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Computer Databases Give Resumes More Than a Scan

Companies use special software that enables personnel workers to sift and cross-reference a huge number of electronic files.


Lonnie Larson never meant to find a job by computer.

Last fall Larson sent a hard-copy resume for an administrative post at UCLA. Several weeks later, he was called for an interview--for an opening he didn't even know existed.

It turned out the university staff had scanned his resume into a computerized database and called up the document using keywords related to administrative skills.

"I would have been [surprised at the interview offer] if I hadn't received a postcard in the mail telling me I was being considered for other jobs within the university," said Larson, now manager of the earth and space sciences department at the Westwood campus. "They do a good job of tracking things around here."

Indeed, electronic resumes are quickly catching on, as job-seekers like Larson have discovered. Spurred by growing numbers of candidates and shrinking personnel budgets, companies are using special software for job-placement triage, enabling human workers to sift and cross-reference enormous databases.

"Money is behind all of the electronic rush," said Joyce Lain Kennedy, a syndicated careers columnist and co-author of "Electronic Resume Revolution" (John Wiley & Sons, $12.95). "It's become too costly to hire people to read and file mounds of resumes. Why do all that when you can have a machine do it for you?"

According to a 1995 poll by the New York-based consulting firm Lee Hecht Harrison, 31% of 435 human-resource professionals said their companies use so-called resume banks for recruiting. Many experts say the percentage of large and mid-size companies using such programs is far higher, with employers such as Walt Disney Co. and MCI Communications Corp. leading the way.

Amgen Inc., a Thousand Oaks biotechnology firm with 2,800 workers, receives more than 225 resumes a day, about 60% in the conventional paper format and about 40% by e-mail or fax. All end up in an automated tracking system.

"We have 280 to 300 openings weekly, and this way people are being considered for all jobs, not just one," said Monette Stevens, manager of employment systems at Amgen.

But while electronic resumes may cut costs and streamline recruiting for companies, prospective employees should be aware of several pitfalls, experts say. A resume written following old strategies may never be seen by human eyes, let alone lead to an interview.


What the Computer Looks For

As automated computer systems increasingly take on the task of weeding through resumes, here are a few things to consider when writing a resume:

* Emphasize skills, not achievements. Experts once advised job-seekers to load their resumes with active verbs (e.g., "initiated," "developed," "managed"). No more. Because companies narrow electronic searches by using keywords, candidates should mention specific skills that the computer will recognize, such as software applications or foreign languages in which they are proficient.

"If the right word is not in there, you won't get found" in the database, warned Pam Dixon, co-author of "Be Your Own Headhunter Online" (Random House, $16). Dixon advises job seekers to skim the help-wanted ads of major employers for popular keywords.

* Avoid frills. Some job hunters try to stand out by jazzing up their resumes with colored paper, underlining or unusual typefaces. That approach is risky now. Hard copies printed on white paper in a popular font, such as Helvetica or Courier, will scan the most accurately.

"If you use a fancy typeface and print 'Fred Flintstone', the computer may read it as 'Ed Enstone,' " said Jim Lemke, manager of employment and information systems at UCLA.

* Start strong. Because many computer screens show only 24 lines of text at a time, candidates should start their resume with a bang; namely, a pithy career objective and a strong list of skills. Otherwise, an unimpressed employee may simply click to the next resume without bothering to scroll down.

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