SAY you want to find a job - a really good one with a big corporation. How do you craft the perfect resume? Pretend, resume-experts say, that you're writing for a machine.
As the flood of job applications grows, large corporations increasingly are turning to resume-reading computers to keep up.
Unisys Corp., an information-management firm here in Blue Bell, Pa., ships all resumes off to a facility in Bismarck, N.D. There, operators scan each resume into a computer. The computer converts the scan into machine-readable text, using a technology called optical character recognition. Then it automatically categorizes the resumes, making it easy for a Unisys recruiter to find, for example, all New York-area applicants who are secretaries familiar with a particular word-processing system.
Such technology is changing the way people write resumes. Here are some tips from Resumix, a Sunnyvale, Calif., resume-reading company, on how to apply for a job the computer-friendly way:
''A scannable resume has standard fonts and crisp, dark type such as a laser printer or a typewriter with a new ribbon would produce.'' (That's not to impress a boss; it's so the computer can scan the lettering.)
''Use more than one page if necessary. The computer can easily handle multiple-page resumes, and it uses all of the information it extracts from your resume to determine if your skills match available positions.''
''Once you understand what the computer searches for, you may decide to add a few key words to increase your opportunities for matching requirements.''
''A scannable resume ... maximizes your ability to get 'hits.' '' Getting a hit means using the same words a recruiter uses when searching the database. So use lots of nouns and industry jargon to describe your achievements, resume pros say.
For corporations, such technology can be a great boon. Unisys gets 5,000 to 7,000 resumes a month. That's far too many for its 30 recruiters, spread all over the country, to read.
Until last year, ''each recruiter had his own little file cabinet of resumes,'' says Bart Erwin, senior consultant with Unisys recruiting and staffing. ''Now they have everything in one file cabinet.'' Instead of each recruiter having 500 resumes to look at, the company hopes each recruiter will soon have 30,000 to scan. The single ''file cabinet'' is actually a computer database that all the recruiters can tap into. Unisys is using a system made by Restrac Corp. in Dedham, Mass.
''What companies want to do is assemble a pool of skilled workers,'' says Greg Morse, corporate marketing manager for Restrac. The system not only gives them a bigger pool of applicants to choose from, it also allows recruiters to respond automatically to new applicants and track the progress of a particular job search. Some of Restrac's clients, Mr. Morse says, have cut the job selection process from 100 days down to 20 to 40 days, cutting costs in the process.
College students are catching on to the new technology and adapting their resumes accordingly. No more fancy typefaces. Phone numbers go on a separate line so as not to confuse the computer.
''It is influencing some,'' says Patrick Scheetz, director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University in East Lansing. ''The heavy traffic is still in the computer-science-related fields. But it's spreading like wildfire. Teachers are seeing quite a bit of it, [and] engineers.''
Some applicants are bypassing the paper resume altogether and applying electronically through the Internet computer network. This may explain the explosion of corporate recruiters on the graphical part of the Internet, known as the World Wide Web. When Mr. Scheetz's institute surveyed employers in December, it found that 18.4 percent of them had established a presence - called a ''home page'' - on the Web, three times the percentage that had been on the Web the previous May.
''We get a lot of resumes on the Internet today,'' adds Mr. Erwin of Unisys, which has its own Web page with job information.
Job applicants who want to avoid this technology can still apply to smaller companies. Such systems typically are too expensive for companies with fewer than 1,000 employees, Morse says. Restrac's technology starts at $100,000.
But that may change too. Already, Restrac is looking at ways to set up a resume storage and retrieval service for smaller companies with limited budgets.
The resume isn't what it used to be. But at least these days, when corporations say your resume is ''on file,'' it's highly likely they're telling the truth.