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ISSUE 18.11.F • 2021-03-22
The AskWoody Newsletters will not be published on March 29, 2021.
We’ll see you again on April 5, 2021.

In this issue

PUBLIC DEFENDER: LinkedIn deliberately scrambles résumé PDFs

Additional articles in the PLUS issue

LANGALIST: A wide-ranging trio of questions

BEST UTILITIES: Freeware Spotlight — Distant Desktop v2.1

MICROSOFT ACCOUNTS: Understanding your Microsoft Account(s)

PATCH WATCH: Dealing with Printers

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PUBLIC DEFENDER

LinkedIn deliberately scrambles résumé PDFs, experts say

Brian Livingston

By Brian Livingston

LinkedIn — the foremost social network for working professionals, with 760 million members in more than 200 countries — constantly changes the format of its PDF résumés to make it hard for companies to search for possible job applicants, according to human-resource consultants.

“LinkedIn has, for several years now, been on a campaign to make their PDF profiles not accurately readable by parsing software,” Robert Ruff, CEO of HR firm Sovren, told Marc Cenedella, CEO of TheLadders job site, in a recent interview. “I think we saw at one point they had made 40-something changes in 100 days to make the résumés hard to parse out of those profiles.”

Ruff continued: “I think the victims of it are their customers, who don’t understand that those PDFs are intended to be very inaccurate when they’re parsed now.”

The garbling of users’ PDFs, which are similar to résumés, reportedly began after LinkedIn was hit with a preliminary injunction by the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in September 2019. The injunction barred LinkedIn from blocking a data-analytics firm named hiQ from copying or “scraping” the public profiles of LinkedIn users. As the court noted, “LinkedIn blocks approximately 95 million automated attempts to scrape data every day.” LinkedIn has appealed to the US Supreme Court, but at this writing the case has not been docketed.

How can the same LinkedIn profile produce different PDF files on different days?

  • A text file stores characters in the same order as they appear when printed.

  • A PDF file, by contrast, can be made to store words out of order. On a printout or a screen, sentences may appear in perfect alignment, but different PDF internal sequences can produce the same arrangement.

LinkedIn makes it easy for users to save a profile as a PDF. The site’s main menu offers the convenient command View Profile > More > Save to PDF. Whether you do this or not, any other user can also download a copy of your profile as a PDF at any time (unless you configure your profile as “private”).

Why are these PDFs important, and what can you do about LinkedIn’s handling of them?

Résumé parsing is crucial to everyone who wants a job

In the olden days — before LinkedIn launched in 2003 — jobseekers submitted résumés on fine linen paper. The time required to print and mail these documents kept the number of applicants for most jobs down to a few hundred at most.

Today, the Internet makes it possible for a posted job opening to generate thousands of applications. To cope with this tsunami, HR departments now use keywords to search databases that are amassed by résumé-parsing companies. In the US, the largest firms in this field include DaXtra, HireAbility, Hiretual, Sovren, and Textkernel.

Parser logic
Figure 1. From left to right, a résumé parser converts a person’s work experience, name, former companies, titles, education, degrees, schools, and majors into a database record. Source: Hellpanderrr/GitHub

Companies such as these vacuum up LinkedIn profiles and résumés from as many sources as possible. Computers parse the words on each document into a database, as shown in Figure 1. All the flowery language in each résumé is stripped down to the most basic terms — any words that seem to indicate a person’s name, previous employers, work experience, college degrees, and other easy-to-quantify data points.

Regarding LinkedIn, “They do change the format from time to time,” Ninh Tran, the founding member of Hiretual, told me in a telephone interview. “We make an update to our parsing engine every two weeks” in response to LinkedIn and other format changes, he said.

“The formatting is a little bit weird. It’s not a standard résumé that people would use to apply for a job,” Tran said of LinkedIn’s PDFs. “I recommend that people make their own PDF résumé and attach it to their profile.”

LinkedIn did not respond to a request for comment. “You’re hitting upon a sensitive area of the industry,” explained Maurice Fuller, the president of StaffingTec, a firm that sponsors conferences and webinars for HR professionals. Exactly how companies scrape information from sites such as LinkedIn is a trade secret among practitioners.

Take your profile — and your future — into your own hands

Whether or not you’re currently looking for a job, there are good reasons to keep your professional résumé online and up to date. If you’re going to make your own PDF and attach it to a LinkedIn profile — so you can ensure it’s easily readable by anyone or anything — what’s the best way to go about it?

