Job applicants traditionally spend hours making résumés to impress personnel and hiring managers; however, a recent study suggests that applicants might have to impress a computer, too.
The study, conducted by three BYU professors of management communication, looked at the prevalence among Fortune 500 companies of electronic résumé management (ERM) systems. These systems manage résumé data in a database, making the information available for high-speed searching.
The idea for the study came after an MBA student sent his résumé to Johnson and Johnson, and it came back with a letter stating that his résumé needed to be printed on white paper, mailed unstapled in an 8-1/2x11 envelope, and could not have fancy printing or graphics, bold, underlines, italics, or small print.
This reply caused professor William H. Baker, and assistant professors Kristen B. DeTienne and Karl L. Smart to question their teaching practices in preparing résumés. "In our class we teach all these embellishments, so this caused me to wonder, 'Are we giving our students bad counsel by suggesting that they embellish their résumés with these things?'" Baker says.
To find out more about these systems, researchers surveyed Fortune 500 companies, which receive large numbers of résumés. "We wanted to find out how many of those companies are using ERM systems, how finicky their scanners are, and how much scanning is involved," Baker says.
Of the companies responding to the survey, 36 percent currently use automated systems. Of the remaining companies, 14 percent are planning to get an ERM system within a year, 12 percent within two years, 26 percent plan to get one sometime, and 48 percent plan never to get one.
"Many of these companies, although they are very large, are not centralized, and every branch takes care of its own hiring," Baker says. "They don't perceive a need."
Baker, DeTienne, and Smart found that scanning is not used by 60 percent of the companies with ERM systems. Those not using scanners typically use a keyboard to input the résumé data.
But at the heart of the study was the question about the scanner's ability to recognize embellished typography on a résumé. The researchers found that job applicants do not need to be as conservative as Johnson and Johnson wanted its applicants to be. Of those companies that scan résumés, 77 percent said their scanners will generally accept embellished typography. Only 7 percent would not, and in those cases, a clerk would generally type in the information. "The Johnson and Johnson approach to just completely reject an unscannable résumé and send it back is followed in a very, very small minority of companies," Baker says.
Based on their findings, Baker, DeTienne, and Smart feel they can continue to counsel students to embellish their résumés.
They did learn, however, that job applicants should have two computer-related concerns when preparing their résumés.
First, they need to consider typography and layout. "Job applicants ought to stay within certain guidelines," Baker says. "Graphics should not be included, and the applicants ought to use dark type and white or off-white paper so there is good contrast between the type and background. Also, use standard-sized paper and between 9- and 13-point type."
Baker thinks also that job applicants should be conservative with embellished typography.
The second thing job applicants should be concerned about is using the right words. "A lot of people create their résumés with an emphasis on verbs," Baker says. "It's important to have the right nouns in there for the particular industry because most of the search terms used by these companies are nouns."
Baker says some key words, for example, are editor, e-mail, engineer, graphics, HTML, database, and education. "An applicant creating a résumé needs to become familiar with the typical kinds of search words that are likely to be entered into the computer when the company conducts a query," Baker says.
These guidelines are important, he says, because the companies that are using the ERM systems seem pleased with the results. "The systems have saved them quite a bit of time, they are simplifying paperwork, and they are helpful in generating government documents like equal employment reports," Baker says.
ERM systems have also been useful in eliminating bias in hiring. "The computer is color blind," Baker says, "and slightly over half of the companies felt that their new hires were better than before."
Baker believes ERM systems are going to become more and more popular for large companies. "Job applicants need to know when they are applying to these large companies that they need to be a little bit conservative on the résumés and realize they might be talking to a computer."