Optimizing Resumes for Searches—Using Keywords

It is rare these days to find a company willing to sift through a printed pile of resumes. More often than not, they gather the resumes of all their applicants and place them into a single searchable database. By searching for key terms that describe the skills they want and by 86-ing resumes without them, they can easily and effectively weed out anyone who does not fit their basic criteria. That block of hopefuls can then be whittled down further by making cuts based on the amount of experience the applicant says she has had with that responsibility or skill. Because of this, when constructing their resumes, applicants need to be very careful to use the most common wording of a particular job skill or task.

Depending on whether the resume is intended for one particular job, or is to be uploaded to a searchable database, there are two ways to figure out that magic phrasing that will increase chances of snagging an interview.

When responding to a job post, it’s important to incorporate some of the exact terms that the job posting uses (just as long as they coincide with the actual experience you’ve had) into your resume. For instance, if your employment experience is in development and testing, but employer describes the position as requiring quality assurance, you have to include the term “quality assurance” in order to get recognized as potentially qualified. Depending on the industry you’ve worked in, the two are practically the same anyway. And choosing not to tailor your resume to include that term is effectively selecting yourself out of that company’s short list of applicants. Furthermore, Dr. John Sullivan, a regular contributor to CiteHR.com advises applicants to be sure they can truthfully include at least half of the skills and keywords mentioned in the job post in their resume. “If you don’t hit over 50%,” he says, “don’t expect an interview.”

If posting a resume to a job board, tailoring your resume to fit the skills that one company required for one position may prove to be just as detrimental. At the same time, packing your resume full of synonymous terms is just as problematic. The solution here is to use the description of job skills and experience that is most commonly used by employers. I find a good way to do that is to search those terms on a popular job search site—like Indeed, SimplyHired or Monster—and opt to use the term that gets the most hits. And then it follows the same concept as above. For instance, depending on your industry, an Auditor and a Compliance Officer have practically the same skills and responsibilities, so why not use the more common term? Don’t lie (I repeat, don’t lie) about your job title! But consider including variations of their phrasing in the description of your employment experience.

A couple last minute tips:

Try to avoid using industry-specific jargon. It’s a good idea to assume the person initially handling your resume is someone who is not entirely versed in the specifics of that position. After all, they’re probably responsible for filling many different positions. Also, it’s good to let employers know about your knowledge of software programs, workflow strategies, and all those other non-general, secondary skills you have. But, it’s best to keep them in a designated skills section, not the main body of the resume.

And of course, you can also ask your recruiter for their insights and to review your resume—after years of experience communicating with HR departments and Hiring Managers, we at Wall Street Services know exactly what they’re looking for and how to get the best results.

By Abena, Wall Street Services Reporter