Tips For Preparing e-Resumes

Things You Need to Know about e-Resumes and Posting Your Resume Online

by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.

The e-resume, short for electronic resume, is a vital tool for today’s job-seeker. But what exactly is an electronic resume? Even among career experts, opinions vary about what is or is not an electronic resume. It’s a broadly used term that covers several types of resumes. What ties these resume types together is mode of delivery. Rather than traditional modes of resume delivery — snailmail, faxing, and hand-delivery — e-resumes are delivered electronically — via e-mail, submitted to Internet job boards, or residing on their own Web page. Then there are sort of middle-tech cousins of e-resumes, scannable resumes — used less and less frequently these days — that are in print format but are ready to become electronic resumes through optical scanning.

1. You absolutely MUST have one.

A job-seeker simply cannot succeed these days with just the traditional formatted resume intended to be printed out as a visually pleasing marketing piece. The formatted “print” resume is still important, but it can no longer be the only resume tool in your kit.

More than 80 percent of employers are now placing resumes directly into searchable databases and an equal percentage of employers prefer to receive resumes by e-mail. Eighty percent of Fortune 500 companies post jobs on their own Web sites — and expect job-seekers to respond electronically. All these stats mean that you need at least one other version of your resume that can go directly into a keyword-searchable database with no obstacles. Formatting that needs to be removed before the resume can be placed in a database is an example of such an obstacle.

Sending your resume in text-based format directly in the body of an e-mail message removes all barriers to an employer’s placing your resume right into a searchable database. Some employers still prefer the formatted document version of your resume attached to an e-mail message, while others won’t open attachments because of concerns about viruses and incompatibilities among word-processing programs. And since the formatted version of your resume is often delivered electronically as an attachment, it too can be considered a type of e-resume.

The formatted “print” resume is still vital because the employer may wish to visually review your resume, especially once the database search has narrowed down the candidates, and the formatted, print version will be more reader-friendly than the text-based version. You’ll also want to have a print version of your resume on hand to take to interviews and career fairs and for occasions when employers request resumes in “old-fashioned” ways — by mail or fax.

In their book, E-Resumes: Everything You Need to Know about Using Electronic Resumes to Tap into Today’s Job Market, Susan Britton Whitcomb and Pat Kendall write: “It’s nearly impossible to conduct a job search these days without some type of e-resume — whether plain-text, formatted, or Web-based. In fact, it’s a safe assertion that the only job-seekers who won’t need an e-resume are those who want to work for an employer that does not own a computer.”

So, at the bare minimum, you need a formatted, print version of your resume and a text-based (ASCII) e-resume. To cover every contingency, you might also want to have a Rich Text (RTF) version, a Portable Document Format (PDF) version, a Web-based (HTML) version, and a scannable version.

2. Your e-resume must be loaded with keywords.

This advice really relates to all resumes in the era of the keyword-searchable database, but it’s especially important for e-resumes. Job-hunting today increasingly revolves around the mysterious world of keywords. Employers’ use and eventual dependence on keywords to find the job candidates they want to interview has come about in recent years because of technology. Inundated by resumes from job-seekers, employers have increasingly relied on digitizing job-seeker resumes, placing those resumes in keyword-searchable databases, and usingsoftware to search those databases for specific keywords that relate to job vacancies. Most Fortune 1000 companies, in fact, and many smaller companies now use these technologies. In addition, many employers search the databases of third-party job-posting and resume-posting boards on the Internet.

The bottom line is that if you apply for a job with a company that searches databases for keywords, and your resume doesn’t have the keywords the company seeks for the person who fills that job, you are pretty much out of luck. Read more about the importance of keywords in our article Tapping the Power of Keywords to Enhance Your Resume’s Effectiveness and how you can identify the best keywords in Resources for Identifying Keywords and Researching Keywords in Employment Ads.

3. Your e-resume must be accomplishments-driven.

Again, this advice applies to all resumes. Accomplishments are the points that really help sell you to an employer — much more so than everyday job duties. In fact, there’s a direct relationship between keywords and accomplishments in that keywords can be tied to accomplishments rather than job duties, so a good way to make the leap from keyword to a nice, contextual bullet point is to take each keyword you’ve identified as critical to the job and list an accomplishment that tells how you’ve used the skill represented by that keyword.

4. Technically speaking, an e-resume is not too difficult to create.

It’s surprisingly easy to create an e-resume once you get the hang of it. There’s more that one way to create a text-based e-resume, but the most common method involves saving your word-processed (usually Word) resume in text (.txt) format, re-opening it in a text editor program, such as Wordpad, Notepad, or Mac’s Simple Text, and then making a few adjustments in it.

Even a Web-based HTML resume is not that hard to craft. Learn everything you need to know in our article,

5. Text-based e-resumes are the ugly ducklings of the resume world, but you can dress them up a bit.

Job-seekers and resume writers have strived for years to develop ways to make resumes visually appealing and graphically interesting — through font choices, bold and italic type, rule lines, bullets, centering, indents, and more — only to have all that formatting thrown out the window in the e-resume world. Text-based e-resumes are the antitheses of the gorgeous documents that job-seekers hand to employers at interviews and career fairs. The fact is that most e-resumes aren’t intended to be visually attractive because their main function is not to be seen but to be searched in keyword-searchable databases.

Still, they may be seen at some point. Employers may see the resume you’ve posted on an online job board. Their primary interest is whether the content of your resume (indicated largely by keywords) shows you to be qualified for the opening you’ve applied for and/or for which the employer is searching the database. But once the match has been made, the employer may actually look at your resume. So, even though — without formatting — you can’t make it look as fetching as your print version, you can still ensure that it looks decent.