Sample format by TheLadders
Figure 2. According to Marc Cenedella, CEO of TheLadders, a résumé parses best if it uses a plain-vanilla format, with name, job sought, professional summary, and previous work experiences in well-defined sections. Source: TheLadders

  • Step 1: Make your résumé easy for a computer to parse. There are thousands of articles on the Web about “how to write a résumé.” The best one I’ve seen was posted by TheLadders’ Cenedella on his High Score Résumé page. (See Figure 2.) He recommends using an ultrasimple, one-column format that helps parsers recognize your name, skills, former employers, and more. In addition, bullet points underneath each employer should reflect measurable improvements — “high scores” — that you achieved at each of your previous jobs.

  • Step 2: Eliminate all images and font variations. A common mistake by job-seekers is inserting a previous employer’s logo but omitting the company’s name from the text of a résumé. Parsing software ignores all images. This means your entry in the database won’t include the words “Microsoft,” “Google,” or any of the other employers you’re so proud to have worked for. Another error is to format the initial letter of your name with a larger or a different font. A parser may record your name as at mith instead of Pat Smith. Finally, don’t use text boxes, borders, columns, or tables. From the computer’s point of view, it would be best for your résumé to be a plain text file with no fonts at all. (Few people want to submit TXT files as their résumés, of course.)

  • Step 3: Here’s a spelling tip. To enter the accented é in the word résumé using Windows, turn NumLock on, hold down the Alt key, type 0233 on the numeric keypad, and then release the Alt key. Alternatively, use your word processor’s Insert > Symbol command. The accent has been supported in all modern software for decades (and it makes you look like you actually learned something in college).

  • Step 4: Use a good-quality app to save your document as a PDF. Adobe Systems long ago lost its monopoly on PDF-creation tools such as Adobe Acrobat. For many years, Microsoft Office applications, including MS Word, have supported the PDF format in their File > Save As drop-down boxes. As an alternative, some third-party apps install a printer driver, so you can “print” a document to a PDF file. But be sure to test the resulting PDF file! Some PDF-creation programs save hyperlinks as blue underlined words — but the links, when clicked, cause nothing to happen. Make sure your hyperlinks open a browser window and render the Web pages you intended.

The brave new world of search engines as gatekeepers

Having the most perfect résumé in the world, of course, doesn’t ensure that you’ll be offered the job of your dreams. A database will never hire you, but a garbled database entry can eliminate you from even being considered. To get a coveted interview, you want parsers to include relevant facts that will make an HR department want to put you in front of a decision-maker.

Cheap tricks, such as pasting hundreds of keywords into a résumé or using tiny white type on a white background, are more likely to get you banned than to get you that interview. Keep it simple, keep it honest, and you’ll have as good a chance as other jobseekers. And attach your own home-made PDF résumé to your LinkedIn profile, rather than forcing parsers to digest a document that may be nonstandard.

Ruff’s interview, and commentary by other parsing executives, is available at TheLadders’ CEO advice page. StaffingTec’s latest events are listed on its website.

Do you know a secret that we all should know? Tell me about it! I’ll keep your identity totally confidential or give you credit as you prefer. Send your story via the Public Defender tips page.
Questions or comments? Feedback on this article is always welcome in the AskWoody Lounge!

The PUBLIC DEFENDER column is Brian Livingston’s campaign to give you consumer protection from tech. If it’s irritating you, and it has an “on” switch, he’ll take the case! Brian is a successful dot-com entrepreneur, author or co-author of 11 Windows Secrets books, and author of the new book Muscular Portfolios. Get his free monthly newsletter.

Stories in this week’s PAID AskWoody Plus Newsletter
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LANGALIST

Fred Langa

A wide-ranging trio of questions

By Fred Langa

This week’s top reader-submitted questions cover quite a spread of topics, starting with some unexpected lithium-ion battery behavior.

BEST UTILTIIES

Deanna McElveen

Freeware Spotlight — Distant Desktop v2.1

By Deanna McElveen

It’s unfortunate that I paid for an annual renewal of Team Viewer just before I found Distant Desktop. I might have made a different decision.

MICROSOFT ACCOUNTS

Lance Whitney

Understanding your Microsoft Account(s)

By Lance Whitney

A Microsoft account is a quick and convenient way to use the same credentials to sign in to different Microsoft applications and services. This type of account can connect you to Office, Outlook, OneDrive, Skype, the Microsoft Store, and Xbox Live.

PATCH WATCH

Susan Bradley

Dealing with Printers

By Susan Bradley

Once upon a time, I purchased an HP LaserJet 4L printer that would just keep on printing, year after year, until the plastic door on the top of the printer finally broke off. After my initial installation, the printer driver was never updated.


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