality 8-1/2 x 11 inch, white or off-white paper, print on one side of the paper only
  • format headings with either Bold text or ALL CAPITALS.
  • use headings sparingly but consistently to support your information structure
  • don’t use italics - it skews characters and confuses OCR
  • don’t use underlined text - it confuses OCR
  • use no more than two fonts in sizes between 10 and 12 points
  • allow margins and line spacing (white space) to keep the document from looking crowded
  • use horizontal lines to separate sections of your resume
  • don’t use vertical lines, graphics, shading or boxes
  • your contact information with your name is printed at the top of each page
  • a summary, where your best assets, whether education, experience, or skills are listed
  • categories are clear and text is indented
  • dates of employment are easy to find and consistently formatted
  • each entry highlights a capability or accomplishment
  • verb tense is consistent; current job is in present tense; past employment is in past tense
  • use a minimal amount of punctuation, it can confuse OCR
  • capitalization, punctuation, and date formats are consistent
  • no typos or spelling errors
  • don’t fold or staple your resume, if you mail your resume use a large envelope

Your resume should be a quick and easy to read, containing no fluff and no unnecessary words. As hiring professionals look through hundreds or even thousands of job applications, they may spend only a few seconds reviewing each resume. To catch their attention, you must quickly convey that you standout from the competition. A successful resume is one that does not exclude you from consideration.

Your resume is a personal self-marketing tool; so make sure you get a powerful and accurate message across. By fine-tuning your keywords to meet the qualifications of each jobComputer Technology Articles, the more likely that you'll be asked to an interview where you can sell yourself.

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