(ancient history and undead hype)

OCR scanning (commonly referred to as just plain “scanning”, when text is being discussed) is a technology used for converting printed words (or digital pictures of words) into digital text that can be processed like any other text fed into a computer.

Around the turn of the century, when it was still common for people to send in paper résumés with job applications, it was common for employers to use OCR scanning as a means of processing the paper résumés they received. For a time, some résumé services offered “scannable résumés”—paper résumés that were specially formatted so that they could be easily and accurately scanned by the résumé-processing technology of the time. (Humans, however, would not willingly read them, since they lacked the visual formatting that made them easy to read and that allowed for a clear and flexible hierarchical structure of information.) When I started out, in 2008, scannable paper résumés were dead, but most résumé writers didn’t know that yet, and were still talking about them.

There used to be a lot of hype and confusion about “scannable résumés,” and many résumé-writing services continued the hype long after scannable paper résumés became obsolete. The same hype, often in the same words, was handed out about “searchable” résumés, when the generality of résumé services finally learned that MS Word résumés e-mailed in electronic form could be searched for keywords. Then “SEO résumés” became the buzzword, when search engines became a thing after Google was founded in 1998. It was all balled up together with keyword hype. Later, it was mixed in with LinkedIn search hype, when LinkedIn’s peculiar information structure became an issue for Web searches of LinkedIn profiles. Now the same hype is mixed in with the hype about the buzzwords “ATS-optimized” and, more recently, “AI.”

Today, employers get résumés as electronic Word documents or (increasingly) in online forms filled out by the applicant. These résumés go directly into today’s résumé-processing systems. (PDF résumés are not compatible with these systems—even though PDF is often on the “acceptable formats” list.)

Paper résumés are once again read only by people. You bring them with you to the first and subsequent interviews. Scannable paper résumés have been obsolete for twenty years or more.

The reality behind the hype, then and now, is the importance of the common practice of scanning résumé text for terms that somebody thinks are indicators of suitability for a given job. Humans were doing that long before computers were involved, and the same basic writing strategies made for effective résumés back then, though the nuances of various types of computerized processing also have to be taken into account with résumés today.

But many of the misconceptions and confusions remain, because many in résumé writers, even in the days of “scannable résumés,” didn’t know much about the technical reality. Many of their successors today don’t either—and don’t realize what has changed since the hype they’re still recycling was first written. Few of them today can even have any idea how old that hype is. They who ignore history are condemned to repeat it.

For clarification of terms, and a discussion of today’s hype and confusion about keywords and SEO résumés, see the article SEO, ATS, AI, Keywords, Search-Engine Optimization: Hype & Multiple Confusions, under Tips & Myths.

Back in the days of scannable-résumé hype and confusion, the term “scannable-résumé” could also mean:

1) A plain-text résumé.

2) Any résumé that is written to include keywords. (But, then as now, all résumés should be written to include keywords.)








“That is not dead which can eternal lie, and with strange aeons even death may die.”

—H.P. Lovecraft