The trouble with unemployment is that the minute you wake up in the morning
you're on the job.
~Slappy White


Dedication: This blog is dedicated to all job-seekers who refuse to give up.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Résumé fonts and ATS – the facts!

Applicant Tracking Systems Font Facts

Tech-savvy Jobseekers:
Jobseekers are becoming some of the most tech-savvy individuals on the Internet. They are keenly aware that their future earnings are at the mercy of technology and they are making it a priority to understand every possible clue that will improve their odds of winning an interview.

Applicant Tracking Systems are being tested:
Fairly recent knowledge about Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) has given jobseekers better guidance on how to promote their candidacy through their résumé. Every conceivable approach to getting through these systems is being tried, tested, and retested by jobseekers throughout the country.

A quick Internet search for “résumé font formatting” brought up 8,330,000 results in 0.32 seconds. The conflicting information is exasperating. So this week I consulted some IT professionals to confirm the current facts about choosing a résumé font.

Early attempts with Applicant Tracking Systems:
Two or three years ago, at a state-wide jobseeker meeting, Jerry (not his real name), got up and said, “I’ve been experimenting with keywords and how I can load my résumé with them and get through the online systems. So wherever there is white space on my résumé, I typed in keywords from the job postings and then turned the font color of those words to white.”

I salute Jerry in making an attempt to find a way to get through to a real person. He didn’t give up. He didn't declare the situation hopeless. He started thinking out-of-the-box and trying to find a solution! The problem with this particular attempt is perhaps obvious: while his résumé may have penetrated the online system, there will be text strings that don't make any sense.
* * *
While speaking at the Waterbury library, a brilliant woman in her late 50s or early 60s stood up. She was the epitome of excellence: although her frame was portly, she was perfectly groomed. Her quiet demeanor matched her conservative, tasteful style. It was quickly obvious to me that she was an executive administrative assistant and by raising one finger, she could keep an entire NFL football team in their place without losing her kind demeanor.

She held up two pieces of paper and said, “This is the 16th version of my résumé , and I’m starting to get interviews.” This woman isn’t a technology guru. But she had experimented with various elements in her process and kept on trying until she was getting interviews. Hats off to her!

* * *
Résumé formatting basics:
  1. Your résumé has to have keywords AND it has to be legible by both the tool and the hiring professional.
  2. The purpose of your online application (your cover letter and résumé) is to get a phone call.
  3. You will know you have been successful when you start getting interviews.
Questionable media advice about résumé fonts:
Recently an article from the Business Insider by Vivian Giang has received a lot of attention. The intriguing title, “These Formatting Rules Will Get Your Résumé Through the Screening System”, certainly captured my attention. I teach a workshop about those systems and spend time every week to keep up with what’s going on so I can give my clients the most up-to-date information possible.

Giang writes:
Choose a conservative font such as Verdana, Arial, Tahoma, or Calibri.
Gillis says that serif fonts, such as Times Roman or Cambria may be rejected by screening software. (Emphasis mine.)
My research process:
This information did not support my research. I originally asked a pool of human resource professionals to show me their online tool and how it worked. I asked what jobseekers needed to know to get through and how could we format a résumé to help the HR pros in their decision-making process?

I wanted to know exactly what information they needed and when. How could we make their job easier? Once I understood their process, I created a format that matched the steps they took to select finalists. Then I asked to speak to a few of their hiring managers to understand their needs as well.

Finally, with their permission, I created two avatars, gave them androgynous names, opened email accounts and applied for a host of jobs online to make sure my process could get through the online systems. I used Times New Roman.

Needless to say, the article from what seemed like a credible source put me in a conundrum. Had something changed? My clients have been getting interviews, but if there was a way to increase their success, I wanted to know about it. So I decided I better look into this matter. (Incidentally, there's more to these systems than keywords. If you are interested in this workshop, please call me (860) 833-4072.)

First, I reached out to Vivian Giang and asked for some kind of verification on her claims. That was March 3rd. I sent a second request a week later but have not heard from her.

