Resume tips are all over the place on the Internet. One of the great ones is this: make sure you have the right keywords in your resume.
Great advice, isn’t it?
But if you are not Internet or HR machine-reading savvy, you probably don’t know what keywords are, much less the ones that should be in your resume. So let’s clear some of this mystifying gobbly-gook up, shall we?
To really get back to basics, in large companies and in recruiters databases, resumes are not looked at one by one. No, just like Google, these companies and their recruiters use search to find resumes that match up to the job description they are given. Just like you search Dice to find jobs using the search box, so do recruiters to find resumes.
So the keywords used are the words and phrases that come the closest to meeting the search criteria. “Manager” is more general than “Project Manager” which is more general than “Project Manager + PMP” where PMP is a project management certification.
The idea, then, is to ensure your resume most closely matches up with the search criteria of the recruiter because it will move your resume higher in the list of matching resumes to the job. The more keywords match the search criteria, the higher your ranking in the list of resumes to be viewed by the recruiter.
You know when you submit your resume to a company and it hits one of the search screens based on a job requisition? Well, if your keywords in your resume don’t match up with the criteria set up to screen the resume, yours goes into the electron trash can never to be seen again.
And this is the important part: you can be perfectly qualified for the job, but if the keywords in your resume don’t match the criteria, your resume still goes into the electronic trash can.
Resume keywords are pretty important then, aren’t they?
If the keywords are so important, what are the keywords you should use in your resume? Of course, it is going to depend on your job. The keywords for someone in the medical field are quite different than one in the field of technology. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
Generally, though, your resume keywords need to be about your company names, job titles, and job skills. Recruiters look for people who have worked for the same company as the job requisition, so you need to ensure the correct company name is on your resume. No one calls me because I used to work for Ameritech, bought by AT&T, but because I worked at AT&T. Likewise, no one cares that I worked for Washington Mutual, but they do care if I worked for Chase, the company that bought Washington Mutual.
Job titles need to be more generic. It does you no good on a resume to say that your job title was “Business Requirements II” in the company — even if it was. The generic term for people who gather business requirements for use in projects are called Business Analysts. So that is the title you should use on your resume. No one cared that I was a Vice President at Washington Mutual (banks have a million vice presidents…), they care that I was a Technology Manager.
Finally, your job skills are a whole set of resume keywords. If you program in Ruby on Rails, you need to say that on the resume. If you have disaster recovery project management experience, disaster recovery needs to be in your resume. And if you are trying to break into a new field, your old keywords won’t match up to what is needed in the new field.
Now, the way you can tell the keywords for the job that need to be in the resume is look at the job description provided. When you see the required job skills and it says “10 years project management experience” then you can bet that ten years of project management experience will be part of the selection process.
Automation can only parse so much out of a resume. Help the automated process along by ensuring the job skills you have show up as resume keywords for your work.
What are your keywords in your resume?
Scot Herrick is the author of “I’ve Landed My Dream Job–Now What???” and owner of Cube Rules, LLC. Scot has a long history of management and individual contribution in multiple Fortune 100 corporations. In 2005, Scot started sharing these hard lessons at CubeRules.com, a site devoted to Career Advice for knowledge workers, whom he calls Cubicle Warriors.