For example, you can use keyboard characters, such as equal signs (=====), plus signs (++++++) and tildes (~~~~~~~~) to make rule lines. You can use asterisks (*****), hyphens (—–), lower-case letter o’s (ooooo), and carats (>>>>>) to make bullets. You can use UPPER CASE for emphasis in headings. .

Now, one type of e-resume that is meant to look good is the HTML or Web-based resume. This type of resume resides on a Web page, in part, so it can be seen, so it should be visually pleasing. While it’s not too difficult to make an HTML resume look attractive, the more you know about Web design, the better you can make the resume look. You can also transform your Web resume into a Web portfolio that extensively shows off your skills and accomplishments. If you’re not confident of your skills, you might want to enlist a Web designer or resume writer in this process.

6. E-resumes are highly versatile.

Once you have a text-based e-resume, you can do a lot with it, including:

  • Post it in its entirety on many job boards.
  • Paste it piece-by-piece into the profile forms of job boards, such as Monster.com, that have a rigid setup and don’t allow resumes to be posted as is.
  • Paste it into the body of an e-mail and send it to employers.
  • Convert it to a Web-based HTML resume.
  • Send it as an attachment to employers, although you’ll probably also want to send your formatted version.
  • Print it out and use as it a scannable resume.

7. You must tailor the use of your e-resume to each employer’s or job board’s instructions.

As you might have guessed from what you’ve read so far in this article, there is no universally accepted way to submit your e-resume to an employer. Some employers want your resume as an attachment, usually as a Word document (but if no format is specified, and you can’t find out, RTF is the safest bet). Others want your resume as text pasted into the body of an e-mail message. Still others want you to paste your resume into an online form.

If you absolutely cannot find out an employer’s preference, the following is a fairly safe bet:

  • A formatted, “print” resume in document or RTF form sent as an attachment to an e-mail message to the employer. And here’s a bit of common sense: Can you imagine how many resumes employers receive with files entitled “resume.doc” or “resume.rtf?” Use your name as part of the file name for your resume. Example: JaySmithResume.rtf.
  • A text-based e-resume stripped of most formatting and pasted directly into the same e-mail message into which your print resume is attached. Since the employer has this text-based resume, he or she can choose whether or not to open the attached version, based on compatibility, virus protection, and company policy on opening attachments. For a truly complete e-mailable, electronic package, add a text-based cover letter stripped of formatting and pasted directly into the same e-mail message into which your print resume is attached. Kendall and Whitcomb note that your cover letter can contain verbiage that points out the e-resume options you’re providing: “I have attached an MS Word version of my resume, as well as pasted a plain-text version below. (If the plain-text version is sufficient for your database, it is not necessary to download the formatted attachment.)”

The same lack of universality goes for job boards. Some enable you to paste your resume into a form in any format,but the board automatically converts it to text. Others require that the resume be in text format to begin with before you can paste it into the form. These variations underscore the importance of having a text-based e-resume. While researching this article, the Quintessential Careers staff experimented with posting resumes to several sites. We learned that a text-based e-resume is not only vital for boards with a text-resume requirement — but also extremely helpful when the boards convert any resume to text. Just because a job board turns your resume into text doesn’t mean it will look decent; it’s better to have a text resume to begin with so you know it will look appropriate when pasted in.

Also note that some job boards/employers limit the number of words or the size of the file that you can paste into any one field. Others, such as Monster.com, have a very rigid format for constructing your resume/profile that does not allow for functional or chrono-functional resume formats, for example.

8. Take advantage of job-board features to protect yourself and get the most out of posting your e-resume on the boards.

Most reputable job boards have features that enable you to protect your own privacy and confidentiality, control who sees your resume, mask the identity if your current employer (so your employer doesn’t know you’re looking), and easily edit and delete your resume or change it from active to inactive.

These privacy and confidentiality issues are more important than ever these days in light of recent revelations of identity theft of resume information.

Many boards also enable you to create multiple profiles for yourself so you can look for various types of jobs. Some permit you to submit a list of your top skills. Resume submission forms generally have questions in addition to a place to submit the actual resume. Some questions are mandatory; others are optional. When a question is optional, consider whether it is to your advantage to answer it. Answering questions about salary or location requirements, for example, may be too limiting. The resources in No. 7 above are helpful in taking advantage of the features of job boards.

9. A few finishing touches can increase your e-resume’s effectiveness.

Here are a few tips from the experts for getting more out of your e-resume:

  • Use the “Properties” feature in MS Word to boost the keyword searchability of your attached Word resume, advise Kendall and Whitcomb. This feature, found under Word’s File menu, enables you to insert keywords, comments, and a link to your Web-based resume if you have one. You can use the “Comments” field to enter geographic and relocation preferences.
  • A similar trick applies to using HTML commands called meta tags in creating a Web-based resume. The “description” command, for example, gives you up to 150 characters to provide a description of your document. Make sure you use words that highlight your experience and skills. The “keywords” command gives you limited space to enter critical keywords. Be sure to use keywords that you think employers and recruiters might use in searching for the position you are seeking — and make sure those keywords are also listed at least once (perhaps in a “key accomplishments” section) in your resume.
  • Do some test runs of the formatted print resume you intend to send to employers as an attachment by sending it to the computers of a few friends to see if the formatting is consistent from computer to computer. Try to find testers who each have different versions of Windows (95, 98, 2000, XP), as well as a tester or two using Mac OS.
  • It’s best to include your cover letter in the body of your e-mail rather than as an additional attachment because some systems can’t handle multiple attachments.
  • Use a specific subject line in your e-mail when transmitting your e-resume, suggest Kendall and Whitcomb. The subject line might include the reference number for the job, your name, the name of the position, and a concise keyword-oriented selling point about you.

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