Considering that these days many companies use Applicant Tracking Systems which scan uploaded documents, strip formatting, look for keywords, etc, I'm wondering what recommended ways exist to upload a cover letter that lets the ATS do its thing.

Right now, I have a cover letter I want to use that I've printed, signed, and scanned back to PDF, but by my understanding, this might hinder the ATS properly detecting the words. So, how can I achieve maximum ATS-compatibility while still having my signature on the document? To make it clear, I'd prefer not to simply import a picture of my signature into the block, say in Microsoft Word - it would be trivial to save it to a file/use it/etc.

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    A company which uses that sort of ATS probably isn't even remotely interested whether or not you've signed your cover letter in ink, and if you have done so, how you did it. If signing the letter complicates the process unnecessarily and potentially damages your chances - why would you insist on doing it? – brhans May 10 '18 at 19:38
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    And just to note, no matter how you embed your scanned signature into a document, it will be trivial to save and re-use. Just zoom in a little, hit print-screen, paste into paint (or whatever), crop appropriately, save - done. – brhans May 10 '18 at 19:41
  • @brhans I suppose I don't have to "insist" on doing it...I've just always heard it's a good idea. Do you typically not? – TomAdo May 10 '18 at 20:07

The problem is that a scanned document saved as a PDF is stored as an image, not as plain text (which the PDF format is capable of doing). ATSs typically work by interpreting plain text, they do not typically have OCR (optical character recognition) capabilities, which is what you need to render text from an image.

This is easy to solve. Sign a blank sheet of paper and scan it. Crop the scanned image so it's just your signature, and save it as an image file. Then, when you're writing your cover letter, save it in a text-based format (word doc, rtf, whatever) and paste the image file into it.

  • Noting brhans' comment above...I suppose it would be easy enough to do this regardless of whether or not the signature is an attached image. I'll go with this. – TomAdo May 10 '18 at 20:09

With an existing PDF, there exist multiple programs that convert to your preferred document format (some offer features others don't, some are higher quality than others). I do not wish to promote an individual program, so you will have to find them on your favorite search engine. Just search 'pdf to text' or 'pdf exchanger' to find a few. Be warned that YMMV with such products, especially where it comes to preserving signatures etc.

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