As I spent hours searching for credible data. Not surprising, I found conflicting information all over the Internet. I wanted to understand more about the use of PDF files, MS Word documents, text files, parsing software, etc.

It’s been two weeks and a fairly substantial number of hours. This last week, I spoke with Jason Bittner, President and CEO of Triple Helix Corp. Jason is a technology visionary and a really cool guy. He figures out remarkable ways to solve complex problems through the use of technology. In short, he makes life better and easier. We had several conversations throughout the week.

Résumé fonts: Serif vs Sans Serif
Just for clarification, lets define these terms. Serifs are those little lines and tails on letters. Sometimes they are called a “finishing stroke.” Sans serif is French for “without serifs.” So a serif font would include Times New Roman, Bodoni, Cambria, Palatino, etc. Sans serif fonts include Verdana, Arial, Tahoma, or Calibri.
Here is a comparison:

Image from www.shapeshed.com  

* * *

What is the right résumé font?
Currently, the process to read your resume through an online parser is an electronic transfer and the online parsers are no longer using an Ocular Character Recognition (OCR) program. An OCR program tries to figure out characters from an image; so there is a translation issue and the characters have to be really, really clear or an “O” (the letter) gets confused with “0” (the number). So when we were using OCR software, a sans serif font may have been helpful.

We aren’t using OCR anymore. It is an electronic process, not an interpretation of an image. It's actually reading the font character. So I looked at Jason, as he explained the electronic process and said, “So it doesn’t matter which font?” He smiled and said, “Right!”

Ask the real experts, “Which font is easier to read?”
Although I’ve done it many time before, I decided to give it another trial. I printed two pages, one in Times New Roman, and one in Arial. The same exact information except the font. Then I asked 14 people at random to tell me, which one was easier for them to read. All 14 voted for Times New Roman. No question.

When people look at your résumé,
there’s more to it than the information.

More reasons why Times New Roman is the best font for your résumé:
  • Everyone has Times New Roman! MS Word is the standard format for résumés. So when your résumé is opened, they have the right font.
  • This is important!!!! When people look at your résumé, there’s more to it than the information. Looking at a résumé is also an experience and this is something you can control. Sans Serif fonts look softer and weaker, especially when the letters have curves, such as the letter “C” and the letter “S.” Compare these two. (I made up this name.)

Résumé font size:
So what about the font size? Believe it or not, résumés still get printed. Anything under font 11 may become grainy when printed. My clients prepare résumés using font 11 for all text except their name, which is font 12 or 14 depending on the length.

Need an interview?
Call Forward Motion Careers.
We can help.

Right job,
Right fit,
Right now!

(860) 833-4072

Looking for work? Need an interview?
mlareau@forwardmotioncareers.com. Call (860) 833-4072 for a free 30-minute consultation.


  1. Great article! Thanks for the clarification on the confusing font question. I hear this question almost daily.

  2. Comments from Billie Sucher:

    Nailed it! Thank you for this educational and insightful article...one of the best I have read on the topic. I just tweeted it, so hope many #jobseekers will read your wise counsel.

    Best regards. Billie Sucher

  3. I am not old, only my eyes are. (Tongue in cheek.)

    I have a hard time reading serifs hour after hour. I do most of my own writing in calibri.

  4. Thanks Cindy,
    I very much appreciate your comment and your taking time to make it. I also enjoy the change to the non-serif especially after a long bout of reading. It seems easier to me as well.

    As for resumes, I feel compelled to go with what works best and presents best to the systems and the reader.

    We can sit and enjoy caliber (my favorite as well!).

  5. Your blog is really helps for my search and i really like it.. Thanks a lot..


  6. Thanks John,

    I"m glad it has helped. Best wishes to you and your clients. Together we can make a difference.

  7. Marcia, you've provided job hunters with a great article that demystifies and clarifies the Applicant Tracking System! Great job!

  8. Thanks for that kindly reminder in making a resume. In order to catch the employer's attention, you should be able to write an impressive resume. But how could a newbie do that? resume services Edmonton could help out.