Online Resumes – Keywords 101

Job searching is very challenging now-a-days. With unemployment around 9-10% nationwide and over 15% in many major cities, more and more people are on the job hunt. And the number of people crawling through Monster, CareerBuilder, and other jobs sites is by the millions! Yes, there’s lots of jobs posted on these sites, but considering the competition, how do you stand out enough when applying to those jobs to get to that all-important interview?

Your objective is really three-fold…get past the computer filter, get past the recruiter filter, and get past the phone screen call.  For now, let’s address the first, and in this economy, the one I think is the toughest…the computer filter.

Think of the recruiters’ sorting queries as being similar to a Google-type search that you might perform, where their objective is to get the best resumes for the jobs they want to fill to show up on the first page of their search results listings. To get your resume to show up on that first search results page, your resume has to have a very high correlation between the keywords the recruiter uses to search with and the words within your resume.  Your resume needs to have the keywords they searched for, but also the keywords relevant to the actual job you want. So you need to have multiple, ever-changing resumes (something my Dad wouldn’t have understood) to increase the odds that your resume will be found.

Just so you don’t get overwhelmed with the idea that you need hundreds of resumes, let’s start with the basic, solid, well-rounded “generic” resume. In fact, it’s not really “generic” at all—it’s really “targeted” at your industry or your job function. In general terms this means that the skills you have or the activities you performed that are relevant to the target industry or target role are listed first, explained more, and woven multiple times throughout your resume.

Say you have most recently been a car salesman and were previously a bank manager. Now you want to apply for a job as a manager of human resources for a mid-sized firm. Which prior role is more relevant to the new job? The roles and accomplishments for that job should be emphasized in your resume about twice as much as the other job’s accomplishments. And yes, both of these prior jobs can have relevance, so don’t eliminate good information, regardless of the prior role, if it’s relevant to your search. But I digress–I have written on the various elements of good resumes before (prior posts), and all those concepts are still relevant, but what we need to focus on right now is keywords.

The problem is, there are basically two types of resumes searches done today: 1) the search by a recruiter through the many resumes posted against a specific job that the recruiter listed (an announced job) and 2) generic searches through the millions of posted resumes when a recruiter is searching for a candidate where a job posting has not been made public (a hidden job). So how does your resume work for you in both of these cases? In this posting, since I’ll assume your current resume isn’t fully “targeted” yet, I’ll assume you’re posting your resume in a major job boards with a “public” or “visible” setting for the recruiters to stumble across while they are looking for unannounced positions. (We’ll talk about option 1 in Keywords 102.)

  • Titles up-to-date: Search through a bunch of job postings that have titles and roles that match the type of job you are looking for and make sure that your titles in your resume are “up-to-date” when compared to these postings. For example, an airline “stewardess” is a dated term…use airline “flight attendant” instead; you aren’t a secretary anymore, you’re now an administrative assistant.
  • Industry terms up-to-date: Are you in the health-care industry? Make sure you find a way to incorporate current keywords. Not just “managed hospital’s patient records”, but “managed patient health records in full conformance of HIPAA regulations”. Or change something plain like “wrote computer programs for my company” to “developed Java and HTML applications for my corporate website”.
  • Reduce the use of Pronouns: Often using the keyword multiple times in the same sentence or paragraph helps, such as “Certified in Microsoft Excel and use Excel daily for revenue audits”
  • Use keyword variants: Rather than just repeating the same keyword over and over, try using the keyword’s variants: project manager, project management, program management, managed projects, managing projects, managed several large projects, etc. Many search engines have a “synonym” feature that finds all of these when searching for “project manager”, but some search engines aren’t that smart…give them lots of choices
  • Avoid keyword “lumping”: A few years back there was a practice of  listing lots and lots of keywords at the bottom of a resume. This might work on some job search sites, but not all. Some of the bigger sites look for the keywords to be in “context” with other “sentence structures” such as verbs, punctuation, conjunctions, etc. So things like “Project Manager, Project Manager, Project Manager, Project Manager,…” doesn’t benefit you today like it used to.
  • Name Dropping: I don’t usually list jobs on my resume that I worked at over 15 years ago. But if it was for a recognized firm (IBM, Coke, Boeing, etc.), then I need to at least weave the name of the company into my resume somewhere. “Recently certified as a project management professional (PMP) by leveraging skills learned from working with IBM.”
  • Name Dropping 2: Some recruiters look for firms by their initials, while others look for them by their full name, so list your companies by both names: “Assigned to AIG (American International Group) as a project manager while working for Hewlett Packard (HP).”
  • No ancient stuff: Unless you really want a job related to a former role or job or affiliation, get rid of the keywords that can confuse or distract. If you want to be a brain surgeon, there’s no advantage of listing non-relevant keywords…janitor, FORTRAN, Democrat, car salesman, IRS, etc.
  • Make changes: If your keywords aren’t working, do some research by looking through job postings and ensure that the keywords that these postings use that are relevant to you are somewhere in your resume.

Bottom Line: Start with a well written, industry or role targeted resume. Intersperse some relevant keywords in context (not lumped at the end) so the recruiter can see the same benefit that the computer search found. Make sure your keywords are current, reflect keywords common in job postings, used multiple times in your resume, and are applicable to you and your skills. Watch what the popular keywords are and keep refreshing your resume with new, up-to-date keywords.

[Jump to Online Resumes – Keywords 102 for an update on this topic]

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See the Index of all my Job Hunter articles on my Backlog tab.

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